celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

More “Fast Freddie”

“Faster and Faster” has published extracts from a detailed interview with Freddie Spencer that will appear in the October issue of “Bike” magazine in GB. As you know, I’m a Spencer tragic from way back and I am really looking forward to the article.

Here’s a “teaser”

Freddie Spencer, 1983

Freddie Spencer, 1983

Coincidentally, Dean Adams, over at superbikeplanet, published this article today from the Soup Archives. While discussing the fact that Jorge Lorenzo has become world champion at the age of 23, Adams notes that this still doesn’t beat the record set by Spencer in 1983 that has stood to this day. Here’s the text of Dean’s article. (originally published in 2006)

“On Sunday, Oct 1, Ben Spies (22) won the US Superbike championship at Mid-Ohio. That’s a startling achievement, and honestly would be for anyone at any age to win a national championship, that Spies did it at such a young age is certainly noteworthy. The trend today in US Superbike is for riders to win their Superbike title when they’re much older. For example, Mat Mladin was 27 when he won his first US Superbike title; Ben Bostrom, 24 and Doug Chandler, 25. Yet even Spies is not the youngest ever US Superbike champion— Nick Hayden has that nugget of glory with his 2002 title—he was just 21.

The data above makes three-time world champion Freddie Spencer all the more special.

Wait, Spencer didn’t win the Superbike title—ever. So how is what the former racer turned riding instructor and television race analyst did in his career relevant?

While it’s true that Freddie Spencer didn’t win the Superbike title, he’s more than pertinent when discussing championship success for young American riders. In fact, he’s the gold standard, the de facto rider who achieved championship success at a young age. What’s more, incredibly, Spencer’s amazing record as a youth stands to this day. And especially with the benefit of recent twenty-something examples, just how much Freddie Spencer accomplished at a young age is more staggering today than it was twenty-three years ago.

To illustrate, examine the Spencer timeline below.

December 20, 1961: Fredrick Burdette Spencer Jr. is born in Louisiana. Spencer is riding motorcycles by age three and racing dirt track by age six, coached by his namesake father.

1971: A talented prodigy, Spencer didn’t groove up slowly. He undergoes an aggressive racing schedule, one almost unheard of at the time for a child racer. By the time he is ten he’s racing over one hundred dirt track races a year. This in itself is notable, the fact that he’s winning as many as eighty-percent of these races is astounding.

March, 1974: At age 12 Freddie sees his first roadrace—the Daytona 200 won by Giacamo Agostini. Shortly afterwards the Spencer family adds amateur roadracing to their program. Spencer and his father canvass America racing a collection of well-prepared two-stroke street bikes and early Yamaha TA125 machines.

1977: Spencer’s father tutors his son for roughly a decade and a half on his own, but realizes that for Freddie to make the next step in his career he needs a more competent tuner and mentor. Spencer Sr. meets with Erv Kanemoto (legend has it that this meeting takes place at the one and only WERA race held at Mid-Ohio, where Kanemoto is tuning for Gary Nixon) to hand his fifteen-year old son’s career off to a higher power. By the way, Spencer beat both Gary Nixon and Randy Mamola that day in the rain at Mid-Ohio. On a bike tuned by his dad.

June, 1979: Spencer wins the Loudon 250 race and goes on to win the 250 title that season. He’s also racing Superbikes by now, winning the Superbike race at Sears Point barely a year after being legal to drive in California. The 17-year old Spencer remains the youngest-ever Superbike winner in series history. For the record, Jason DiSalvo will be 23 when he enters his first Superbike race.

1980: Spencer is picked up by American Honda and races several different series for various Honda teams. He races an interesting schedule of dirt track, World Endurance, Superbike and AMA F1. Spencer delivers Honda their first official Superbike victory in the US. However, his biggest victory of 1980 and perhaps of his career to this point, isn’t very well known. In April, at age 18, Spencer rides Kanemoto’s Yamaha TZ750 in the Easter Match Races in England, gridding up against riders like Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and Randy Mamola, on gnarly UK tracks the innocent-looking Freddie’d never seen before. Spencer blows the racing establishment away by winning two rounds and being very competitive throughout the entire series.

1982: While he has raced several GPs by this time, Spencer’s first taste of true GP glory comes—happily coincidental for a Yankee rider—on July 4, 1982 when he wins the GP at Spa. This is Honda’s first 500 GP win in 15 years. Spencer is just 20 years old. He remains the youngest-ever 500cc race winner in history.

1983: A season that will be remembered as one of the hardest fought championship battles ever in Grand Prix/MotoGP history, Spencer duels with three-time 500 champion Kenny Roberts for the 500 title. Roberts (31) is widely considered the best rider in the world, one who changed nearly every facet of the sport–he was the primary architect of a racing revolution. Spencer, a tee-totaler and devout Christian, and Roberts, a cowboy with an attitude and the balls to back it up, were as different as eggs and sand. Their ’83 contest becomes renown the world over as a battle between two sporting personalities at the top of their game. In a final race two-wheeled swordfight, Spencer wins the 500cc title—Honda’s first. In what many believe will be his defining moment—it isn’t—he becomes the youngest-ever 500cc GP world champion in history, a feat he owns to this day.

Legions of modern riders won’t ever achieve the level of success that Freddie Spencer did before his twenty-second birthday.”

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