GARY NIXON | “SO– WHICH ONE OF YOU SORRY S.O.B.’s IS COMING IN SECOND?”

Gary Nixon started racing when he was 15-yrs-old– professionally at 17. Short and wiry at only 89 pounds– his slight size gave him an advantage over many of his bigger and more experienced competitors. Nixon would have his break-through year in 1963– winning his first AMA National road race, following-up 3 weeks later with a convincing victory in a short-track National race. He would finish the ’63 season ranked sixth in the Grand National Series.

Nixon’s speed, strength and skills accelerated, and the wins kept coming. In 1966 he was AMA Grand National runner-up to Bart Markel– and took the top honor of National Cycle Champion for 1967 & 1968. Nixon was known as one of the most tenacious and tough competitors ever, who often rode injured. For three years he raced with a battered leg held together by an 18-inch rod of stainless steel. The injuries would soon catch-up with Nixon, and he would be limited to mainly road racing. True to Nixon’s legendary skill and determination to win, he became one of the best pavement racers on the scene.

The history books should also reflect Gary Nixon as the 1976 World Formula 750 series champion, and the first American to win this honor– but Nixon was screwed by the bureaucratic governing board’s late decision to throw out a controversial race during the season. This would cost Nixon precious points, and ultimately the title.

Gary Nixon will not only be remembered  as a great champion who earned the respect and admiration of teammates, competitors, and fans alike– he was also one of the most colorful characters to ever grace the sport.  RIP Gary Nixon.

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“Back in the day, you had to do like everything– dirt track, road race, TT, short track, mile, 1/2 mile…  when I was a young kid, I was kind of a sports freak. I liked playing baseball, and playing football– but then everyone got big and I stayed small… Then, playing baseball, I got hit in the head with the bat– and I thought, man this is not it! So, I’d seen a couple [motorcycle] races, and some pictures in magazines, and I thought– Well, I want to do that, you know! Then, it just so happened that a guy came into town and had a bike that needed a rider…”

–Gary Nixon

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Gary Nixon, 1967 National Motorcycle Champion– who held the AMA #1 plate in 1967 & 1968. “To those who follow the sport, Nixon is the American dream, the champion– and that’s what earned him the right to blur around tracks this year with No. 1 displayed on anything he rides.” –Baltimore Sun, Sunday Magazine, 1968

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“Gary had the ego of a racer, and you need an ego to be a racer. He was known to go to the starting gate before the start of a race and say, ‘Which one of you is coming in second?’ He rode injured, and for his size was a strong man. He did one arm pushups for strength. He said, ‘If you want to go faster– you have to brake harder than anyone else when going into curves.’ And in order to keep the bike from wobbling, he had to have strong arms.”

–Robert Glick

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Arguably one of the most iconic and loved images of motorcycle racing legend Gary Nixon. Taken at the old Ascot Park Speedway back in 1967– Nixon, tongue out, sliding into the half-mile oval track turn.

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“At a press session someone asked Gary Nixon what his advice would be for someone who wanted to pursue motorcycle road racing. His reply– ‘Anyone who wants to road race motorcycles is here this week doing it!’ Room goes quiet, as we all realized that his short and simple reply said it all. At Loudon, Gary Nixon was amazing. Every race where he was close to the front, we’d all wait for his signature move– on the final lap he’d simply “out-brake” the 1st place rider in the final lap and win by a few bike lengths. “Out-brake” is an understatement– he was seemingly doing the impossible.”

–Mike Barone

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Gary Nixon– Many old-school fans during Nixon’s Triumph days, who rode Triumphs themselves, took great pride and joy in seeing their champion regularly beat the bigger Harley-Davidson bikes on his little 500cc twin.

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“When Nixon rolls up his shirt sleeves his arms look like road-maps, scars tracing a history of his career in motorcycle racing. He is the oldest in the United States and, perhaps…one of the most daring motorcycle racers in the world. He is certainly one of the most battered… I guess it’s like a woman having a baby– I’m told that it is a horribly painful thing, yet women keep having babies. Your body forgets how the pain was.”

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–Jim Holechek & Sandy McKee on Gary Nixon in The Evening Sun, 1978 

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“Gary Nixon was a master of going fast on a bad handling motorcycle. I believe it was Gary who figured out how to get the bike stopped, then turn it hard, stand it back up, and get on the gas. If you wanted to know what tire to use– you looked at Gary’s tires. I was always proud to introduce him as the two-time AMA Grand National Champion…Grand National Champion meant that you had to excel at five types of motorcycle racing– often on dangerous tracks. Most of the tracks back then had the same safety system– a few hay bales placed where most of the crashes occurred.” – Jerry Wood 

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June, 1968– National Motorcycle Champion 1967, Gary Nixon, on a Triumph 500 competing at Loudon, New Hampshire (the old Bryar Motorsports Park), known for holding the oldest motorcycle race in the country– The Loudon Classic. Cliff Guild is pictured tuning Nixon’s motorcycle. –Image via

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June, 1968– National Motorcycle Champion 1967, Gary Nixon, on a Triumph 500 competing at Loudon, New Hampshire (the old Bryar Motorsports Park). –Image via

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1969– Gary Nixon chin to the tank, torque-twisting the rear tire on his Triumph.

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(Teammate and fellow rider in Bruce Brown’s epic “On Any Sunday” rider starring Steve McQueen) David Aldana points to one of the biggest problems for the American team in the inaugural 1971 Trans-Atlantic Match Race Series (launched by BSA/Triumph), Gary Nixon’s broken left wrist. American motorcycle road racing was beginning to emerge as a separate entity from the country’s flat track roots. The question arose at a bar in Daytona Beach in 1971 between the American and British BSA/Triumph big wigs as to who were the best road racers between the Americans or the British. While the liquor flowed the concept of the Match Races emerged and, in the simpler times of the early 1970s racing scene, the event was quickly organized. According to 1971 Daytona 200 winner, Dick Mann, the match wasn’t exactly fair. “If I had been in the bar that night, I would have asked our guys ‘what were you thinking?’ But I didn’t get that chance, so about mid-week [at Daytona] we got handed a packet that included an itinerary for a trip to England. We were told it was just some kind of exhibition. When we got to England we found it was more like Custer’s Last Stand. Here we were matched up against the likes of Paul Smart, John Cooper and a bunch other British short circuit veterans on the tracks they had all grown up on and all of them with new “Low-Boy” BSA and Triumph triples. Only Mann and Gary Nixon (who was riding Romero’s Daytona bike) were on “Low-Boys” and the rest of us had the taller, heavier year-old machines. We ended getting smoked pretty badly in that first series, but we still had fun and set the stage for a series that eventually would see Americans winning over there.” –via The Rider Files, image courtesy Jim Greening Collection

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“Mid-life, I moved to SE Pennsylvania– maybe an hour from Gary Nixon’s shop, and would stop by and see him every so often. I have to say it took some courage to do this, as I was just a fan. I always rehearsed the questions I wanted to ask…and this provided time with him that I will never forget. He never once showed any indication that all these visits from fans like me were an inconvenience.” –Mike Barone

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“The thing with Gary, he wasn’t a real politician– and he kinda said what he felt and believed what he felt, really believed it. If you were his friend, he’d do anything for you…”  –Erv Kanemoto, legendary bike tuner who partnered with Nixon to win the 1973 U.S. National Road Racing Championship for Kawasaki

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gary nixon on any sunday movie film

Gary Nixon fitted with a camera on his helmet to shoot action footage for Bruce Brown’s epic 1971 motorcycling film, “On Any Sunday”. Gary Nixon is introduced at around the 8-minute mark when they get into the riders and specific racing styles, events, etc.

 

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“Winners Go with Bell” –Gary Nixon ad for Bell Helmets from probably back around 1968.

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“Triumph Motorcycles in America”, written by Lindsay Brooke and David Gaylin with foreword written by none other than Gary Nixon. Also featured is Marlon Brando– he rode his own Triumph for the iconic 1953 film– The Wild One

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Great old shot of a young Gary Nixon in a Triumph t-shirt– here you can see his legendary arms. One of  his signature quips was–“So, how many one-arm push-ups can you do!? They don’t count unless your pecker and your nose touch the ground at the same time.”

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Gary Nixon was a cult figure in the US, and across the pond– definitely for his epic riding in the British-American match races during the 1970s, but also because (Suzuki) teammate, and fellow racing legend, Barry Sheene (above, 1974) proudly raced with a Gary Nixon Enterprises T-shirt under his leathers.”[Sheene] really liked Gary– every time you see the leathers open, he’d have the Nixon t-shirt.” –Erv Kanemoto, legendary bike tuner who partnered with Nixon to win the 1973 U.S. National Road Racing Championship for Kawasaki

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7 thoughts on “GARY NIXON | “SO– WHICH ONE OF YOU SORRY S.O.B.’s IS COMING IN SECOND?”

  1. JP – mate, thanks so much for possibly my fave post yet, unreal !!!!
    My first ‘real’ bike bought back in ’89 was a ’69 U.S spec T120 Bonnie, I was one of a generation of young kids who was mesmerised watching Gary in ‘On Any Sunday’ as a ten year old, I was already in love with Trumpy’s and the sight of Gaz nailing it flat out only cemented my feelings. I went on to own and ride another three pre ’75 Bonnies and have always kept an eye out for anything to do with the remarkable talent that Nixon was.
    I also recall ‘Ace’ Sheene, who I got to meet on multiple occasions when working for Paul Feeney, a local Kwaka dealer and one time top notch factory racer, saying how much he respected his riding capabilities and the fact he was a great guy and totally fun to be around.
    I somehow think, wherever they are now, they’re both kicking back with a cool treat, taking the piss out of each other and having a laugh at what really were, the good old days.
    Happy New Year JP, what a way to start !!!!

  2. I met Gary and Jay Springsteen at Road Atlanta a couple of years ago.They had a small set up as Pair A Nines team. I drew up the courage to go talk to them as they were eating lunch. They both welcomed me in to their table and I talked to them for almost a half an hour. Gary was hilarious! I can only suggest what the famous tongue shot referenced. Suffice it to say he won the contest! He told me the story then autographed a poster with “I won!” scribbled across it. Gary and Jay are both legends to me. I am old enough to have watched both of them race in their prime. Never forget Jay at Sacto Mile in practice at full lock slide with hand on his knee looking backward. Amazing. Godspeed Gary

  3. I’m too young to have seen him race, but Gary is one of my favorite racers ever. Back in 2006, I was walking around in the pits after the Springfield Mile and bought a couple of Gary Nixon T-shirts. I was standing in line for Jay Springsteen’s autograph and some guy walking past stuck his finger in my chest demanding to know if I’d paid for the shirts. Turned out to be Gary Nixon himself! After he was convinced that I’d paid for them, he signed my ticket. Great tribute. Don’t ever stop posting.

  4. Check out the AMA Hall of Fame in Ohio, there was an entire exhibition dedicated to Nixon there in 2010. Triumph, Suzuki and Kawasaki’s were all shown. Amazing rider and icon in the sport.

  5. Great feature on a great man. He was one of my earliest heroes. If Gary Nixon and Steve McQueen rode Triumphs, then that’s what I wanted — and eventually got. Thus I was thrilled to my socks when I met him in Baja in 1987. He’d gone to race in a crazy overland run called La Carrera, which had few restrictions and not a whole lot of safety regs. He was actually sitting on the curb in San Felipe, so I sat down next to him and he quickly began spinning yarns. The year before he’d run the race in a Chrysler Turbo but still averaged 102 mph. Now he going to run it on a Kawasaki EX500. He recalled one year when he was running it on a bike and was drafting Mark Brelsford — drafting! — down some long straight road. “I see him sit up and wonder what he’s doing and then I see some farmer up ahead is running 200 head of cattle across the road!” Nixon loved the excitement — he was about 46 or so at the time and hadn’t raced for a while — even though he knew how dangerous it was. Maybe he’d run so many dangerous races in his early days it all seemed normal. He was still a wiry block of muscle. Before Kenny Roberts there was Cal Rayborn, who died too soon, and Gary Nixon, who showed us all how.

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