Archives Column | Randy Goss
This Archives edition is reprinted from issue #40, October 12, 2005. CN has hundreds of past Archives editions in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
Harley’s Utility Man
By Scott Rousseau
When discussing the honor roll of Team Harley-Davidson factory-backed AMA Grand National Champions, Randy Goss’ name doesn’t carry the same chutzpah as that of fellow Michiganders Bart Markel, Jay Springsteen or Scott Parker, or many others. Maybe it should, though, because when the factory needed him, Goss was there, and he delivered.
Unlike the more flamboyant personalities of Springer and Parker, the soft-spoken Goss was more reserved, more calculated. Heck, he was arguably easy to overlook, as unlike either of the other two, it took two years for him to score a Grand National win after turning Expert.
But just like them, he did make a statement. Goss’ first win came on the half mile at Middletown, New York, on June 10, 1979. He started the day by setting a new single-lap qualifying record of 24.450 seconds, breaking Hank Scott’s two-year-old single-lap record of 25.066 by more than half a second. Goss then went on to a wire-to-wire victory in the race, pulling away from Scott and Garth Brow in the main event.
“It’s been a long three years waiting for this,” Goss told Cycle News reporter Gary Van Voorhis after winning the race. “It was the horsepower I had that won it for me. Larry Johnson, my father-in-law, and I worked 15 hours a day for the past week to practically rebuild the entire bike. It paid off. Things are really starting to fall in place.”
Indeed, they were. Goss would go on to win two more Grand National half miles that season, at Des Moines, Iowa, and Ascot Park in Gardena, California. and finish third in the ’79 AMA Grand National Championship Series, behind Steve Eklund and Springsteen. That was more than enough to attract the attention of Harley-Davidson factory team manager Dick O’Brien, who was in desperate need of a potential replacement for Springsteen, who had struggled all season with his well-documented but equally mysterious stomach ailment. If Springsteen couldn’t win the title, O’Brien figured, then maybe Goss could.
And he would, but in the least spectacular of fashions. Rather than just pick up where Springer left off, laying waste to the competition with a series of wire-to-wire and/or come-from-behind wins, Goss earned the plate for Harley-Davidson on the strength of a single win and machine-like consistency, carding only a single DNQ along the 1980 championship trail and never finishing outside the top 10 in any of the main events he started.
Though Goss may not have been the most thrilling rider ever to swing a leg over an XR750, the 1980 season was anything but dull. In a season that raged with intense competition, Goss’ main title rivals turned out to be privateers Ricky Graham and Scott, the latter scoring five wins that season. Goss battled neck and neck with Scott and Graham all season long before his title hopes suffered a setback on the half mile at Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he failed to make the main event. He had been leading the points coming in, but the DNQ dropped him into a deadlock with Scott, 177-177, with just two series rounds remaining—one mile and one half-mile.
Although Scott had been devastatingly fast at all of the miles run during the season, Goss somehow rose to the occasion at the San Jose Mile, beating Scott to the stripe to take his only win of the season and, more importantly, a slim four-point lead in the title race, 197-193.
In a 20-lap battle that could have gone either way at the series finale at Ascot Park, Goss finished fifth, while Scott was third. The difference was three points, giving Goss his first AMA Grand National Championship by one point, 207 to Scott’s 206.
Goss would go on to lose the title in similar fashion at Ascot in 1981. After being disqualified for oiling the racetrack at San Jose, he came to Ascot needing not only to win, but also for series points leader Mike Kidd to have a bad night. Goss did his part, thundering to the win at Ascot, but the other shoe never fell, and Kidd walked away with the title, leaving Goss as the runner-up.
Following a season in which he finished third, behind a rejuvenated Jay Springsteen, while Graham and Michigan tuner Tex Peel won the championship, Goss came back strong again and beat out Graham to regain it in 1983. It would be the last title for Harley-Davidson before the Milwaukee factory was crushed by a wave of Honda RS750 dominance for the next four seasons, with Graham winning the title for Honda in 1984, followed by teammate Bubba Shobert’s three straight title wins from 1985-’87.
As it was, Goss was more a casualty of what that dominance represented than of any on-track deficiency. Even after being sidelined with a broken leg at the San Jose Mile late in the year, he still finished third in the 1984 standings, behind Graham and Shobert, but there were dark days for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, which had seriously exhausted its finances after a group of employees bought the company back from AMF in 1981 and struggled bitterly to forge ahead with the production of a big-twin engine known as the Evolution. While the decisions made by Harley’s new board of directors would ultimately save its existence, by 1985, the factory dirt track team was pared down to just one rider, Scott Parker, and one mechanic, Bill Werner. Goss’ contract was not renewed. He returned to race as a privateer aboard a Honda in 1985 and then a Harley in 1986 before retiring from racing. A competent mechanic, Goss moved into the automobile-racing game.
No matter how history treats Randy Goss, it is important to remember that while he may not have been as dynamic as some of his factory peers, he came in, did what he was asked to do and got the job done for Harley-Davidson at a time when it needed the help. His two championship titles should be recognized as important if for no other reason than this. CN