Motorcycle racing’s great hero and my friend, Gary Nixon, died this morning in the aftermath of a heart attack he suffered a week ago. He was 70 years old. I had spoken with him at Laguna Seca just after the MotoGP race and he was 100 percent Nixon, speaking in his growly, between-the-teeth style.
Nixon was AMA Grand National Champion on Triumphs in 1967 and ’68, came back from injury to become national roadrace champion in 1973, and would have been World Formula 750 champion in 1976 had not politics trumped achievement. Never mind—Nixon was unbreakable and his attitude toward life was permanent ambition to eat the whole thing.
Nixon was also straight-up, no excuses. When he finished third in some long-ago national, a disappointed fan whined, “What happened, Gary?”
“Wahaddyou mean, what happened?” he replied. “Two other guys was faster’n me, that’s what happened.”
When asked to lead and instruct a riding school, he said, “What would I tell them guys?” When the urgings continued, he shrugged and said, “Watch the starter, get a good start, ’n then in a few laps, start lappin’ guys. An’ then you win the race.”
It was that simple for Nixon.
His riding style was based on racing the man, not the track. Nixon was always there. Now he’s not. Figuring that out won’t be easy.