Goodbye Gary Nixon and Claudio Castiglioni

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Gary Nixon leads Jay Springsteen in one of the pair’s “Battle of the 9s” races at Barber in 2005.
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Claudio Castiglioni and son Giovanni, 2005.

Gary Nixon: 1941-2011
Gary Nixon, 1967 and 1968 AMA Grand National Champion, passed away August 5 after suffering a heart attack. He was 70 years old.

Over a decades-long career that started with his first professional race in 1958 at the age of 17, the indefatigable Nixon rode his way to the top of the American racing scene. Nixon really vaulted to fame in 1967, when he started his championship-winning season riding a Triumph to first place at the Daytona 200. Nixon built a reputation for toughness, riding, for instance, for three seasons with a stainless steel rod holding his left leg together after stuffing a Triumph dirt tracker into a post in 1969.

During his career, Nixon had 19 AMA National wins and more than 150 Grand National finishes. He should have won the World Formula 750 road racing title in 1976, but saw it taken away from him when in a controversial ruling results from the Venezuelan race were thrown out because of scoring errors.

Although he officially retired in 1979, in the mid-1990s Nixon, then in his 50s, raced in the Legend series, which he won twice. In 2003, Nixon jumped back into the national limelight when he and three-time AMA Grand National Champion Jay Springsteen thrilled vintage race fans at Daytona in the “Battle of the 9s” between the two stars: Upon retiring from the pro circuit, Nixon had passed his national number 9 along to Springsteen, then a rising star, but Nixon continued to use his old number in vintage events.

In 2004 he started racing in the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) series. Riding for Jerry Liggett and Steel Breeze Racing, Nixon took the Formula Vintage National Championship aboard Liggett’s 1972 Triumph Trident that year: He was 65, and clearly hadn’t lost his competitive edge. From flat track to road racing, Nixon did it all, and always excelled. He was indisputably one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time.

Claudio Castiglioni: 1947-2011
Claudio Castiglioni, owner and president of MV Agusta, died August 17 after succumbing to cancer. He was 64 years old.

Although he acquired notoriety for selling and buying back MV Agusta — twice — his influence on the current success of the Italian motorcycle industry can’t be overstressed. With his older brother, Gianfranco, Claudio founded Cagiva in 1978 from the remains of Aermacchi. In 1985 the Castiglionis acquired Ducati, then literally a breath away from being resigned to the scrap heap of history. The brothers put Ducati back in the racing limelight and set Ducati on a new development track, introducing new liquid-cooled four-valve desmodromic twins and expanding the Ducati line. Looking to further extend their market reach, in the late 1980s the brothers acquired Husqvarna and Moto Morini. Husqvarna flourished, winning no less than 21 Enduro, four Motocross and five Supermoto World titles after Cagiva acquired it in 1986.

But it was Ducati’s success winning six World Superbike titles under Cagiva ownership that mattered most commercially. Doug Polen’s 1991 title victory on the Team Ferracci bike — run out of the back of a small NCR van — gave Claudio immense satisfaction, even though it meant his own Ducati factory team riders came off second best. “This is the true spirit of Superbike racing,” he declared, “where a customer’s bike can beat the factory machines. It’s also good for business — it shows that we at Ducati can sell you a bike you can win a World Championship with!”

Engaging and charismatic, Castiglioni inspired great loyalty and gave it in return. For many, il Presidente was a motorcycle visionary. Without his passionate belief in Italy’s ability to develop unique products of universal appeal, Ducati would today be making diesel engines, not motorcycles, and would never have won a single World Superbike title. MV Agusta, relaunched by Castiglioni in 1997, would only be a distant name in the road racing history books, Massimo Tamburini would never have created the Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4, Miguel Galluzzi would not have concocted the Ducati Monster, and Pierre Terblanche would never have been asked to create the ultimate single-cylinder Ducati Supermono. And a host of famous riders, from Carl Fogarty to Troy Bayliss, might never have become World champions.

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