Randy Mamola: Four Seconds to Greatness

Sometimes before you become a winner, you have to lose something — four times in fan favorite and philanthropist Randy Mamola’s case.

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by Dain Gingerelli

About the time Randy Mamola turned 17 he was racing a Yamaha TZ250 in New Zealand. As a visiting rider he was assigned “A” for his race number. He’s been a Class-A act ever since.

One of the all-time great Grand Prix road racers never won a world championship. Randy Mamola, winner of 13 GP races, placed second in the 500cc championship four times — 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1987 — and was among the top 10 in points for 11 of his 14 seasons (his stint with Cagiva left him out of the top 10 in 1988-1990). But Mamola never won the grand prize, the 500cc World Championship.

Practically from the get-go, Mamola seemed destined for motorcycling greatness when he was groomed as a teenager by the same man — Jim Doyle — who helped launch Kenny Roberts’ career. By 1975 Doyle had the 15-year-old Mamola signed to race Yamaha’s spunky TA125 production road racer in AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists) club races. Soon former AMA racer Ron Grant assumed some of the on-track tutorial duties, and Mamola finished second to Dave Emde in the 1977 AMA 250cc national championship. Grant arranged for Mamola to race in New Zealand to further hone his skills, and the payoff was Mamola later capturing the 1978 AMA 250 title. It was then on to Europe, and through a series of events Mamola found himself sponsored on a Suzuki RG500, placing eighth in his short rookie season of 500cc GP competition. His racing career was taking off.

But it never fully took off, those four runner-up placings a nagging stigma that he never was champion. Even so, Mamola became a fan favorite, and if you have never witnessed his greatness on the race track, check out the YouTube clip featuring one of the most spectacular near-crashes in racing history. Punch in “Randy Mamola’s 1985 San Marino save” to enjoy a thrilling two-minute video highlighting Mamola’s near high-side on a Honda NS500. You’ll gain a better appreciation for his skills. Mamola’s comments on the video also reveal why he was such a good interview at the track.

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