SI Vault
Sam Moses
December 02, 1985
Of the five types of races that make up the American Motorcyclist Association Grand National series—short track, half mile, mile, tourist trophy steeplechase (TT), road race—the mile is the hairiest. It's run on a simple dirt oval, one mile around. The bikes hit 130 mph on the straights and may slow to 90 on the turns. Or they may not. If the track has a "cushion" of loose dirt along the edges, an especially bold rider can blast around turns at full throttle, sideways, his steel-plated left foot skimming the track like a flesh-and-bone outrigger, kicking up billows of dust while the rest of his body struggles to maintain balance.
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December 02, 1985

Bubba Shobert Has Long Been On The Right Track. Now He's A Champ

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The San Jose Mile, held on the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds' dirt track, is considered the AMA circuit's classic. The track is known for its hard-packed surface and its long straights, which produce exciting drafting. "At this place, if you don't take a few chances you'll end up in seventh place," says Shobert.

There were 48 entrants at San Jose, including the four best milers ever: Shobert and Jay Springsteen with 13 wins, Graham and Hank Scott with 12. Only 17 of those 48 riders would make it into the main event. Little guys with big dreams stomped around the pits wearing steel shoes strapped to their left boots. Teenage warriors in battle dress of colored leathers leaned over the plastic pennants surrounding the Honda team, gazed at the RS750 and fantasized about the future.

Graham won the first heat by 100 yards, riding with a dislocated thumb, an improvement over last year, when he raced with a steel rod in his femur, although there had been six more broken bones in between. Shobert won his heat, too, by a bike length over 18-year-old rookie Chris Carr, touted by some as the next Bubba Shobert.

Before the main event Shobert sauntered around the pits—his walk is a strange combination of loose legs and rigid upper body—feeling little sense of destiny. Nervous? "What for?" he says. "It don't help to be nervous. But I'm ready to get it over with. I'll play better golf tomorrow if I clinch it."

In the main event the bikes burst from the starting line in a raspy roar, their exhaust notes somewhat stifled by giant mufflers called boom boxes. The pack emerged from the dust in Turn 2 and rolled through the back straight. The machines appeared riderless, as the racers tried to hide from the wind by hunkering down on their gas tanks.

Twenty-five laps—just 15 minutes and 54 seconds—after the start, Graham and Shobert were on the victory podium with Scott Parker, who had finished second on a Harley. Graham had passed Parker coming out of the second turn of the final lap and went on to win by a bike length. Shobert took third by half a length after battling a pack of five bikes the whole way; on the 23rd lap, he'd been sixth. It was the 16th consecutive mile in which Shobert had finished third or better, and third at San Jose was good enough to clinch the AMA championship. The No. 1 plate meant, among other things, $80,000 from Honda, $40,000 from Camel Pro Series sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and $20,000 from the Stroh Brewery Co.

Graham poured his champagne over Shobert's head and ceremoniously handed over the No. 1 plate. Price was on the verge of tears, and Don ran off to call Martha back in Lubbock. "I was so happy I couldn't hardly get it out on the phone," he said. Someone broke out the freshly made BUBBA SHOBERT GRAND NATIONAL CHAMPION T shirts, and when Bubba pulled one on over his leathers, he let loose a whoop of relief and elation. "I hope it ain't as hard to keep as it is to get," he said. "My stomach feels worse now than it did before the race."

"They can't take it away from us now," said Price. "They took it away last year, but the sumbitches aren't gonna get it again."

"This year makes up for it," added the jubilant Shobert. "I'm the champion, and I feel like I'm on top of the world right now."

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