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

                                                             

  Ride the Wind Young Man

 

                                                                                     Part 2

   Welcome to the continuing story of the life, times and tribulations of Fast Freddie Spencer’s journey from the dirt tracks of America to the grandest stage of sportbike racing.  To become a living icon of motorcycle racing history and an endearing figure of the industry he loves to generations of aspiring champions. 

We left a 21-year-old Freddie last time just as the sun was setting on the year 1982 a time in which he failed to reach his goal of capturing the World Grand Prix Championship.  An outcome our 22-year-old phenomenon was determined to change during the 1983 season, a result that didn’t set well with the future hero of millions of adoring fans.  The sun climbing over the track of the first circuit of the 1983 season at Kyalami in South Africa found a 22-year-old competitor waiting at the start line determined to change last season’s disappointment and ride into the history books as a sportbike racing hero.   The sun followed Freddie around through-out the 1983 season as he raced to his first 500cc world title by a margin of 2 points over the legendary Kenny Roberts.  The two point difference between the two gentlemen is the closest margin in a point’s championship in the illustrious history of sportbike competitions. Making the 1983 battle one of the most exciting ever witnessed with Freddie taking the chequered flag in six races of the year-long contest on his NS 500 Honda Interceptor.  But this time was just foreshadowing the legendary events about to transpire on the world stage in the coming competitions.  In the following confrontations Freddie’s aggressive dirt track techniques would prove to be just as effective on pavement as the dirt tracks of America.  The dramatic streaks of black Freddie left on the pavement of circuits around the globe left compelling evidence of the effectiveness of his techniques.  His ability to drift into the turn on his front tyre, then spin out of the turn on the rear as he feathered the rear brake into the throttle while stabilizing the weight of the sportbike with his knee, allowed him to do things with a motorcycle few men had accomplished before and generations of competitors have copied, and is a trade mark technique used by aspiring champions that makes him an endearing idol to many budding riders and fans of the sport. 

Since around 1980 Freddie had been considered one of the top developmental riders in the industry, providing input on the bikes he raced to help developers make the next generation of sportbikes better. So when a Honda came-calling in 1984 a 23-year-old Freddie decided to help develop the 2-cylinder NSR 500 for the Japanese manufacturer by providing the data they would use to hopefully create a faster ride.  Unfortunately their new baby had teething problems that year as Freddie would start only five times on the NSR 500 in 1984 for his sponsor.  Winning an amazing four on the difficult sportbike and finishing a disappointing 4th in the championship despite the technical hitches of his temper mental steed.  

A confident 24-year-old Freddie Spencer rode up to the start line of the first circuit of the 1985, ready to ride and win, and secure in the knowledge gained his first two years on the grandest motorcycle racing stage in the world. He had stunning the Grand Prix world in the forefront of his mind and he knew how to accomplish the feat.  The flag dropped on the first race of the 1985 championship in the heat of the South Africa circuit at Kyalami and Fast Freddie came bolting from the start line on his 500cc Honda to win an amazing seven of the eleven competitions he entered in the 1985 season.  Winning nine poles and setting nine new lap records on his way to amazing status among the greatest sportbike competitors in history. 

Always loving the feeling of success and willing to ride just about anything with two wheels during his illustrious career. Freddie then jumped on a lighter and less powerful Honda 250cc after his victory in the 1985 500cc championship and rode his smaller mount into the history books as Freddie Spencer became the only individual to successfully take the 500cc and 250cc World Grand Prix titles in the same year.  But the cherry on Freddie’s 24th year occurred in the heat of the AMA National at Daytona while straddling his Honda, as Fast Freddie became the only individual in motorcycle lore to win all three major divisions at a competition by taking the chequered flag in the 500cc class, the fast-cornering 250cc class, and the SBK.  This put the seal of amazing on one of the greatest seasons in Grand Prix history and astounding on the competitive career of the charismatic champion.  But left his fans wondering what Freddie Spencer would do next to a shock them? 

   Hungry fans lined the South African circuit in 1986 anticipating what they were expecting to be an even greater performance from their hero Freddie Spencer.  A 25-year-old Freddie made a valiant try to reclaim last season’s glory and the hearts of fanatical fans hoping to see him win again.  But in the end the only thing that could beat Freddie was his own body as disaster struck in the form of recurring tendonitis in his forearms.  Making it impossible for him to regain the riding style of Fast Freddie Spencer, reclaim the title or fulfill his fans dreams for the 1986 competition.  Despite high-hopes for a return of their cherished hero Fast Freddie continued to lose ground to his opponents over the next three years.  And in 1989, at the ripe old age of 28, the little rider from Shreveport, Louisiana decided to get off his race bike for the last time, walk into the house and hang his riding gloves up on his mantel for his grand kids to look at. 

But Freddie still in love with sportbike racing would feel the competitive itch again in 1993 at the age of 32 and prepared to once again board his metal steed to test man and machine against the elements. So tired of watching others do what he was born to do Fast Freddie started his sportbike and headed toward the start line of the Grand Prix of Malaysia once again. 

To assess the competitive waters and the strength of his forearms against his modern monstrosity and challenge the Grand Prix world anew.  But father-fate proved fickle; the return of past glory was not to be as Fast Freddie struggled to finish again.  So concluding the sun-had-set for sure on his celebrated career, in 1993 at the ripe old age of 32, Fast Freddie Spencer would once again turn his metal friend off, took off his riding gloves and walk away from professional sportbike racing an endearing icon of the sport.

The sun still shines in the sky above Fast Freddie’s life though as he opened Fast Freddie’s High Performance Racing School in 1997 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Today, at the venerable age of 36, he can be found at the new auxiliary location for his school at the Miller Motorsports Park in Utah or at the main school in Las Vegas passing on his knowledge, teaching the techniques that made him a legend and showing by example the attitude that makes the status of Fast Freddie Spencer continue to grow today.

In recent years a 40-plus Freddie has taken on the job as color analyst for the Speed Channel Network, passing on his love and knowledge of the sport to millions of viewers around the world.  His success on the race track has translated well to teaching the skills he gained winning his way to celebrated status.  For today Freddie Spencer’s High Performance racing school is considered one of the finest, if not the best, rider training schools in the world.

If you’re a sportbike fan and you find yourself watching a Grand Prix race on the boob tube or sitting in the race stands above the starting grid of a venue somewhere in the world in 2007? Be on the look out for a Honda NS 500 two-stroke triple and rider revving his motorcycle at the start line.   It might be a 46-year-old Fast Freddie Spencer tempting fate again, waiting for the flag to drop so he can scream up the track in search of another chequered flag in the distance.  And as you look down towards the track, wave to the racers as they sit revving their metal steeds at the start line waiting for the next flag to drop.  For though legends like Fast Freddie may no longer fill fans with the adrenalin rush of old, their spirits live on as long as we remember their contributions to the sport we love.

If you aspire to be a world-class racer like Freddie Spencer or just to learn techniques that can make you a better rider any where you travel with your sportbike.  If you think learning the techniques used by a retired 46-year-old three-time world champion to keep him from crashing as he was tempting-fate on the race track might help.  Then check out Freddie’s racing school at the Las Vegas Speedway or his auxiliary school at the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah.  Your body may thank you one day for taking the time to learn from the best and the confidence gained will make you a better rider.          

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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.