The Life and Times of “Fast” Freddie Spencer, World Motorcycle Grand Prix Champion

                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                Ride the Wind Young Man

                                   

                                                              Born to Race  

 

The story of Fast Freddie Spencer’s ascension from small town America to stand alone on top of the podium as three-time World Grand Prix Champion.  

     We humans are a predictable lot!  If we design something to blow things up we want to see just how big a bang our new toy will make.  Invent a vessel designed to dive deep into the ocean depths and we just have to see how deep it will go.  Design, engineer and build the first two-wheeled motorised transport to move a human from point A to point B and what do we need to know next? You guessed it, just how fast will this two-wheeled contraption go anyway? 

     Probably not the thought Gottlieb Daimler, the inventor of the first motorised two-wheeled human transport ‘Einspur’ (one-track(1885)), had in mind after the historic first journey of his two-wheeled inspiration.  But as the next century of relentless pursuit for motorised two-wheeled perfection progressed, the need-for-speed increased.  Eventually resulting in the formation of fledgling organizations dedicated to seeing how high their motorcycle can climb up cemetery hill?  Who quits first in a long distance competition the man or machine?   And who’s the best sportbike racer of all time in their unrelenting desire for sportbike riding perfection?   Today’s current seven time World Grand Prix Champion Valentino Rossi might make a claim on the title of greatest?  Maybe past legends like Barry Sheene, Giacomo Agostini or Mike the Bike Hailwood would have a few words to say on the subject?  Absolutely the question is subjective requiring categorization by racing era, by size of bike engine, possibly the type of circuit used.  Maybe even additional esoteric criteria best left to the individual voter might be used to determine who we feel is the greatest of all time?  

We begin our discussion of candidates for the title of the top racer of all time in the early part of the 1960’s in the sunny state of California.  A decade that will always be known as the time of a legend considered by many to be the best to ever step onto a sportbike track.  With the life and times of an American champion loved and idolized by millions of adoring fans for his winning ways on a motorcycle.  He won his way from the dirt tracks of rural America to the pinnacle of the sportbike world for competitors, to stand alone on the mountain of professional sportbike racing, by winning the World Grand Prix Championship three times during an illustrious career spanning four decades.  On the legendary Honda NS 500 two-stroke triple on which he won so many times during his outstanding career.  And just two years later cementing his legendary status among his fans, by becoming the only racer in Grand Prix history to win both the 500cc and 250cc championships in the same season.  A feat the fans think may never be equaled and the racers of today say maybe impossible to match considering the level of competition on the GP tracks of today. A human being so comfortable on a bike; he looked like he was born on one when riding.   His ability to alter racing styles and techniques depending on the size and power of the sportbike he was racing, made this former champion a force to be reckoned with no matter the track or class of sportbike he was riding.  At ease on any sportbike or in any era of competition and able to ride anything with two wheels like he was born to the task, this individual was a hero for all seasons.   

Fast Freddie Spencer is his name and riding sportbikes to victory was his game whenever he left the start line of a race. Friendly and enthusiastic off the track but fierce and driven on the track, Freddie Spencer was born Frederick Burdette Spencer on December 20, 1961 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Declared a developing prodigy as a young man by those who watched him progress through the lower ranks. Fast Freddie as his fans called him, began riding at the tender age of 4 and enthusiastically entered his first motorcycle race at the age of 5.  After the trial year of crashes, bruises and bumps that all beginning riders experience during their first year learning to control their mount.

Rising quickly up the ladder of success Freddie had won 10 Texas and Louisiana State Championships by the young age of eleven in short and dirt track classes.  First racing in TT Scramble dirt track events in Dallas, Texas before moving up to short track competitions. 

Fast Freddie entered his first street race in 1972 at the amazing age of 11 in the 0-250cc stock classes on a 100cc Yamaha at Green Valley Raceway in Dallas, Texas.  And by 1977 he had won 12 national road racing championships in both AMA and WERA sanctioned events throughout the continental United States.

Fast Freddie decided to drive his bike up to the start line of the professional ranks in 1978 at the age of 17, winning every competition in the AMA 250cc Grand Prix novice class that year.  Before moving up to the expert division of the AMA 250cc Grand Prix in 1979 and capturing the title in all but one race while defeating Eddie Lawson for the championship.  

Always yearning for the open road Freddie decided to enter the superbike championship in 1979, he placed third in the point’s championship, yet won the Sears Point and Laguna Seca rounds of the series.  His stunning victory on a Kawasaki at Sears Point made him the youngest competitor in history to win an AMA superbike national at 18 years, eight months of age.  And helped put the seal of success on the career of Fast Freddie Spencer but was just a shadow of the accomplishments to come that would create the legend of Freddie Spencer.   

The sun was shining on the career of a 19-year-old Freddie as dawn broke over the 1980 season, as he inked a deal with Honda America to race for the sportbike giant in the AMA Superbike Championship.  The AMA competition would be a learning experience for the growing prodigy that would lead to greater opportunities later in the year riding for Yamaha.  For Freddie would win the opening races of the Trans-Atlantic match series aboard a production Yamaha TZ 750 in 1980, out racing the world title holder at the time Kenny Roberts and former title owner Barry Sheene in the process. 

This was despite being handicapped by the advantage of the full factory support both Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene enjoyed at the time.  Energized by his success Kenny decided to ride his bike in the European Grand Prix in Belgium for the official Yamaha team in 1980. Kenny would finish 6th among the field of heroes assembled at the old circuit but would learn valuable lessons he would use to facilitate his journey to stardom in the coming years.   

The Japanese sportbike developers contacted Freddie in 1981 to see if the 20-year-old phenomenon  would ride for them in the up coming 1982 season on the circuit.   Freddie agreed to ride in selected Grand Prix races in 1982 for the manufacturing giant Honda, as a lead up to his debut season competing in the World Grand Prix Championship. Freddie’s first coming out season would be a true learning experience for the young man who would one day enter the hall of fame.   Finishing 3rd in the point’s race for the 500cc championship stung the confident young man and he vowed things would be different next year. 

As the sunset on 1982 Fast Freddie looked toward his 22nd year on planet Earth with vengeance in mind, winning titles filling his dreams, and visions of chequered flags waving in the air.  Well that’s it for now, join us next issue for the continuing story of the life, times and racing adventures of a true sportbike racing legend.  A man who continues to alter the landscape of the industry and sport he loves even after the cheers have ceased.   

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14 thoughts on “The Life and Times of “Fast” Freddie Spencer, World Motorcycle Grand Prix Champion

  1. One note: Spencer did not win every AMA novice race in 1978. Sears Point was won by future Cycle magazine moto-journalist Mark Homchick riding a Phil Schilling owned and tuned TZ250E.

    1. Well, over the years I have read many articles regarding Freddie. Some good a few less hat flattering. I remain one of his unshakable fans. Not just for his riding ability but for the genuine person I have know him to be. I do mean KNOW HIM to be.. Myself and my brother raced with and against the Spencer family for many years. I was there when Freddie at age 5 won his first race. I watched him and my brother John battle it out at boot hillyears later I raced with Freddies older brother Danny on the flat tracks before freddie was out of diapers. (Still Don’t really understand how you managed to run over your OWN LEG and Shatter it Danny. I will say this. I was blessed with counting the Spencers as My Friends.I could not have personally known a nicer, more responsible and caring family than Freddie Spencer SR., Danny Spencer and Fast Freddie. The motorcycle racing world should be so lucky as to once again find their equal in Riding ability AND Character.
      Thanks for the memories Freddie, and more important, thanks to you and the Spencer racing family for being friends to the Matlock racing family.

      May GOD Bless
      Terry Matlock

    2. I also knew the spencer family and watched John matlock and Freddie race a few times. Freddie should thank his lucky stars that jpohn Matlock decided to never go road racing. John was almost unbeatable. …….. ASK FREDDIE. He never beat john Matlock o n a motorcycle

      1. Well.. You once Had that chance John but you turned us down on our invitation to ride a Yamaha factory Bike at the SuperDome in New Orleans in 1976. We at Yamaha had our eye on you for two years. There was not a better young talent in the world at that time on a 125 than you. Then…. You just fell off the face of the earth… stopped racing. I hope your decision was the right one for your life.

  2. Mr. Spencer abruptly closed his school down around 11/08. I lost some money. I cannot reach his office and cannot contact anyone there. What happened?

  3. I had the pleasure to know both Freddie and John Matlock. I sponsored Freddie, his brother Danny along with John Matlock. I owned Vivian cycle and gave Freddie his first real sponsorship. it was my 125 Honda that Freddie road along with some of the Yamaha’s. John worked for me and was a great dirt bike competitor but no one came close to Fast Freddie on the pavement. Our really big win was at Mid-Ohio against Nixon and several of the top ranked racers. it was then that I knew Freddie was on his way.

    danny Stanberry

    1. I am Freddie’s 1st cousin and we all had land (still do) on Monterey Lake near Vivian, La. Danny and I were closer in age and we used to run the Monterey Lake on “scooters” as we called them. I had a Yamaha 400 motocross and Danny rode a Husky. We rode those back sand/dirt roads of East Texas like wild men but always courteous to others. It’s just the way our folks taught us.

      Danny broke his leg getting out of a van that he thought was in park when it was actully in reverse. When he stepped out the van began rolling backward and rolled over his leg and crushed it. Danny was never the same person following that accident.

      I haven’t spoken with Freddie in many years and the last I heard he was living in Dallas, Texas. His sister Linda stills lives in Shreveport.

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