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.
“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, 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
“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.”
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.