Archives: The Top Motorcycle Racing Stories of 2017

Larry Lawrence | December 20, 2017
Nicky Hayden

When you go back and research, it’s amazing just how many big stories happen in a typical racing season. Narrowing them down to the ten stories we’ll likely remember is a tough, but interesting exercise. If you don’t think we have short memories in racing, try this on for size – doesn’t it already seem some time ago that Ryan Dungey retired? Yet it was barely over six months ago!

That’s why it’s especially difficult to suss out what stories from this this year we’ll remember in 2027 and beyond.

Racing, as in life, rambles forward in continuous cycles. And of course, there was the loss of legends. Time moves ahead, but before the horizon of 2018, we take just a moment look back at the top stories of 2017.

  • 10. Industry Icon Tom White Passes Away – Tom White, founder of White Brothers, motorcycle collector extraordinaire and philanthropist, died at 68 after a courageous battle against cancer. White had a life-long passion for motorcycle racing. In the mid-1970s he became a nationally ranked dirt track racer. White, along with his brother Dan, turned White Brothers into a leading performance parts company, perhaps best known for the company’s state-of-the-art racing suspensions. White also created the World Vet MX Championship and the World Four-Stroke Championship. After selling his company White turned his attention to collecting and restoring motorcycles, which eventually led to him opening The Early Years of Motocross Museum. White was also a philanthropist who used his museum to raise money for the High Hopes Head Injury program. White was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2014. His passing creates a void in the industry that will be difficult, if not impossible to fill.
  • 9. Josh Hayes Sidelined – It wasn’t a complete surprise, but when Yamaha announced last month that Josh Hayes would return in 2018 in the capacity of ambassador, rider coach, test rider, it was a nice way of saying that he would not be riding on the factory Superbike team next season. If Hayes had his way he’d probably race until he was 50 and knowing his dedication, he’d probably still be winning. After 20 years of Hayes being a leading rider, it will be a major adjustment for the series to not have him on the grid. Hayes earned four AMA Superbike Championships (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014) and he scored his 61-career Superbike wins, ranking him second on the all-time wins list. He was also a fan favorite and a guy who went above and beyond to do everything he could to promote road racing in America.
  • 8. Racing legends John Surtees and Joe Leonard Pass Away – Two of the biggest legends in motorcycle racing, John Surtees and Joe Leonard, passed away in 2017. Surtees only man in history to have won both the premier class title in motorcycle racing and the Formula One World Championship, he was a giant of both sports – and a true gentleman. Leonard was a three-time AMA Grand National Champion (he won the very first AMA Grand National Championship Series in 1954). During his record-setting career in the 1950s and early ‘60s Leonard established the mark that all other racers aspired to when he won 27-career AMA Grand Nationals, including two wins at the Daytona 200. Leonard’s record held for a decade until Bart Markel finally broke it in 1971. Like Surtees, Leonard went on to have a successful auto racing career, twice winning what is now called the Indy Car Series.
  • 7. Toni Elias Puts Suzuki Back Atop MotoAmerica Superbike – Suzuki is the all-time winningest brand in MotoAmerica/AMA Superbike racing history, but the manufacturer hadn’t won the title since 2009. Step in Spaniard Toni Elias and a totally redesigned 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 and it was a championship winning combination. Elias was so strong this year that he clinched the title with three races remaining. The victory marked a record 14th MotoAmerica/AMA Superbike Championship for Suzuki.
  • 6. MotoGP Battle Goes Down to the Wire – The 2017 MotoGP Championship was exciting for several reasons. Not only for the intense battle between the top two riders that came down to the final race, but the fact that one of those championship contenders was Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. In the end it was Honda’s uber-talent Marc Marquez coming away with his fourth title. The season featured some of the most intense races in the history of the Motorcycle Grand Prix racing and show Marquez taking his crash-saving skills to a level never before seen. But almost as impressive was Dovi’s unexpected run at the title, especially considering his factory Ducati teammate and three-time MotoGP Champ Jorge Lorenzo struggled on the same machine.
  • 5. Bruce Brown, “On Any Sunday” Creator Dies – An argument could be made that Bruce Brown had as much to do with the explosion of motorcycling in the 1970s as any single individual. His movie “On Any Sunday” was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, showing the sport for what it truly is – people with a passion for riding having fun. His film helped reset the image motorcycling so much of America held in the previous decade. “On Any Sunday” also inspired a generation of Americans to take up motorcycling for the first time.
  • 4. Ken Roczen Injured – Coming off his 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, Ken Roczen moved to Honda and was one of the pre-season favorites to win the both the 2017 Supercross and Motocross titles. But then came his sickening crash at Anaheim II that shattered his left arm. Roczen was not only out for the rest of the season, but it initially looked serious enough to be a career-ending injury. How we’ll remember Roczen’s crash will ultimately have a lot to do with how he does in his return.
  • 3. Ryan Dungey Announces Retirement – Going out on top. It’s a goal that champion racers always seem to have, yet rarely accomplish. Ryan Dungey wrote his own ending to an outstanding career. After winning the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Championship (his fourth) Dungey decided to call it a career. The grind that is the life of a pro motocross racer, took its toll. “I’ve gone as hard as I can for as long as I can,” Dungey said. “but the reality is that our sport is tough, the seasons are long and it takes a huge amount of sacrifice, hard work and discipline to stay on top.” During his nine-year pro career Dungey compiled Hall of Fame stats. He won nine national MX and SX titles, in addition to a being a member of three winning Team USA Motocross des Nations teams.
  • 2. Indian Dominates American Flat Track in Debut – There’s no other way to describe it other than stunning. Indian’s almost total domination in American Flat Track took almost everyone by surprise. It was easily the most impressive debut of any racing motorcycle in the long history of the series. Indian’s FTR750 is a marvel of engineering, seemingly concentrating the combined knowledge in flat track racing into the most potent racing machine ever to turn a wheel on a dirt oval. It was appropriate that Jared Mees, the rider most responsible for helping develop the FTR, who came away with the No. 1 plate.
  • 1. The Tragedy of Nicky Hayden’s Passing – No story even came close to the magnitude, not to mention heartbreak, the entire motorcycling community felt with the death of former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden. Hayden was beloved the world over and it was almost impossible to believe in May when we heard the tragic news of the bicycle accident and his passing a few days later. Tributes poured in by the thousands. Athletes in all forms of motorsports honored Hayden with #69 stickers on helmets, cars and motorcycles. Hayden was the best-known motorcycle racer in America and his passing was mainstream news. He was one of the true greats of the sport and we’d hoped to have him with us for many years to come, but fate intervened. That’s why for motorcycle racing enthusiasts we will forever remember the year 2017 with a tinge of sadness.

    Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.