Following a decades-long summertime tradition, the top racers from around the country will compete at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds this week.
The 2022 Mission Foods American Motorcyclist Association amateur national championship racing events will play out on the historic short track, “TT”, half mile and oval “Magic Mile.”
The event runs through July 13.
Du Quoin is well known for years as the place where flat track stars like Scott Parker, Bubba Shobert, Ricky Graham and Jay Springsteen, have claimed thrilling victories before packed grandstands.
But current fans may not know the track also figured prominently as a historic proving ground for a figurative “hog roast” success, that resulted when the Honda factory smoked longtime champion Harley-Davidson, in a mid 1980s battle for racing superiority on America’s home turf.
When Honda Went Dirt Track Racing is a timely coffee table-reference-book-almost-shop manual by historian Gerald Foster and Chris Carter, CEO of modern corporate giant Motion-Pro, whose laser passion sparked the research and writing project from the ground up.
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In 544 pages, it explores how the famous rivalry between U.S. giant Harley-Davidson and newcomer, American Honda Inc. enriched motorsports racing and changed the industry forever.
“The heartland was a proving ground of sorts for the Honda — Harley rivalry that ushered in growth of the global marketplace and the bigger story of a 20th century industry battle,” according to Foster.
Newspaper, radio broadcast and televised racing exposure at converted horse tracks in places like Du Quoin, Springfield and Peoria, created the “Fast Boys from Illinois” FBI legacy.
At tracks from Ascot to Daytona, each race was a contest for superiority that also served as a live advertisement for growing interest in daredevil motorsports culture, before the dawn of digital-age marketing would explode the popularity of street-ready motorcycles.
For those who dig the technological intricacies, Foster’s book is generously splashed with vivid action shots, drawings, documents and firsthand accounts detailing how the newcomer Honda entered the flat track racing scene.
Japanese engineers working behind closed doors in California managed to transform a docile Honda CX 500 half-liter, transverse mounted V twin street bike. By pumping up the motor, throwing away the driveshaft, grafting on a sprocket they worked through a score of clever engine cooling solutions and suspension configurations to enter the season-opening, Houston Astrodome doubleheader in January, 1979.
But it was game on when Honda innovators finally broke Harley-Davidson’s decade-and-a-half domination, introducing the RS750 with a four-valve overhead cam motor based on their Paris-Dakar endurance prototype. Honda’s winning streak began with a ground-breaking victory by National #14, dirt track racer Hank Scott, at Du Quoin in August 1983.
What would follow, after Harley continued to endure losses from 1984-87 against Honda’s impressive factory team, was a struggle of stealth and intrigue as the Harley-Davidson company fought back by leveraging American Motorcyclist Association-sanctioned weight restrictions and rule changes.
This fascinating story, told in the voices of some 62 brilliant engineers, young privateer renegade riders, former factory-sponsored golden boys, hardworking tuners in the pits, retired officials and lifelong fans who lived it, will resonate with local grassroots motorsports enthusiasts, vintage and current race fans gathered in Du Quoin this week.
In its conversational tone, Foster’s book is an informal walk through years of social history and cultural roots of America’s fascination with racing that would launch the multi-million dollar commercial sports and consumer motorcycle industry of today.
Fans of Du Quoin will appreciate the pages of dialog splashed with photos from Bert Shepard who devoted decades of his life to capturing weekend racing action back in the day when rolls of film were rushed to the dark room hours after a race, to meet his publisher’s deadline.
This weekend, Shephard, a retired high school history teacher and still a fan of the sport, will travel from Ohio to Du Quoin to watch his own grandson competing alongside hopefuls from across the country.
In addition, former pro racer, David Aldana, who gained notoriety in the 1970’s cult classic moto-documentary film “On Any Sunday,” will be on hand for a Q&A discussion on Thursday, July 7. Named Grand Marshal of the event, Aldana, 72 will greet fans and strap on his steal shoe to race the Du Quoin “Magic Mile.”
At the close of racing on July 13, the AMA will present its Horizon Award, which honors the legacy and success of former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, to recognize the most outstanding riders showing potential to make an impact at the professional level.