A little trivia about AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) Class C racing: Prior to America’s entry into World War II, Class C flat track National Champions were decided during a single meet held annually at the Springfield Mile. After World War II came to its just conclusion in 1945, the AMA promptly resumed its racing, and national champions once again were crowned at the fabled Illinois race.
Then in 1954 came change, a rare commodity within the AMA rank and file during those years. The change included instituting a multi-race season-long championship series, called the Grand National Championship. Springfield Mile winners would no longer be crowned champion for the year. Instead, the AMA’s coveted Number One Plate would be awarded based on a points system; the Class C rider scoring the most points during the course of the protracted 18-race series became champion. The first-season winner was Joe Leonard, who notched eight wins. By chance he won the Springfield Mile anyway, silencing naysayers who felt that regardless of who scored the most points, a racer wasn’t champion if he didn’t bag Springfield.
Leonard won two more GNC titles (1956-1957), but in 1958, he lost by a single point to Carroll Resweber in a 10-race season. Resweber won the following three years, too, while Leonard settled into his second professional career as a successful race car driver.
A career-ending injury in 1962 halted Resweber’s rampage, enabling Michigan’s “Black” Bart Markel to score his first GNC title that year. Next came the thriller of 1963 when Dick Mann edged George Roeder by a single point in their 14-race tussle. Then things went relatively quiet as successive GNC championships were decided before the final race of each year, the tightest bout being 1968 when Freddie Nix fell nine points short to Gary Nixon, 613 to 622.
By 1978 the seasonal situation heated up again when Jay Springsteen nosed privateer Steve Eklund by five points, and then came 1980 when several riders vied most of the season for the points lead until it was down to two competitors, privateer Hank Scott and Harley team rider Randy Goss, to finish out at the Ascot Half-Mile in Gardena, California. Moreover, it had been a grueling year for all competitors as the 26-race series — nearly equal to the combined number of races in 1958 and 1963 — forced racers to crisscross the country four times before Scott and Goss squared off at the trickiest half-mile race on the circuit.
That Scott was even in contention at that point was amazing — a mid-season disagreement with his tuner and bike owner, Sal Acosta, prompted the team to split up. Only an 11th-hour assist by famed engine man, Jerry Branch, helped salvage Scott’s season for a showdown with Goss who enjoyed a four-point lead; all other riders had been mathematically eliminated.
But in the end, the Ascot half-miler proved anticlimactic. Goss lagged off the line while Scott made an even worse start. After passing Goss, Scott needled his way near the front, falling short of winning. Goss finished two positions behind Scott to secure the title.
Four years later, though, the most exciting season finale of all took place, fittingly at the Springfield Mile. And that’s certainly a story for another time.
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