Friday, December 31, 2010

All Hail The King: Happy Birthday to Kenny Roberts From Stu's Shots!

Kenny Roberts twists the throttle on the infamous Yamaha TZ750 flat tracker during practice for the Syracuse Mile round of the AMA Camel Pro Flat Track Series in September of 1975. The first event after his legendary win on the Indy Mile on August 23, 1975, The King didn't have the luck at Syracuse that took him to the front in the last few feet of the main at Indy some 14 days earlier. Not only was he not able to get the big TZ to hook up on the New York State Fairgrounds mile oval, but he crashed his parallel twin later in the day, shearing the front end off of the #1 machine and pretty much ending his run to three-peat his title to his rival Gary Scott on the #64 H-D Factory XR, with only four events left on the season. Roberts was able to put the TZ into the field at San Jose some two weeks later, with middling results, and the AMA eventually banned it and all multi-cylinder machines from AMA Flat Track Grand National Championship events at the end of the '75 season.
Although The King is most remembered for that Hot August Night at Indy for his mastery of the big TZ on the mile oval, his prowess in all forms of AMA Grand National Championship Series events reaped rewards to the tune of the '73-'74 AMA Grand National Championships, as well as winning the coveted Grand Slam in GN competition, only the second rider at the time other then Dick Mann to win on the mile, half mile, short track, TT, and road racing circuits that comprised the series in the day. And he did accomplish that feat twice while racing in the AMA GNC/Camel Pro Series.
He accomplished his second Grand Slam during the '75 season, which was comprised of 20 events that season, only three of which were road racing events. Roberts won 2 of those 3 at Monterey (now better known as Laguna Seca) and Ontario, with Yamaha road racing team mate Gene Romero winning the Daytona round. He also won the season opening round at the Houston TT, the Dallas Short Track in April, and the Ascot Half Mile in late September. He still holds the record for the 'quickest rider to complete' the Grand Slam, doing so in two years, six months and 20 days of racing in the top tier series, when he won his first Grand Slam between January of '72 and August of '74. KR still sits seventh with 33 total AMA Grand National career wins after all these years, 18 of those coming in road racing events which were still part of the series before they split the championships in the mid-late '80s.
Roberts did his best against the might of the H-D XR, but the alloy-based V-Twin was too much for the parallel twins of the Yamaha, Triumph and Norton machines of the day, thrashing the competition in the flat track series, something it has been able to still do some three and a half decades later. By the end of the '77 season, Yamaha shut down the flat track team, and The King was off to Europe to take on the world.
Hitting the shores of Europe with a big bang, he won the '78-'80 500CC World Championship and set the bar for future U.S.-based riders to continue his legacy in the World Championships. After retiring from active competition, he later won four World Championships as a team owner ('90-'92 500CC with Wayne Rainey, '90 250CC with John Kocinski) and helped to raise rider salaries and improve safety along the way.

The King slides it through turn one at the Terre Haute Action Track during a heat race for the half mile round of the AMA Camel Pro Flat Grand National Championship Series in August of '75. A little over six days later The Man from Modesto would make motorcycle flat track racing history, but on this hot summer afternoon he was doing his best to keep the XS650-based parallel twin within reach of the XR-strong field.
This was the first year that the Yamaha Factory had scaled back it's flat track efforts to just Roberts, after running the 'super team' of '70 AMA Grand National Champion Gene Romero and Donnie Castro on the team in '73-'74 as The King's team mates. KR ran the team and contracted all of the work, while Yamaha supplied the bikes. Although he eventually lost the championship to long-time competitor Gary Scott in '75, The King still took the twin to wins at Ascot in late '75 and '76 at the San Jose Half Mile and Terre Haute Half Mile.
With 2010 winding down, Stu's Shots wanted to close out this great season of racing by wishing The King, Kenny Roberts, Sr. a Very Happy Birthday! The Man From Modesto, who took U.S. flat track racing and road racing by storm in the '70s, and eventually the World road racing scene down the same road of competitive devastation, turns 59 today.

One of the most outspoken, let alone out right competitive riders to ever throw a leg over a motorcycle racing machine, Kenny, Sr. set the bar for motorcycle racing all over the world in the '70s and early '80s as a rider, and into the '90s as a team owner. Winning two U.S. titles and three titles as a rider in Europe, he also won four titles as a team owner after retiring from regular, active competition in the early-mid '80s.

Stu's Shots wants to take this time to wish The King a Happy Birthday and honor him with these two never-before seen or published photos that I took of him in AMA Grand National Championship competition in the summer of '75, when I as well was just a young one.

Coming from the archive vaults of yesteryear, we salute The King on his day!

Kenny Roberts' bio at


  1. Thanks for sharing these great historic Photographs with us Stu. Kenny was my first real biking hero as a kid, I even painted my bicycle yellow and black! Ever since I first watched King Kenny ride I've always had a soft spot for American racers and we've got a young kid named Kenny Ingalls riding at my local speedway track in the UK next summer - Happy Nu Year buddy.

  2. Hey thanks for coming by Moto/BCB. And thanks very much for the kind words! I can't tell a lie, I've had that same soft spot for The King since I first saw him ride in my first AMA Flat Track race at Terre Haute in August of '74. When they handed him his second #1 plate at the end of the day, I was hooked. Crack could't hold a stronger grip on me. Thanks again and Happy New Year to you, as well my man!


Keep it nice, but keep them coming!

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