Ricky Graham, feet-up sliding a Harley-Davidson XR750 prepared by Tex Peel at the 1983 Springfield Mile, was among the greatest Mile racers of all time.
There are great flat track racers, and then there are great flat track racers. Consider the late Ricky Graham, who billed himself as “Ricky ‘G’” during racing hours, among the great flat trackers of all time.
The three-time AMA Grand National Champion (1982, 1984 and 1993) set a record in 1993 with six National wins in a row that accounted for half of his 12-win tally for the season, also a record. Beyond those statistics, most of his contemporaries agreed that nobody forced a bike harder into a turn before pitching it sideways than Ricky G.
That riding style was never more evident than at Mile tracks where Graham often seemed unstoppable. Perhaps his greatest single Mile lap occurred in 1984 when, as Bubba Shobert’s teammate on American Honda’s fledging factory-backed team, he set an absolute lap record for any Mile, blistering around the fabled Springfield oval at the Illinois Fairgrounds in 34.548 seconds. That translated to 104.203mph, fastest Mile lap on any Mile oval by any flat track racer at the time.
His fans called him Ricky G. His competition called him fast.
Graham’s Team Honda mechanic, the late Sparky Edmonston, described that historic lap for me once, and his recital was more than inspiring. It was poetry. Edmonston’s commentary also left no doubt how he felt about his rider; there was exceptional pride in his voice as he relayed to me how special that half minute was. That from a man who wrenched for some of racing’s greats, among them two-time AMA Grand National Champion and three-time 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts.
“He [Graham] didn’t shut off once,” began Edmonston about The Lap, “and he went the whole way with his feet on the pegs.” The key phrases “didn’t shut off once” and “whole way with his feet on the pegs” sent goose bumps down my neck that day in 1985 when I first chronicled Graham’s achievement.
Edmonston paused during his commentary to let those words sink in. Then he concluded: “It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Cue the goose bumps again as we all share a moment of silence to pay tribute to one of the great flat track racers of all time.
— Dain Gingerelli
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