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For more than a decade, the Harley XR750 had been the warhorse of the racing circuit. But three years ago, Honda began challenging the Harleys with a new machine, the RS750, and in 1984 they hired the two best riders they could, Shobert and Ricky Graham. (When Gene Romero, the Honda team manager, asked Skip Eaken, a veteran mechanic new to the Honda team, whom he wanted to work for, Eaken replied, "I want Bubba.")
Last year the Honda RS750, with its 90-hp, V-twin-overhead-camshaft 750cc engine, was the winner in 14 of 25 AMA races on dirt tracks. King Harley was dethroned.
Shobert won six of those races but finished No. 2 in the point standings to his teammate Graham, who also won six. "Everything happens for a reason," says Shobert as he reflects on the ups and downs of the '84 season.
On July 7, at a short track in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Shobert punched a fellow Texan, Terry Poovey of Euless. "We never got along all that good," says Shobert. "He was four years older than me, and I was always like the little kid, the amateur. When I started beating him, he didn't take it too good.
"In St. Louis we were going for it in practice, which was the first mistake—practice don't pay nothin'. On the front straightaway he moved over and drove me right into the hay bales and I hit one head-on and flipped. [Poovey claims that Shobert had passed him going too fast and that, as Poovey cut back beneath him to regain his lead, Shobert must have hit a rut, flown over the handlebar and into the bales.] Nothing was broke, but I was bumped-up and sore. We seen each other in the pits, and we got in a little disagreement. I just lost it, I guess, just punched him. It wouldn't have been so bad but he had sunglasses on, and he got cut under his eye and had to go get stitches. After I done it I knew I was gonna get in trouble, so I went and told the referee what I'd done."
"In 15 years of racing, ever since he was seven, it was the first time I'd ever seen that boy lose control," says Don.
The AMA fined Shobert $1,000 and suspended him for nine races. The sentence was later reduced to six at an appeal hearing. But even six races—18% of the season—seemed a harsh penalty for a fairly routine dustup. Though the missed points from those races would cost him dearly, Shobert learned something from the episode.
"When you're racing every week on a factory team," he says, "you take for granted what you've got, and you forget about how hard it was to get to where you're at. So when I almost lost it—I was afraid Honda would fire me—I realized this was the chance of a lifetime, the best chance I was ever gonna have to win the championship. So I trained harder and had a different frame of mind when I came back, more determined. I was 83 points down and everybody said there's no way you can catch up, but the idea was to just go out there and win as many races as possible. I had nothing to lose."
Shobert came back streaking; in the final 12 dirt-track races he won four and finished second seven times, not including the Hagerstown, Md. half mile, which he won while his case was under appeal. That victory was eventually disallowed. Had Hagerstown counted, Shobert would have joined Kenny Roberts and Dick Mann as the only riders to gain career wins in all five types of AMA races.
The final race of the 1984 season was the Springfield (Ill.) Mile, held on the fastest dirt track in the country. Shobert was 15 points behind Graham in the standings, and his only realistic chance for the title was a win, worth 20. On the next-to-last lap, he was leading Graham and Oklahoman Ted Boody, when Graham and Boody tangled in Turn 2 and Graham crashed hard. When Shobert came around the turn he saw his teammate sprawled among the hay bales, and the No. 1 plate flashed before Bubba's eyes, momentarily blinding him. Shobert's loss of concentration enabled Boody to pass him in the final turn to win by half a length. Meanwhile, Graham had staggered back onto his bike with a broken hand and chugged to the finish, the last bike running. Because his 13th place was worth two points, he beat Shobert for the championship by one. "Ricky beat me last year because he earned it," Shobert said at San Jose in September. "But it was my turn this year."