Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 07 27

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Page 81 of 83

The Legend of Springer (One of Many) here simply was no telling what the night of October 9, 1976 would bring at Ascot Park in Gardena, California, the site of the final round of the '76 AMA Grand National Championship Series. After 28 rounds of racing, the battle for the title was still up for grabs among not just two, but three able contenders, two of them already championship winners. Two-time former AMA Grand National Champion Kenny Roberts was in the hunt to reclaim the title that he had lost to Gary Scott in 1975. Roberts had won four Nationals, comprised of a short track, two half miles and one road race, to stay in the battle with Scott, who had put up an admirable title defense after basically telling the Harley-Davidson factory to go pound sand when they could not come to terms on a new contract. As a privateer running a plethora of Yamahas, Triumphs and Harleys, Scott had won a half mile and a TT and T again toward the end of it. "Springer" had been the only rider to pull off back-to-back victories at any time during the season. He did it twice, winning the Columbus Half Mile and then backing it up With an Albuquerque Mile win, and then reeling off three straight at the Syracuse Mile, Toledo Half Mile and the San jose Mile, giving him the inside track on his first AMA number-one plate. The Harley factory, feeling confident that the title was Springer's to lose, cautioned him to take things easy at Ascot, lay up and cruise. Number one was all that mattered. Winning the race was secondary. The plan was to have a calm, cool night that would collect another championship for the Harley factory. But those plans went awry right after practice started. Springer was hot-lapping behind teammate Rex Beauchamp when Beauchamp got loose in front of him and slewed sideways, completely blocking the racing line. With nowhere to go, Springer struck Beauchamp amid- remained incredibly consistent everywhere else to give himself a shot at Ascot, a place he new very well. Then there was that teenaged Michigan punk, jay Springsteen, who after shocking the troops with his hellfor-leather aggressiveness in '75 had taken over Scott's factory Harley seat in '76 and put it to good use, piling on points with key wins in the middle of the season and ship and tumbled onto the sticky Ascot clay. Beauchamp somehow saved it and continued on around to the pits. Springer had suffered a dislocated finger and a serious case of the cobwebs in the crash, and early on it was unclear if he was going to be able to continue. Everyone breathed a little easier when Springer saddled up and qualified eighth in time trials. He clearly wasn't running 82 JULY 27 2005 • CYCLE NEWS his normal pace, but at least it bought a little more time. Then things looked up as Springer won the fourth heat race, towing Scott into the National with him. The edict of Harley-Davidson race team manager Dick O'Brien was delivered once more: Take it easy, take it home. But as history would prove time and time again, Springer never got to be Springer by doing things any other way than his own, and this night at Ascot may be the first documented example of it. Springsteen grabbed the holeshot as the field poured into turn one - no problems there - with TT ace Alex "jorgy" jorgensen running right on his tail aboard Ron Wood's trick Norton racer. Then came Yamaha rider Skip Aksland, followed by Ted Boody, Scott, Steve Eklund and john Hateley. Roberts was already in trouble, having dropped toward the rear of the field with suspension woes. Ah well, somebody said something about road racing in Europe anyway. Scott had moved up to third. If Springer had any trouble at all, Scott would be there to capitalize. The "trouble" came on lap IS, as jorgensen slipped under the rim-riding Springer off tum four. No matter, the plate was the thing, not the Win, remember! Well, Springer forgot, and he stretched the throttle cables on Willie's Wunderbike, setting off after jorgensen while O'Brien's stomach acid began to churn. Springer came after jorgy with reckless abandon, switching to the low groove and groping for traction as he best he could with that wideopen style of his. At one point on lap 17, he got sideways enough to throwaway the bike and the title, yet somehow he saved it and pulled off the pass on jorgy all at the same time. Three laps later, it was over. Not only did Springer win the race, but he set a new 20-lap Ascot track record of 7 minutes, 36.66 seconds - about a second faster than Roberts' 1975 record time. Springer also became the first non-Californian to win the race in its 18-year history. The title! Oh yeah, then there's that. At 19 years of age, Springer became the youngest rider ever to capture the AMA Grand National number-one plate - a record that still stands today. On the podium, O'Brien didn't know whether to slug Springsteen for disobeying orders or hug him for keeping the title in the factory's hands. He opted for the latter, but the question still remained: When all he had to do to win the title was finish second, what was he thinking, racing with jorgy like he had! "Aw hell," Springer replied, "I was just out there crusin', and when jorgy went by me I thought, 'Hell, 1ain't going that fast. I can pick up the pace a little more.'" There simply was no telling what the night of October 9, 1976 would bring at Ascot Park in Gardena, California. But when it was over, a legend was born. eN

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