1971 Champion Spark Plug 250

Turn 19 on the big Ontario Motor Speedway in 1971 Champion Spark Plug 250 may have contributed to the speedway's demise years later.

| September/October 2020

It was to be the motorcycle race to top all motorcycle races in America.

The start of Heat 1, with BSA rider John Cooper, No. 28, at the left of the photo, and Yvon duHamel, No. 11, farther left (top). Yvon duHamel leads the pack early in Heat 1 of the Champion Spark Plug 250(bottom).

The 1971 Champion Spark Plug Classic 250 was, according to sources at the time, the longest road race in AMA history, boasting the largest prize purse ever. It also was the 1971 season finale where the championship would be decided between BSA/Triumph teammates Dick “Bugs” Mann (BSA) and Gene Romero (Triumph), who also happened to be the defending champ.

Another thing: The Champion Spark Plug Classic, in terms of spectator attendance, was a bust. A big bust, boasting way more vacant bleacher seats than spectators. That was a pity, because the 1971 Champion Spark Plug Classic gave race fans one of the closest finishes of all time. Here’s how it played out.

The 250-mile race, held at the new super speedway in Ontario, California, was run as a pair of 125-mile heats. Aggregate scoring determined the overall winner, and by chance the second heat race went down to the wire, literally, featuring a photo finish between England’s BSA factory-sponsored rider John Cooper and Australian Kel Carruthers riding a Don Vesco-sponsored Yamaha TR3. Adding to the drama, the first of those two riders to the finish line would tally the highest score for the overall win. Winner takes all, simple as that.

But wait, there was more: The drama continued after the checkered flag when Bob Bailey, an irrelevant rider in terms of the AMA Grand National standings, used an obscure claiming rule to purchase Cooper’s priceless Doug Hele-built BSA triple for a mere $2,500. More about Bailey’s coup later, but first, let’s see how Cooper and Carruthers figured into the wild finish, and how Mann became man of the year to earn his second AMA Grand National Championship.

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