1988 USGP: Coming to America

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by David Dewhurst
Eddie Lawson above his Yamaha YZR500 at the 1988 U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.

By the mid-1980s, America’s motorcycle community was primed and ready — even love-starved — to host a world championship Grand Prix race. Only one obstacle stood in the way: The U.S. didn’t have a suitable venue at which to stage such an event.

To obtain Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) sanction for a world championship race a facility had to conform to a litany of standards including track length and width, adequate runoff room in the event of crashes, emergency response preparedness for injured riders, spacious paddock and enclosed garages for team transporters and race bikes, suitable spectator seating and viewing areas, and more. Few, if any, race tracks in America could fill all those prerequisites, and so for years America’s best road racers ventured overseas if they wanted to become a world champion.

Eventually, though, one race track organization decided to work towards gaining FIM approval for what would be America’s first motorcycle USGP since 1965. Laguna Seca Raceway, located near California’s picturesque Monterey Peninsula and operated by the non-profit charity organization known as SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula), committed to promoting a FIM Grand Prix featuring two classes — 250cc and 500cc bikes — for 1988. By the end of 1986 it was announced that Laguna Seca had secured a race date for the 1988 season. The Grand Prix circus was coming to America!

Looking back

In reality, though, the 1988 United States Grand Prix had its origins at the conclusion of the FIM’s 1978 500cc road race world championship when Kenny Roberts became America’s first-ever Grand Prix world champion. Even though Steve Baker won the Formula 750 world championship the previous year, that series didn’t carry Grand Prix status; every road race fan here and abroad knew that winning the three-quarter liter title didn’t compare to winning the FIM’s premier 500cc GP class. Some of road racing’s greatest racers — Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, John Surtees and Giacomo Agostini, to name a few — had their names affixed to that title. And now, so did Roberts who, in the process of becoming World Champion, earned a new and lasting moniker: King Kenny.

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