Archives: Filice’s Big Comeback
Jim Filice reached one of the highest pinnacles a motorcycle road racer could attain when he won the U.S. round of the FIM 250cc Motorcycle Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in 1988. Fast forward three years and Filice wore perhaps an even bigger smile on his face after winning the 1991 AMA 250cc Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The big crowd on hand cheering Filice at the podium celebration that day at Mid-Ohio were equally emotional. More than a few wiping away tears. Nearly every one of them knew what Filice went through to comeback to win that race.
Archives: Filice’s Big Comeback
About a year-and-a-half earlier Filice was training on a dirt bike, getting prepared to tackle the Japanese Road Racing Championship fulltime, as well as select GPs during the 1990 season with a full Honda factory ride. On the way back home from the training session, fellow racer John Ashmead was driving. Ashmead, who was later arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, was tired and on an unfamiliar road. No one knows for certain why, Filice said it was a bit drizzly, so visibility may have been a factor, but coming north on I-5 through Fresno county Ashmead was driving at highway speeds on the shoulder of the interstate. A tractor-trailer driver had pulled over to tighten the straps on his rig, when he saw the van heading right at him. The van smashed into the semi. Filice, who was laying down in the back was thrown violently in the crash and his body was shattered.
Amazingly Ashmead escaped serious injury, but Filice was in bad condition. He was airlifted to Valley Medical Center in Fresno and underwent nine hours of surgery. He suffered compound fractures to both legs, ankles and an elbow. He also suffered a fractured pelvis. Four days later he went through another four hours of surgery and required 13 units of blood. Filice spent nearly two weeks in intensive care, five months in bed and would ultimately be recovering for over a year.
Filice graciously never blamed Ashmead and is friends with old friend to this day. “I knew he was tired too and he had a test coming up,” Filice said. “I never should have left him up there driving by himself.”
During his rehab the thought of racing was hardly even in his mind.
“The recovery and therapy were so tough I didn’t know if I even wanted to come back to racing,” Filice recalls. “I just felt so bad that I let down the guys at Honda. I had such a great opportunity with them and that was all gone.”
What turned things around for Filice was a call from his buddy Bubba Shobert.
“Bubba and Wayne [Rainey] and a bunch of guys were riding and training out at Kenny’s [Roberts] place in Hickman,” Filice remembers. “Bubba told me to come out and have some fun. They gave me some old beat-up bike that wasn’t any fun to ride, so the next day I went to Modesto Honda and bought a new XR100 and started riding around with those guys. There were a lot of riders coming in and out from Europe too. They had to go testing and Kenny asked me if I would stay and help those guys. It kind of motivated me to get back into things.”
Filice felt good enough that he took an offer to fill in for an injured GP rider for a few races in the 250 Grand Prix World Championships with Team Gallina.
“It was great to get back into racing,” Filice said. “But the bike was a production bike with a kit and wasn’t that good, plus I wasn’t all the way healthy yet.”
After his GP stint, he returned to America and found a ride with Morris Murray’s L.A. Motor Works Yamaha. His first race back in America he sat on the pole at Loudon. He made a bad choice running rain tires on a drying track on race day and finished 11th.
“Still, after getting the pole I knew I was back.”
Three races later Filice finally broke through and scored his triumphant comeback victory at Mid-Ohio.
Coming into Mid-Ohio, Chris D’Aluisio was riding a two-race winning streak. D’Aluisio seemed to be heading towards a third straight win, after he qualified on the pole with a 1:33.083. Filice was second fast qualifier at 1:34.642, over a second and a half slower than D’Aluisio. As happens so often in the sport, lady luck played a big part in the final result. As the 250’s took to the track for the warm-up lap, something was obviously wrong with D’Aluisio’s Yamaha. “When we lined up on the grid, he revved it once and I knew the bike was sick,” D’Aluisio said.
As the 250’s screamed to life at the drop of the green flag, the pack was headed by Nick Ienatsch. Filice took over the lead on the second lap and quickly pulled out a solid lead. Ienatsch had received a signal from his crew that D’Aluisio was out of the race. With that word Ienatsch said that the most important thing for him to do was finish with good points, so he didn’t have a big incentive to chase to Filice, who at that point wasn’t a factor in the series chase.
In the middle stages of the race Filice built a seven second lead. With constant pit signals from tuner Bruce Maus, Filice slowed a bit and monitored his lead via the pit board.
Filice rode to a 3.650-second victory over Ienatsch.
Filice, who had not won a race since the USGP 250 event three years earlier, couldn’t have been happier about the win. “My confidence has been on the rise all season,” said a smiling Filice on the podium. “I ultimately want to get back to GPs, and I consider this a big step towards that goal.”
Today Filice reflects on that comeback win at Mid-Ohio that launched an amazing comeback. He went on to win three of the final four round in ’91 to clinch that year’s AMA 250 Grand Prix Championship. More titles and championships would come in the years following.
“That was a special moment,” Filice remembers of Mid-Ohio. “My son I think was about six or seven and he got to share those moments. To be able to have him there for that was something I’ll always remember with happiness. And I was thinking about all the people who helped me in my career, from friends, family and even the fans who gave me such great support. I was one of those days I’ll never forget.”
To top it all off, on Mid-Ohio’s winners’ podium, runner up Ienatsch shouted to the crowd, “How many here are glad to see Jimmy Filice back?” A massive cheer roared up confirming that Ienatsch was not the only one happy to see Jimbo back on the track.