AMA Grand National Championship

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The AMA Grand National Championship is an American motorcycle racing series. The race series, founded and sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) in 1954, originally encompassed five distinct forms of competitions including; mile dirt track races, half-mile, short-track, TT steeplechase and road races.[1][2] Also known as flat track racing, the championship was the premier motorcycle racing series in the United States from the 1950s up until the late 1970s when, supercross events held in easily accessible major league stadiums became more popular.[3][4][5]


In 1932, the AMA sanctioned a racing class called the Class A Dirt Track championship allowing for motorcycle manufacturers to enter prototype machinery.[1][6] In 1937, the AMA introduced a new class called Class C which featured street-legal motorcycles in an effort to make motorcycle racing less expensive for ordinary motorcyclists.[1] When manufacturers cutback on racing budgets during the Great Depression, it spelled the end of Class A competition and, the Class C championship became the most important championship.[1] In the years prior to World War II, the Class C championship helped fuel an intense rivalry between Harley Davidson and Indian, the two major American manufacturers of the period.[7] During the Second World War, there were no championships held between 1942 and 1945.

From 1946 to 1953, the AMA Grand National Champion was crowned based on the results of a single race, the Springfield Mile held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Racetrack.[1] In 1954, the Grand National Championship series was introduced featuring five different types of competitions. Four of the competitions were held on dirt tracks, while the fifth was held on asphalt paved courses.[1] With the demise of the Indian motorcycle company in 1953, the Harley Davidson factory was left to dominate the series. Harley Davidson rider Joe Leonard won the first Grand National Championship in 1954 and won the title two more times before moving on to a career in auto racing. Carroll Resweber became the first four-time champion, winning four consecutive championships for Harley Davidson from 1958 to 1961. In the 1960s, British manufacturers seeking to bolster sales in the burgeoning American motorcycle market, began to compete in the championship. Dick Mann won the national title for BSA in 1963, marking the first victory for a foreign manufacturer.[8] Triumph would win three Grand National championships in four years with Gary Nixon winning back-to-back titles in 1967 and 1968, and Gene Romero taking another title in 1970.[9][10] Mann would win a second crown for BSA in 1971 before the British motorcycle industry collapsed in the face of stiff technological competition from Japanese manufacturers. In 1973, Yamaha's Kenny Roberts would win the first Grand National championship for a Japanese company.[11]

Dirt track racing at Scioto Downs, Ohio

When the Yamaha team withdrew from the Grand National championship after the 1977 season, Harley Davidson was left once again to dominate the series.[11] By 1983, the Grand National Championship had become the best attended form of dirt track racing in America, either on two wheels or four wheels.[12] This would be the high point for the championship as, other forms of motorcycle racing such as motocross and road racing began to overtake dirt tracking in popularity.[3] In 1984, Honda entered the championship and broke the Harley Davidson stranglehold with Ricky Graham winning the championship. Honda followed with three consecutive national championships by Bubba Shobert before they withdrew in 1987, leaving Harley Davidson once again as the sole major manufacturer in the series.[13]

In the 1970s and on into the 1980s, the Grand National Championship proved to be a fertile training ground for world champion road racers as, AMA dirt track racers such as Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey all went on to win the 500cc road racing world championship.[14] The motorcycle road racing technology of the late 1970s featured engines with power in excess of what the frames and tires of the day could handle.[15] The resulting tire spin created a style of riding more reminiscent of dirt track riding, where sliding the rear tire to one side is used as a method to steer the motorcycle around a corner. This proved to be a great advantage to American dirt track racers who were accustomed to sliding their motorcycles. As Grand Prix motorcycle racing evolved into its current MotoGP formula with electronic traction control limiting rear wheel sliding, the advantage once held by former dirt trackers has been diminished.

After the departure of the Honda team in 1987, the Harley Davidson factory racing team dominated the series with rider Scott Parker winning nine national championships within an eleven-year period.[16] During this period, dirt track racing continued its decline, partly due to the fact that motocross and road racing motorcycles could be purchased directly from the manufacturers, whereas dirt track racers had to be hand-built.[3] In 1989, the AMA recognized the changing nature of motorcycle racing by making the Grand National Championship into a dirt-track-only series.[17] Road racing events were branched off into a separate series which eventually became the AMA Superbike Championship. New dirt track classes were also introduced designed to attract young riders to the sport and, new rules for machinery were adopted in an effort to make it easier for motorcyclists to compete with motorcycles readily available from manufacturers.[3][18][19] While the Grand National Championship is no longer the premier racing series in the United States, it continues to have a loyal following.[3]


  • The Mile: A race held on an oval-shaped dirt course approximately one mile in length. The races became popular because of the availability of horse racing venues around the country, and are typically held during the off-season for horse racing.[2] These events usually favor motorcycles with larger engine displacements such as the Harley-Davidson XR-750. The races usually feature numerous lead changes with speeds of up to 140 miles per hour.
  • The Half Mile: An event similar to a mile race, also held on an oval-shaped dirt course with a shorter lap distance. Despite the distance, tracks may vary in length, because they are often held on the same venues that hold World of Outlaws car events.
  • Short Track: A race held on an oval-shaped dirt course approximately a quarter mile in length.[2] These tight courses have been held indoors at venues such as the Houston Astrodome and favor lighter motorcycles based on two-stroke motocross machinery.
  • TT Steeplechase: A race held on an irregularly shaped dirt course which usually features one right hand turn and one jump.[2] This event also favors lighter motorcycles, but larger motorcycles have also been successful. The initials TT stand for Tourist Trophy, taking its name from the days when street-legal motorcycles were known as touring motorcycles hence, a tourist trophy signified a class for street-legal motorcycles.
Main article: Road racing
  • Road Race: A race held on paved, purpose-built race tracks, the most famous event on the AMA calendar being the Daytona 200.

List of champions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The First Sixty Years; An Illustrated History of the American Motorcyclist Association. American Motorcyclist ( January 1984. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d Ridin' To The Races. American Motorcyclist ( August 1978. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Youngblood, Ed (August 1989). Dirt-track expansion. American Motorcyclist ( Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  4. ^ Toyota deal means big bucks. American Motorcyclist ( April 1978. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Supercross '77. American Motorcyclist ( March 1977. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Past and Present Champions. American Motorcyclist ( March 1956. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  7. ^ "Shell Thuet at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  8. ^ "Dick Mann at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 15 December 2010. 
  9. ^ "Gary Nixon at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  10. ^ "Gene Romero at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Kenny Roberts at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  12. ^ Harrison, Greg (April 1984). Meet Me In St. Louis. American Motorcyclist ( Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  13. ^ "Bubba Shobert at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  14. ^ Wood, Bill (August 1983). Wayne Rainey's road to stardom. American Motorcyclist ( Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  15. ^ 50 Years Of Moto Grand Prix (1st edition). Hazelton Publishing Ltd, 1999. ISBN 1-874557-83-7
  16. ^ "Scott Parker at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame". Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  17. ^ Parade Lap. American Motorcyclist ( February 1989. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  18. ^ Youngblood, Ed (May 1997). For The Love Of Dirt Tracking. American Motorcyclist ( Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  19. ^ Parsons, Grant (May 1998). Not Just A Spectator Sport. American Motorcyclist ( Retrieved 2 January 2011. 

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