By Wil DeClerq
Zoli Berenyi Sr. brought his family to Canada from Hungary in 1957 along with a love for motorcycles, which was his primary means of transportation in the old country. At the ripe old age of 25 Berenyi entered, and won, his first sanctioned Alberta provincial race in 1959 aboard a 250 Royal Enfield. He had never raced before but motocross might as well have been invented for him.
“It was in the Junior class but I didn’t want to race that,” Berenyi recalls. “All the attention was on the Experts and that’s what I wanted to be in. They [CMA] let me move up to the Experts after I won my first race and I raced that class for twenty-five years.”
Twenty-five years?! That would make him 50 years old when he retired from pro motocross, an age that is hardly conducive to being competitive in a gruelling youth oriented sport. Must be some kind of mistake. Right?
“No. I actually raced the Experts class till I was 50, at least in Alberta. But I was still competitive in the Nationals till I was 45 and on a good day could run with my son [Zoli Jr.] and Ross Pederson, who was starting to make a name for himself back then,” Berenyi said without sounding full of himself.
Okay, that’s pretty impressive, but once you realize that Berenyi still raced dirt bikes until he was in his late seventies, it all falls into perspective. Berenyi Sr. was not your average, everyday motocrosser and his love for the sport and stamina knew no bounds. He won his first 250 National Championship in 1965 aboard a Greaves. Two years later he clinched the 500cc title riding for CZ, a brand he stayed with for 11 seasons.
This was in an era when the sport was still called scrambling and featured some of the most colourful and legendary characters in dirt bike racing including Bill Sharpless, Yvon Duhamel, Seppo Makinen, Vern Amor, and Matti Pellinen to name a few.
“My only regret is that back in those days the Nationals were split up in east and west regions. Whoever won the most races won the title, so we had few opportunities to all race together,” Berenyi noted. “I never had a chance to race against Duhamel or Sharpless for example, and so we will never know which of us was really the best guy then.”
On a provincial level Berenyi Sr., like Junior, won so many titles in so many different classes he can’t remember how many, for the simple reason that winning them became commonplace. In his post-Expert years Berenyi racked up six National Championships in the Masters Class, eight in the Veteran Class and three Veteran World Championship titles in the +50 Class. In 1995 and 1998 he won titles in the Old Timers Olympics, competing in the +60 class.
Ironically, unlike many older dirt bikers, Berenyi shunned Vintage Motorcycle racing in favour of riding modern equipment.
“In the old days those bikes were nothing but trouble, suspension was murder and DNFs because of mechanical problems happened all the time,” Berenyi explained. “Give me a new bike anytime and leave the vintage bikes for the old guys. I’m a modern guy, even though I’m a lot of people think I should be put out to pasture.”
In addition to being a more than capable motorcycle racer, Berenyi was also a mean competitor on snowmobiles and in 1973 he won the NorthAm Snowmobile Championship.
For many years, Berenyi was partners in Scona Cycle, founded in 1968 with his brother-in-law Rudy Zascko Sr, himself a motocrosser and father of 1980s motocross star Rudy Zascko Jr.