There have been many pop­u­lar rid­ers in Amer­i­can dirt-track rac­ing across the decades but none have ex­em­pli­fied time­less com­pet­i­tive­ness in the Grand Na­tional cham­pi­onships across three full decades of con­tin­u­ous rac­ing in the Ex­pert class. None ex­cept for

Classic Racer - - PEOPLE -

Jay Spring­steen was born in the right place at the right time when it came to be­ing con­nected with mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing. “My dad raced mo­tor­cy­cles and went to school with and worked with Bart Markel (three-time AMA Grand Na­tional cham­pion).they were both tool and die-makers at Chevro­let. My dad raced a lit­tle bit of scram­bles rac­ing and then my brother and I started rac­ing on a lit­tle Har­ley-david­son M50. I was nine and the first time I raced it I got a third place, rac­ing against Bridge­stones, Ho­dakas and all these other dif­fer­ent older bikes you haven’t heard of in years. I rode the Har­ley for just one year, shar­ing it with my brother Kenny when we were just com­ing up. “Then we went to Honda S90s (the pressed steel frame ver­sion), I had a red one and my brother had a black one. We rode those for a cou­ple of years. Af­ter that we rode the 100cc Kawasaki Green Streaks. In their day those were rock­ets. When I was 12 or 13 years old I could split the cases and put a new rod in it, true the crank up and put it back to­gether. My dad showed me how to do it a cou­ple of times and then I took off with it and started do­ing it my­self. He helped me with ported cylin­ders and pol­ished cranks, try­ing to go faster than any­body else.” Hav­ing dad work­ing for Chevro­let was an ad­van­tage re­gard­ing ac­cess to tools and ma­chin­ing. “I’d say that a lot of guys from Michi­gan went fast be­cause we had ‘Gen­er­ous Mo­tors’ be­hind us. We rode 250s for a year or two in 1972-73, rac­ing Am­a­teur for a year on the 250Yamaha MX, still with dual shocks then. We took the en­gine out of the mo­tocross bike and put it into thetrack­mas­ter chas­sis. My brother had a Cham­pion chas­sis and we were build­ing our bikes in the base­ment. We tuned them our­selves, ported and pol­ished them.” The Flint, Michi­gan area was a hot­bed for flat track rac­ing tal­ent, not un­like how the south­ern Cal­i­for­nia scene at As­cot Park had been. Bart Markel had re­tired at the end of the 1972 sea­son. In that up­com­ing gen­er­a­tion, there were Randy Goss, Scott Parker and Jay, all from that same part of Michi­gan.these three rid­ers were to win 14 Grand Na­tional cham­pi­onships be­tween them. Jay: “For 1974 I was a Ju­nior and 1975 was my first year as an Ex­pert on the big bikes. We had Jimmy Clark as a me­chanic, who worked at a Har­ley-david­son shop, and started do­ing it straight out of his garage. It was an XR, with at-shirt print­ing com­pany… Vista Sheen out of Detroit, spon­sor­ing me for my first years on the big bikes. We went to Penn­syl­va­nia, Ohio, and Wis­con­sin. I raced at As­cot against Skip Ak­sland, a good guy… I got along good with him and his broth­ers.” Skip Ak­sland re­mem­bers it well: “What sticks out in my mind is when we were Ju­niors for the end of the sea­son races at As­cot Park in 1974. It was on the Fri­day night, called theyamaha Gold Cup, run­ning with the last Na­tional on the west coast the next day. I re­mem­ber read­ing about Spring­steen in Cy­cle News and how he was win­ning ev­ery­thing on the east coast, the Mid­west, and the Michi­gan area and that he was the guy to beat. I was on a Shellthuet­yamaha 750 that Kenny (Roberts) had built as he was spon­sor­ing me. We were run­ning Pirelli tires at the time and af­ter prac­tice Jay came up and asked me about the tyres.there were hard tyres and soft tyres. “Peo­ple were throw­ing the hard tyres on their roofs in the sun to make them even harder, so they’d flex less and grab more dirt.the prob­lem was that they would chunk. I told Jay that I run a soft tyre.then Terry Dorsch told him that you’ve got to run a hard tyre and that it was the only way to get around this place. So I won my heat race and Jay won his heat race. We lined up for the main event and he just dis­ap­peared. Af­ter about five laps in a 12-lap main event he’s got a straight­away lead but then I started catch­ing him. He was sliding around be­cause he’d run a hard tyre and it was chun­ked. Grad­u­ally I caught him and passed him in turn four on the last lap go­ing for the che­quered flag. He had no tread left on the rear tyre, so I got

good drive off the cor­ner and won the race in dra­matic fash­ion. It was big time for me.” Now Springer was rac­ing against the guys he had al­ways read about: “There was Corky Keener, Rex Beauchamp, Chuck Palm­gren, Romero, David Al­dana.” Dur­ing his rookie Ex­pert year, it wasn’t long be­fore the Vista Sheen bike was in Vic­tory Lane. It was ab­so­lutely the most mem­o­rable race from that era for Springer. “As a first year Ex­pert, win­ning and beat­ing all those guys at Louisville for my first Grand Na­tional win… the year be­fore I was a Ju­nior and couldn’t ride so I watched Corky Keener just smoke ev­ery­one run­ning way up by the hay bales, go­ing high-low in the cor­ners. So, the next year I did that and here I go right past Corky Keener and Rex Beauchamp, both Har­ley fac­tory rid­ers. Romero was on the Yamaha, there were Shell Thuet Yama­has… and here I was, just a young wild kid, com­ing up with long hip­pie hair. It didn’t re­ally reg­is­ter for quite a while that I had ripped all these fac­tory guys, you know?” Ak­sland again: “That night af­ter he won that first Na­tional at Louisville Downs, we were all out in the park­ing lot of the Hol­i­day Inn. Har­ley-david­son knew what they had in Jay, so they were giv­ing him some fac­tory sup­port on that Vista Sheen bike. There was an­other race the next day and the me­chan­ics were work­ing on the bikes. We were hang­ing out and Jay was sit­ting in the back of his van drink­ing a beer. Dick O’brien (who ran the Har­ley fac­tory team) walked up and said, ‘Jay, you can’t be drink­ing a beer, you’ve got a race to­mor­row and there is a $100 fine.’ Jay told him: ‘Well, you’d bet­ter make it $200 be­cause I’m go­ing to have an­other one!’” The fol­low­ing week Jay won the next race at Har­ring­ton, Delaware. “I had two in a row right there… I was kind of a nat­u­ral tal­ent on the bikes, and ev­ery­thing seemed to come easy for me. When I started beat­ing my older brother, he got frus­trated and went to work for AC Spark Plugs, put his 30 years in, re­tired, and bought a big farm 27 miles from here. He hardly ever raced much af­ter that, kind of frus­trated that his younger brother was beat­ing him.” By the end of his rookie sea­son on a pri­va­teer bike, Jay had fin­ished third in the Grand Na­tional points. One of the more bizarre races in the his­tory of flat track rac­ing had to be the 1975 Indy Mile, which Kenny Roberts won with the TZ750 four-cylin­der two-stroke road racer. KR was strug­gling to catch up to Corky Keener and Spring­steen that day. Jay: “Me and Corky Keener were kind of go­ing at it rac­ing for first and sec­ond. Com­ing out of 2 one lap I looked back and saw we had a pretty good gap on him, but I was try­ing to tell Corky that num­ber one was com­ing.” Roberts: “I was go­ing down the back straight one lap and Springer turned around and saw me. He only saw me about prob­a­bly two laps from the end and they were screw­ing around. I saw Jay hold up his fin­ger with his thumb point­ing back try­ing to tell Corky that num­ber one was be­hind them. Corky’s not read­ing this hand sig­nal and know­ing that his bike was stronger than Springer’s at that race, he was think­ing, ‘Yeah, I’m go­ing to be num­ber one’. But it wasn’t that… it was me be­hind him. All of a sud­den it was ‘Hey let’s go!’ and Corky didn’t get the memo. It was pretty funny.” Jay: “We went back and forth and never saw Roberts again the whole race un­til we went across the start-fin­ish line when Roberts went across the line 30mph faster than we were go­ing. He was just far enough back that we could never hear him. Corky says to this day that he never even knew he was there. I told him (Kenny) that I was the one that made Kenny Roberts fa­mous for rid­ing that bike be­cause he won the race that day. “Corky and I were try­ing to ex­change hand sig­nals but Corky prob­a­bly thought we were just flip­ping each other off go­ing down the straight­away. We used to do that a lot in those days, he was my num­ber one fan you know.” The year 1976 brought Springer to the Har­ley-david­son fac­tory ride: “It was my first year with Dick O’brien the race team man­ager. Gary Scott was num­ber one in 1975 and I took over his po­si­tion in the Har­ley race de­part­ment. My me­chanic was Bill Werner.” Jay had a cou­ple of wins early in the year at Colum­bus and Al­bu­querque but set the world on fire at the end of the sea­son, win­ning four of the last five races and five of the last seven. “Back then I was young and rac­ing was just fun. It didn’t be­come a job un­til later on when I fig­ured out that ‘s**t, I’m do­ing this for a liv­ing’. It was start­ing to take off

when I was still in high school; some­times I’d race on Wed­nes­day nights in Chicago. I’d leave at 11am… I was on co-op at school and I’d go to Chicago, make $600, take a shower and then go back to school. I didn’t grad­u­ate. I never did go back. I had missed half a credit in English and half a credit in his­tory. I said I was good in math be­cause I was al­ways count­ing money.” It must have been a real mind­blower for Springer, as he was now the Grand Na­tional cham­pion at 19. “It was for ev­ery­body else, I was just float­ing on cloud nine. I bought my house when I was 18 years old and I’m still liv­ing in the same home on a lake here in Michi­gan.” Now car­ry­ing the #1 plate, 1977 brought his sec­ond GN Cham­pi­onship. It started with win­ning the Hous­ton Texas Short Track race at the Astrodome. “It was a Har­ley-david­son 250 with a two-cy­cle en­gine… when they first came out with the Har­ley mo­tocross bike by Aer­ma­c­chi. We took the en­gine out of those chas­sis and put them in Track­mas­ter chas­sis, but I think the fol­low­ing year we had a Cham­pion one.” This was one of the few suc­cess sto­ries for the Har­ley 250 MX pro­gramme, as they strug­gled with odd­i­ties like run­ning forks for sus­pen­sion front and rear. Springer had won a Short Track, Half-mile, TT, and at two Miles that year… win­ning at ev­ery dis­ci­pline. Was there a pre­ferred dis­ci­pline? “Rid­ing the big bike at Peo­ria (The Peo­ria TT) was a spe­cial thing, rid­ing the 750s. It was one of the tough­est races back then in the se­ries to win, and it was one of my favourite tracks. “I should have won the dang thing one time when I shut the pet­cock off with my knee. It started run­ning on one cylin­der and I thinkhink I fin­ished sec­ond.sec­ond There was one pet­cock feed­ing one car­bu­ret­tor and one pet­cock feed­ing the other one. Af­ter that I think I was the one that in­vented putting in a “T” so that one pet­cock would feed both car­bu­ret­tors.” Springer won the Indy Mile, which was a ca­reer high­light. “It is one of my favourite races to go to. My dad took me there to watch the Indy cars when I was younger. The at­mos­phere… you’d be go­ing 130mph go­ing down the back straight­away and I’d be look­ing at the Fer­ris wheel, not even pay­ing at­ten­tion to where I was go­ing.” Given that con­nec­tion to the Indy cars, did you ever con­sider switch­ing from bikes to cars, such as Leonard, Gold­smith, or Sur­tees? “At one time I thought about go­ing car rac­ing, as I re­mem­bered Joe Leonard. I al­ways said that when I was done rac­ing bikes that I would go to cars. My brother Kenny raced a car on dirt tracks up here and I took it out a cou­ple of times. It just didn’t thrill me the same. Ev­ery time I go out to Cal­i­for­nia, I still go to Gur­ney’s shop to go see Dan at his shop (All Amer­i­can Rac­ers). My buddy Chuck Palm­gren still works for them.” For 1978, Springer was the Grand Na­tional champ again, win­ning three Half-miles in a row and then again surged to win two of the last four races. Jay is one of those rac­ers that just keep get­ting stronger as the sea­son

pro­gresses. “As the sea­son went on, I was in bet­ter shape. I was kind of in a league of my own with Parker, Bubba Shobert, Ricky Graham… when they got their num­ber one plates, they just kind of dom­i­nated. Ricky Graham was just a nat­u­ral tal­ent.” The year 1979 left Springer sec­ond in the points af­ter miss­ing the first five races due to a mys­tery ail­ment. Upon his re­turn he won race six at As­cot Park, race seven at Lau­rel, Mary­land, race eight at Louisville, and later he won at the Peo­ria TT. At the sea­son’s end, he lost the GN ti­tle by two points. Jay: “I kind of got my head back to­gether, or so I thought any­how… but I still had the sick­ness. It was a prob­lem where I had some kind of in­testi­nal prob­lem to where my in­testines would twist. It was not rac­ing stress, it was more stress re­lated from home. The best way to de­scribe it was that when I got a di­vorce it went away. I was good at times and then I would just get sick. They could never fig­ure it out and it went on through the early Eight­ies. I was still rid­ing for the Har­ley team, they hung with me.” Springer was to strug­gle with this for five or six sea­sons. There were no wins in 1980, but in 1981-82 Springer took back-to-back wins at the Hous­ton short track races again on a de­vel­op­ment of his 1977 ti­tle-win­ning bike. “It was on the Har­ley 250, I still have that. I rode that (for short track) and then later I started rid­ing the Ron Wood Ro­tex.” The next day, Ricky Graham won the Hous­ton TT, and it was ob­vi­ous that 1982 was to be a ti­tanic strug­gle be­tween Springer and Ricky Graham. Spring­steen won the Sacramento Mile, the Indy Mile, and the San Jose Mile. The early sea­son win at Sacramento was a spe­cial mo­ment, as it was his 30th win and moved him past Kenny Roberts as the rider with the most wins in the GN Cham­pi­onship. How­ever, Jay even­tu­ally lost the cham­pi­onship in a squeaker at the sea­son fi­nale. “When Ricky Graham won the GN Cham­pi­onship, I beat him at As­cot, but it came down to the points thing and he ended up beat­ing me by two points.” That year, Dick O’brien had also brought Jay and Ricky Graham to ride the fac­tory Har­ley-david­son for the 1982 Su­per­bik­ers race at Carls­bad. Jay: “It was a lot of fun, part dirt-part pave­ment. Those guys were on two strokes like Honda CR500S and I was on the 750 V-twin Har­ley. They had 15in of travel and I was still at 6in of travel. “It wore me out those days that I did that stuff. It was hard to ride – it was just stren­u­ous rid­ing that big bike. Jump­ing it, then wide open on it for the pave­ment stuff and then hard on the brakes. It helped me for when I started run­ning road rac­ing. The 500s were fast down them straight­aways, they would hang right with us.” Springer fin­ished on the box in third, shock­ing many of those in at­ten­dance. 1982 500cc World Cham­pion (MX) Brad Lackey was awestruck, say­ing, “Springer was rid­ing that thing… man he was all over the place. I couldn’t be­lieve how fast he could go. He’d catch us on the top-end stuff. That Har­ley hauled ass!” In 1983 Springer showed up at Day­tona to run in the Bat­tle of the Twins, putting his Su­per­bik­ers ex­pe­ri­ence to good use on the pave­ment. “I rode 250s in road rac­ing when Roberts was num­ber one in the US rid­ing the Yama­has and then I rode the XRS a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent times. I was rac­ing against Jimmy Adamo on the Du­cati, and he had won the Twins for­ever down there on that thing. I came down there on the Har­ley XR-1000 and put a whip­pin’ on him. I loved rid­ing the road rac­ing stuff but Har­ley never re­ally had a good road racer, so I stayed in the US and did the dirt-track stuff.” The bike had been born from the burnt wreck­age of the ex­plod­ing Mark Brels­ford XR, seen in the fa­mous pho­to­graph from the 1973 Day­tona 200. Small won­der the bike was named ‘Lu­cifer’s Ham­mer’. There were some later suc­cesses for that XR-1000 as well, when Gene Church, rid­ing that same bike, was to win the Bat­tle of the Twins ti­tle in 1984, 1985, and 1986. Adamo was one of the true Du­cati legends in the US rid­ing Reno Leoni’s bikes. He was killed when his 888 had a front brake fail­ure in 1993 Day­tona 200. For 1983 the top five rid­ers in the GN Cham­pi­onship were Goss, Graham, Springer, Shobert and Parker. The strength and depth of the field was as strong as in any era, and the three quick rid­ers from Michi­gan had reached the top.

Jay: “It was tough back then, any­body who made the main event had a chance to win it. Things have changed over the years.” Jay won four Half-miles and the Peo­ria TT, but Ricky Graham swept the last three races to win the ti­tle. The 1983 Su­per­bik­ers were not to see Har­ley re­peat the suc­cess of 1982. Jay: “We got more power out of them and had some sort of trick trans­mis­sion that Bill Werner had come up with and that was the one we started to have trou­ble with.” 1986 was Jay’s first year rac­ing in the Day­tona 200, rid­ing a Yamaha to fin­ish fifth. “I rode for Dave Knapp on a FZ Yamaha. The next time (1989) I rode on the Su­perteam that Jim France had put to­gether, all dirt-track­ers. It was Lance Jones, me, Ricky Graham… it was so cool, ev­ery­thing was so nice. We had good me­chan­ics, they made ev­ery­thing easy for the rid­ers. We had any­thing we wanted, all we had to do was to tell them what the mo­tor­cy­cle was do­ing and they knew what to do for mak­ing it bet­ter. It had a rev lim­iter, and I thought it blew up on the bank­ing. I’d hit the rev lim­iter so I clutched the thing and coasted in. I think Kenny Clark was the Yamaha fac­tory guy then and he came over to tell me ‘Aw, you just bumped the rev lim­iter on it.’ “I thought, what is a rev lim­iter? The Har­leys never had no rev lim­iters in them… they shifted hard, the clutches were stiff. These things were so smooth, ev­ery­thing was so nice.” One thinks back to the Bri­tish de­scrib­ing Cal Ray­born’s iron bar­rel Har­ley-david­son at the Trans-at­lantic match races in 1972 as be­ing 'agri­cul­tural'. Jay was to fin­ish tenth in the 1989 Day­tona 200. 1984 saw no wins. For 1985, Jay was to win the San Jose short track and the Syra­cuse Mile. Those were to be his last wins for a decade. 1990 was the one high­light, that al­though win­less, Springer was to fin­ish fourth in the Grand Na­tional points. But the dam­age had al­ready been done and Jay lost the fac­tory ride. Jay: “Scotty Parker ended up tak­ing over my po­si­tion up at the race de­part­ment. I was miss­ing so many races, they had to do some­thing. The bikes were there but the rider wasn’t. I rode for a Har­ley-david­son deal­er­ship out of Racine, Wis­con­sin for a year. But then I went with Bill Bar­tels, at Bar­tels’ Har­ley-david­son (Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia).” In 1995 it all came right again for Jay at Pomona, not far from his spon­sor’s shop in LA: “It put me back on top. I had Jim Kelly build the en­gine for the Bar­tels’ bike. He had gone over­seas for some­thing and couldn’t be there that day. But ev­ery­thing just kind of fell to­gether and first I went out and smoked them on the 883s and then me and Will Davis went at it for a while on the big bikes, but then I got by him and just kind of cruised away.”

Jay was to win the Hager­stown, Mary­land Half-mile in 1999, but a ca­reer high­light was his fi­nal Na­tional win, in 2000 at the his­toric Spring­field Mile. Jay: “I’d been sec­ond and third a lot of times rac­ing with Parker and Carr… to come through and end up win­ning the thing at the end re­ally was good. I’d al­ways been there, al­ways so close to win­ning and never did.

“That was also when me and my wife Judy were get­ting to­gether and kind of changed my whole life around.” Jay re­tired from the GN Cham­pi­onships, clos­ing out his ca­reer in 2003 with a pair of podium fin­ishes. There were some fur­ther ad­ven­tures for the Pair-a-nines – Gary Nixon and Springer. “Me and Nixon had the Pair-a-nines with the Kawasaki in 2007 or 2008 and that was a lot of fun. Be­fore that Nixon would stay at my home and would work at the race shop. He did this for like three or four sum­mers in a row but then in 2006 I broke my back. “We were friends with Jim France through the Speed­way and af­ter the Day­tona 200 we went to see Jim and he asked if we wanted to get a team to­gether. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing any­thing like that. “He came up with the bikes, and had a se­ries for us to run the bikes in (Moto ST). They were try­ing to keep our names out there, so that we still were in­volved. I was rid­ing the bike and Nixon was the team man­ager. “There were seven races or so dur­ing the year, but I had as much fun as when I was rac­ing with the Har­ley fac­tory. There was fric­tion at times, but we had a lot of fun. I thought when I stop hav­ing fun at this then it’s time to do some­thing else.” That said, all those sea­sons of rac­ing have taken their toll on Jay. “I broke a bunch of dif­fer­ent bones over the years. I never thought about it as I thought I was a rub­ber ball… now it hurts ev­ery day.” In 2014 Springer rode some ex­hi­bi­tion laps at the Sacramento Mile. “I went faster than Jared Mees (2012-14-15 GN1 champ) and Bryan Smith. I was rid­ing Jared Mees’ back-up bike and went faster than he did on his main bike… heh, heh, heh. I could still race right now. Ev­ery­body was ask­ing ‘Springer how in the hell did you do that?’ I told ‘em the throt­tle stuck… (laughs).” Jay was the Grand Mar­shal at the 2017 Day­tona TT races, a first time event that will likely gain trac­tion for fu­ture years. His 29-year pro­fes­sional ca­reer in the GN Cham­pi­onships will likely never be ex­ceeded. Kenny Roberts: “He’s a great racer, you can’t take that away from him… al­ways high, wide, and hand­some as the dirt-track­ers say. 29-years is just in­cred­i­ble, just crazy, but the longer you go, the more fans you have. He won a lot in his wan­ing years and that makes a dif­fer­ence.” At the end of his ca­reer Jay had won 43 Na­tion­als, and was a three-time Grand Na­tional cham­pion. He is third on the all-time win list be­hind Scott Parker (raced Na­tion­als from 1979-2000) and Chris Carr (raced Na­tion­als from 1985-2011). How­ever, when it comes to dirt-track rac­ing, Springer’s pop­u­lar­ity is un­matched and he is the most prom­i­nent am­bas­sador the sport has ever had.

Left: Jay and wife Judy back in 2011.

Above: From left, Spring­steen, Warner and Parker.

Above: At Pomona in 2007 and Springer’s words are still sought out.

Left: Jay at Louisville, Ken­tucky where he won his first GN in 1975

A Pair of Nines at Day­tona 2011, Gary Nixon and Jay Spring­steen.

Above: 1974 and the hair is per­fect as Jay (65) cel­e­brates an­other win and the big­gest smile.

Be­low left: On track and off Spring­steen was al­ways backed up by me­chanic Joe Bisha through the Bar­tels years.

Be­low mid­dle and right: Ex­act­ing eyes on vi­sors and the rac­ing line.

Above: Day­tona and the BMW races­races. Prid­more leads Springer leads Nixon leads Duhamel. Right: Win­ning the Pomona 883 race in 19941994.

Aboabove:e Team Michimichi­gan.an Scott Pa­parker,ke Ja­jay Spring­steen and Randy Goss.the H-D team. Be­low: Pour­ing and scor­ing – it’s 1976 and Jay Spring­steen is the new GN Cham­pion.

Main image: Full bore and find­ing grip. Skip vs Jay in the 1974 As­cot fi­nal ju­nior race. Above: And 10 years later Jay is a head­line name for the crowds at As­cot still.

Right: Jay back in the day com­plete with long-time spon­sor Bar­tels’ Har­ley-david­son on the leathers.

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