Unless my math is off, I’m guessing this weekend’s Red Bull United States Grand Prix will be my 15th at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Six of those were in the 500cc era, the first of which was held in 1988 with Eddie Lawson winning the 500cc GP and Jimmy Filice surprising the world with a victory in the 250cc GP. Then came MotoGP in 2005 with Nicky Hayden taking the first of his two successive U.S. GPs at Laguna to get the reincarnation of the Grand Prix at Laguna off on the right foot.
So there’s been many a great day at the “Dry Lake.” There’s also been a few bad ones. The worst one? Without a doubt it was April 16, 1989 – the day that Bubba Shobert was badly injured in a cool-off collision with Kevin Magee. Wayne Rainey won the race that day, leading an American sweep of the podium (remember those days?) by beating Kevin Schwantz and Eddie Lawson. It was a big win by Rainey in his home race as it gave him a 13-point lead in the World Championship, but none of that mattered after the race to Rainey or anyone else in the race or in attendance. There may not have been a more popular motorcycle racer than Shobert and he was unconscious and en route to the San Jose Medical Center via helicopter on that Sunday afternoon. It was one of those days where motorcycle racing left a very bitter taste in the mouth of even its most ardent supporters.
My story in Cycle News the day after the event reported that Magee had run out of gas and Shobert, who finished ninth, was congratulating his friend Lawson when he rammed Magee from behind. The story was wrong. We found out later that Magee was doing an on-track burnout and I still cringe today when I see them used as a post-race celebration. It takes me back to a day I don’t want to revisit.
I still remember talking to the public relations woman at the San Jose Medical Center on the Monday after the race when she told me, “I don’t know much about motorcycle racing, but we’ve received calls from all over the world. He [Shobert] is apparently a favorite of a lot of people.”
That he was. And that he is. Fortunately for all of us, Shobert recovered, lives in Texas and can usually be found roaming the paddock at the U.S. Grand Prix every year.
So if the Shobert injury year was the worst, which won was the best?
That’s a bit more difficult to answer.