Wednesday, May 25, 2011

AMA Flat Track: Cycle's Larry Lawrence 'Archives' Captures the '76 AMA Grand National Championship Series Season Part 2

In the early-mid '70s, ABC-TV got involved with the AMA Grand National Championship and ran a year-end race at Louisville Downs called the 'Race of Champions.'  The ABC crew would come in, film the day's activities and interview riders, mechanics and team owners, and then put together a piece that would air on their 'Wide World of Sports' show on a Saturday afternoon several weeks after.  Comprised entirely of winners from that year's schedule, the race was a 'made for tv' effort that showcased the greats in the series on Louisville's competitive and popular limestone half mile track. 

During the '75 year-end race, the Expert final as well as the Expert 'Race of Champions' final were both comprised entirely of riders on XR-750s.  I can't remember the exact reason for this (other then the obvious 'to make all things equal for all riders'), but knowing this before the event took place, Kenny Roberts and his Yamaha team didn't bother to make the trip east from his base in Modesto, CA. since he was obviously under contract to strictly ride Yamahas (and he didn't attend the '76 event, either.)

Privateers or supported riders like Hank Scott, who at that time rode a Shell Thuett Yamaha and Gene Romero, who throughout the season had campaigned C&J-sponsored Yamahas, were forced to ride a Harley-Davidson XR-750 in order to compete in the program (again, I can't remember whose XR Romero ran, but Hank rode one of National #45 Dave Sehl's machines in the Expert final-which he won-and then rode one of his brother Gary's spare XRs in the ROC final, to finish second behind winner Mike Kidd.)

In '76 as pictured, riders were back to running whatever brand they normally ran (or chose to run, if that were the case, for the ROC event) for the October finale at the half mile horse track.  Riders getting ready to line up for the ROC final above include Gary Scott, the '75 AMA Grand National Champion, on his #1 XR-750 on the left side of the shot just getting ready to enter the track.  Just to his right/picture left in the red Bell Helmet jacket and white pants is Gary Van Voorhis, the former Cycle News East reporter who covered AMA Flat Track events back in those days. 

Scott had just tried to defend his championship after having left the H-D Factory team at the end of the '75 season, but came up just short in quest to do the double.  He had won the spring event at Louisville (as well as the Ascot TT in the summer) to qualify for the ROC event. 

Mike Kidd on his #72 XR-750 rolls up to the line to defend his '75 ROC win after having won the Saturday night Indy Mile in August (in what was a decades-long doubleheader event after that initial '76 double round) to qualify for his ROC berth.  Kidd of course would go on to win the '81 AMA Grand National Championship after over ten years of being a front-runner in the series and having come out of the same rookie class of '72 with Scott and Roberts.

Jay Springsteen wore the #25 for one year only-1976-as he won his first of three straight championships in his sophomore year in the AMA Grand National Championship, taking over the slot on the team vacated by Gary Scott.  Springer had won his first title over Scott, 301-280 points, with Roberts just behind in third with 265 points.  After having won two events in his rookie campaign in the '75 season, Springer went on a tear in '76 winning seven total events, including all four of the last dirt track events of the season, and four of five  of the last events on the calendar overall, in order to qualify for the ROC.

The late Rick Hocking on the #13 Rocky Cycle-sponsored XR had ridden a Yamaha in the season opener at Houston to win the TT event at the Astrodome in January some nine months earlier to qualify for the ROC, and ended up ranked the 9th rider in the Nation for the 1976 campaign.  Hocking was active in flat track events up to and including his premature death earlier this year and is highly missed in the flat track community.

And the late Rex Beauchamp on the Harley-Davidson Factory XR-750 looks over from his #31 as he prepares to take to the starting line.  Rocket Rex had won the spring San Jose Mile earlier in the year, and finished the '76 season in the 7th ranked position in the final point standings.

The 1976 AMA Camel Pro Series Grand National Championship battle is to this day still considered one of, if not the most hotly contested battles in the long history of The Rolling Thunder Show, the greatest racing show on wheels.  Names like Roberts, Scott and Springer permeated the schedule of races over 35 seasons ago, and made for some of the most epic battles in racing anywhere in the world.

Larry Lawrence again brings us a great review thanks to his 'Archives' column in Cycle in which he brings us part two of the 1976 AMA Camel Pro Series season review.

Read on and thanks to LL and CN for this super trip down memory lane:

Part one of Larry Lawrence's 'Archives' Column on the review of the '76 AMA Flat Track/Camel Pro Series Grand National Championship can be found here:


  1. Sure wish some of the ABC television footage from the ROC or Houston or several other of the races they televised in the 60's and 70's would suddenly appear! ABC and to a lesser extent CBS would telecast a few races each year until the advent of cable. The VCR for home use came about 15 years too late....

  2. I do as well. Some of that classic footage would sit well on some of those cold winter Midwestern months. Let alone just the jazz of reliving that great era again! Thanks for throwing in a comment, and sorry it took so long to respond!


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