Chris Carr was going to be a championship threat. It was clear to see, even early in his career. In his rookie 1985 season the sensational kid from Stockton, California, scored three top-five finishes, ranked seventh in the final standings and earned the AMA’s Rookie of the Year Award. He then scored his first National win in ’86, at the Peoria TT, scored 10 top-five finishes and ended his sophomore season ranked fourth in the final AMA Grand National standings. In spite of his rapid rise, Carr’s victory at the 1987 Sacramento Mile was still somewhat of a surprise.
A look back at the record books shows why Carr’s win in Sacramento, 1987’s season opener, was at least somewhat unexpected. What the record reveals is that Honda was in the middle of its nearly complete domination of AMA Grand National Mile racing. The season before Honda riders won all but a single National on mile ovals. For the ’87 the AMA implemented a new “restrictor rule,” which required a 33mm manifold plate into the intake tract of each cylinder, thereby limiting the amount of air that flowed into the engines. The rules was employed ostensibly for cost cutting and engine reliability purposes, but most felt it was a way to slow down Honda’s awesome factory RS750 flat track machine.
The debut of restrictor plate racing came at Sacramento in April of ’87 (in those years Sacramento hosted a spring and a fall National). In time trials it looked as if the restrictor rule was just about perfect. Carr, racing a factory satellite-team Harley-Davidson tuned by Mert Lawwill, set the fastest time of the day with a 38.08 (almost a full second off the track record set by Wayne Rainey in 1985). The factory Hondas of Bubba Shobert and Ricky Graham were second and third fastest with laps of 38.18 and 38.49, respectively.
Factory Harley’s Scott Parker won the fastest heat race of the night to earn the pole for the 25-lap National. Carr, Shobert and Graham won the other heats, so it was two Harleys and two Hondas starting at the front of the 18-rider field.
Everything in the time trials and qualifying races pointed to a fantastic four-rider showdown for the National, but it wasn’t to be. At the drop of the green flag Carr was gone. He was hooking up so well that even Shobert, who’d won six Grand National Miles the year before, couldn’t keep pace. Carr pulled away to an almost four-second lead over Shobert by the checkered flag.
“I haven’t been beat that bad on a mile in a long time,” Shobert said after the race. “That’s the hardest I’ve had to ride for second in a long time. I thought I could catch him, I really did, but he was going a little better than me. Chris deserved this one.”
It was Carr’s first National win on a Mile, and one that was very popular with the Sacramento crowd. Carr was one of their own, having grown up just 45 miles away and cutting his teeth racing on the dusty bowls of California’s Central Valley. And let’s not forget that Grand Nationals for the most part were and remain a very Harley partisan crowd and Carr was considered an underdog, not only against the factory Honda’s, but against the main factory Harley squad as well.
Carr credited his victory to the tuning work of Lawwill and C.R. Axtell, who put in hours on the test bench seeing how to make the motors breath with the new restrictor plates.
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