Archives: The Short-Lived, but Influential World Championship

Larry Lawrence | December 4, 2019

Archives: The Short-Lived, but Influential World Championship

When AMA Executive Director Bill Berry called the annual Competition Congress meetings to order in Columbus, Ohio, in late October 1968, little did the delegates know at the time, but the rules changes implemented in those meetings would set in motion a series of events that would ultimately result in the formation of a new road racing World Championship call Formula 750. Formula 750 lasted just seven years and was only a world championship for three of those, but the class did feature American rounds. A couple of Americans, Steve Baker and Kenny Roberts, were two of the winningest riders in series history. And the series also produced America’s first road racing world champion.

Archives: The Short-Lived, but Influential World Championship

The start of the ’75 Daytona 200, which doubled as a round of the FIM Formula 750 Championship, with Finnish GP star Teuvo Länsivuori (No. 8) getting the jump on the field on his factory Suzuki. The factory Yamaha’s of Gene Romero (No. 3) and Kenny Roberts (No. 1) also get good starts. And how about the other factory rider in the second row wearing the European livery. That happens to be multi-time world champ Giacomo Agostini (No. 4). Catching a wheelie is Suzuki rider Pat Hennen (No. 80). Also visible in the shot are factory Kawasaki’s Takao Abe (No. 72), Randy Cleek (No. 29), Steve McLaughlin (No. 83), Ron Pierce (No. 97), Hurley Wilvert (No. 39), Hiroyuki Kawasaki (No. 61), Yvon Duhamel (17) and Tommy Byars, Jr. (No. 13). (Henny Ray Abrams photo)

What Competition Congress did that in ‘68 marked a major milestone in the rules. The AMA finally eliminated the 250cc penalty assessed overhead valve engines that had existed since the founding of Class C racing in the early 1930s. The British (and burgeoning Japanese) makers could now run the same 750cc displacement that side-valve Harley KRs were able to run.

The British and Japanese makers were beginning to have more influence within the AMA and 1968 was the first year for the Competition Congress. The diverse Congress replaced the old AMA Competition Committee, which had a combination of elected and appointed members. Congress delegates were elected from within each district by rank and file AMA members, giving a broader influence to competition rules making and also ensured all phases of the sport had a voice in the decision making. The upshot was that overhead-valve machines were no longer restricted to 500cc displacement and that meant machines like the new BSA and Triumph Triples would be eligible to race as would the Norton Commando.

The other major development that helped produce Formula 750 came at the Cannes Congress of the FIM in October 1970, when the AMA was accepted as a member. The British manufacturers were already taking part in racing in the United States under rules which were completely different to those in force in Europe and they quickly understood the possibilities of the AMA now being under the FIM umbrella.

The FIM asked the Auto Cycle Union (ACU) to try to find a formula, which could provide a basis for a set of racing regulations which could be applied on both sides of the Atlantic. The Brits liked to call it “Daytona-type racing.”

Early in 1971 representatives of the ACU and the AMA met in Cincinnati during a motorcycle trade show and Formula 750 was born. The new class was opened to “all solo motor cycles from 251cc and under 750cc” and took its name from the maximum capacity permitted. Formula 750 restricted called for major components to be those used in standard production motorcycles and a minimum of 200 had to be built.

Paul Smart (12), Kenny Roberts (1), Barry Sheene (14) and Gary Nixon (8) line up before a start of a race in 1974. All four riders won Formula 750 races during their careers. Sheene won the title in 1973, the first year of the series. (Gary Van Voorhis photo)

The ACU tested Formula 750 in 1972 with good success and of course the Americans were already using the formula, so in 1973 the series was given FIM sanction. It was not a full world championship, but rather an FIM Prize Series.

FIM Formula 750 launched with the Imola 200 in April of 1973. Jarno Saarinen won the race aboard a Yamaha TZ350, proving that smaller displacement two strokes could be a match for the big 750cc four strokes. In fact, the big four-strokes that were expected to play a major part in Formula 750 were never a factor. Not a single four-stroke ever won a race and by 1975 four-stroke riders failed to score a single championship point. The series came to be dominated at first by the Suzuki TR750 and then the Yamaha TZ750. The Yamaha was perhaps the demise of the class. The Suzuki at least started life as a GT750 streetbike, but Yamaha’s TZ750 was a pure racing machine. Sure, it met the regulations of at 200 being produced, but the dream of Formula 750 being a production-based championship was pretty much out the window after just a year or two of the series.

America was supposed to host a round of the series at Ontario Motor Speedway in May of 1973, but the track was undergoing financial difficulties and management changes, so the event had to be rescheduled to October. The AMA asked for a change of date, but according to FIM rules this could not be accepted after ratification of the calendar, so the event went on as an AMA Road Race National only.

Barry Sheene won the 1973 title on a Suzuki TR750. Then it was Aussies John Dodds and Jack Findlay winning the series in 1974 and ’75.

America finally hosted a round of the Formula 750 by way of the Daytona 200 in 1975, won by Gene Romero. The 200 was again part of the series in 1976 and 1977. The AMA National at Laguna Seca was also part of the Formula 750 calendar for three years starting in ’77.

By all rights, Gary Nixon should have won it in 1976, but the results of the season finale in Venezuela were thrown out after scoring issues. Without the points from that round Nixon lost the title to Spaniard Víctor Palomo.

The series was granted world championship status in 1977 and American Steve Baker dominated, becoming the first American to win a road racing world championship.

In spite of missing several rounds due to scheduling conflicts, Kenny Roberts nearly won the 1978 Formula 750 title, coming up a few points short of Johnny Cecotto in the season finale at Mosport in Canada (won by young American Mike Baldwin).

The series came to an end after the 1979 series won by Frenchman Patrick Pons. In all 102 Formula 750 races were held in the seven years it ran (many were doubleheader rounds much like World Superbike and MotoAmerica today). Johnny Cecotto goes down in history as the all-time wins leader with 13 victories. Steve Baker and Kenny Roberts were tied for second all-time with 12 wins each.

The great Giacomo Agostini even won three races in the now nearly forgotten championship.

By the late 1970s AMA Superbike racing was catching fire and seemed to finally get the production-based part of the rules right. Eventually that formula would provide the FIM with a longer-lasting world championship road racing series in the form of World Superbike, but even though it didn’t turn out the way the original founders visualized, the birth of Superbike racing can be directly traced back to the old Formula 750 class co-founded by the AMA and the ACU.

 

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.