Jay Springsteen was all smiles after breaking the 29-race win record set by Kenny Roberts.
The following is from the Sacramento Mile…
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (July 9, 2014) – The memories of the night at Cal Expo 32 years ago aren’t crystal clear, but Jay Springsteen does recall one thing in particular. “Ricky Graham, Bubba Shobert, Scotty Parker, I mean there were some fast guys back then,” Springsteen said. “It was so competitive back then. If you made the main event in those days, you were good enough that you had an opportunity to win.”
On an April night in 1982 Springsteen made history. His victory at that year’s Sacramento Mile was his 30th-career AMA Grand National win and it was a milestone victory. That evening in Sacramento Springsteen moved past the legendary Kenny Roberts to become the all-time wins leader in AMA Grand National history.
But let’s back up a moment and consider the scope of Springsteen’s achievement.
During his record-setting career in the 1950s and early ‘60s the legendary Joe Leonard established the mark that all other racers aspired to when he won 27-career AMA Nationals.
Leonard’s record held for a decade until Bart Markel finally broke it in Columbus, Ohio, in 1971, by taking his 28th AMA National victory. Markel scored that win just in the nick of time because it proved to be his final career victory.
Modesto, California’s, Kenny Roberts then roared through the 1970s and at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, in August of 1980, when he was in the middle of winning his first FIM 500cc Grand Prix Championship overseas, Roberts found the time to come back home and score his 29th-career AMA National victory to establish a new record.
Roberts’ all-time record would prove to be fairly short-lived. Already on the scene was one of the most talented flat trackers the sport ever produced, Jay Springsteen, who emerged, ironically from the same hometown of Markel’s, Flint, Michigan, and starting in 1975 began building his own long list of AMA National wins. In February of 1982, Springsteen tied Roberts’ all-time record by taking his 29th-career victory in the season-opening AMA Grand National Short Track in the Houston Astrodome.
Anticipation was high for “Springer” finally hitting the 30-win mark, but it would have to wait. Springsteen was going through one of his bouts with a mysterious stomach ailment and missed some following races. Meanwhile Ricky Graham won the TT National in the Astrodome. Then New Zealand’s Graeme Crosby won the Daytona 200 and Stockton, California’s Alex Jorgensen took the TT victory at Ascot Park in Gardena, California.
The Sacramento Mile was round five of what was then known as the Winston Pro Series. It was the first Mile of the ’82 season and it was a tossup as to who would win. In the five AMA Grand National Miles the preceding season there were five different winners. So there was no clear-cut favorite that April evening at Cal Expo.
Springsteen came back to race, healthy and ready to go for Sacramento.
Ricky Graham opened the program at the ’82 Sacramento Mile by breaking a lap record in qualifying, clocking a 38.51-second lap on his Tex Peel-tuned Harley-Davidson XR750. Springsteen, Lance Jones and Terry Poovey rounded out the fast qualifiers and would start from pole in their respective Heat races.
Springsteen won his Heat race on his Bill Werner-tuned factory Harley-Davidson, but he would start second in the main event to Graham, who won the fastest of the qualifying races.
At the start of the 25-lap National it was Graham leading the first lap, but Springer drafted past him to take over the lead on lap two. Werner had gotten the set-up on Springsteen’s bike perfect and he was able to actually put some breathing room between himself and the rest of the field. But then Graham rallied. He caught and passed Springer on lap 14 and the two would engage in a bar-to-bar battle the rest of the way.
It came down to the final lap. Springsteen led as the two took the white flag. Then it was Graham taking over coming off the back straight into turn three. Out the final corner Springsteen made the classic last-lap move on the Mile. He got a great drive coming off turn four and slipstreamed past Graham just before the line to finally reach that 30-win mark – and he did it by mere inches.
Graham could only shake his head and smile at being outfoxed by his more experienced rival.
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Graham said on the podium. “Every time I passed Jay going down the back straight he wouldn’t catch my draft until turn one. So I figured if I could do that (on the final lap) he wouldn’t have time to catch the draft until after the start-finish line. I guess I judged it wrong.”
All these years later Springsteen remembers making that last-second pass on Graham.
“Sacramento has long straights and the finish line was a long ways down,” he said. “I got sucked into Ricky’s draft and the only thing I was worried about was getting off the blue groove. If I’d gotten off that line when I passed him I would have been in the marbles and probably wouldn’t have held on.”
Looking back on the record-breaking win now Springsteen said he was proud he did it at Sacramento and against a rider of Ricky Graham’s caliber.
“Whenever people ask me who the toughest racer I ever went up against Ricky is right there at the top,” Springsteen said. “He was a natural racer, just like me. Ricky was a good rider, he was smart and that’s why he won a lot of races. “
Fast forward 32 years and Springsteen will be back in Sacramento to be honored, along with fellow former factory Harley-Davidson rider Chris Carr, on race day July 26, as two living legends of the sport. Springer and Carr will be on the track together again in a friendly showdown exhibition ride around the historic Cal Expo Mile.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to the Sacramento Mile. My leathers have been hanging up all these years and they’ve shrunk a little bit. I don’t know what the deal is,” Springsteen joked. “Chris and are going to have some fun and I just hope he respects his elders, you know what I mean?”