CW 5Q: Chris Carr - Racing

After more than 400 main events and a remarkable 78 victories, the seven-time AMA Pro Grand National champion is hanging up his steel shoe.

Photography by Tom Hnatiw

CW 5Q: Chris Carr - Racing

CW 5Q: Chris Carr - Racing

Chris Carr completed the final leg of his “Farewell to Flat Track Tour” this past October at the AMA Pro Flat Track season-ending Pomona Half-Mile. The 44-year-old seven-time AMA Grand National champion finished seventh in the 25-lap main event, good enough for fifth overall in the final points standings. The race and title were won by the reigning number-one-plate holder, Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson rider Jake Johnson.

Carr turned pro in 1983, won his first GNC title in ’92 and five straight between 2001 and ’05. Only longtime rival Scott Parker has more national victories. When he was introduced to an appreciative Southern California crowd at the L.A. County Fairplex during opening ceremonies, Carr praised the series and his fellow competitors.

“It’s great to see the sport is in good hands,” he began. “I know flat-track fans are going to see great racing in the future. Having Jake Johnson, Jared Mees and Sammy Halbert run this thing down to the wire is great for the sport.

“If there was one person that I could thank tonight, I would choose Kenny Tolbert. This is our 23rd year working together. We’ve been through some really good times and some really sad times. He was the best man at my wedding and is one of my best friends. I will miss interacting with him every week.”

At the end of the evening, after all of the autograph seekers and well-wishers had headed for the parking lot, I spent a few minutes with Carr. He was warm and welcoming as always, despite being in visible pain, having pulled a groin muscle after nearly crashing on the last lap of the race.

Cycle World****: You’ve had a long, successful career. Do you have a favorite racing memory?

Chris Carr: The one that stands out the most is when I wrapped up the 1999 championship in Sacramento, California, as a privateer. That was after my roadracing stint, first time as a privateer, riding for Harley-Davidson of Sacramento. We were in Mike Shattuck's home town and near Stockton, where I grew up. That was huge for our team and the biggest championship that I've won. To be able to do that as a privateer—and follow it up with five more as a privately run team—is something that I am really proud of.

CW****: How has flat-track changed during your career? How have the motorcycles changed?

CC: Well, the Singles side is always changing; we're still chasing the "magic" bike. On the Twins side, it hasn't changed much. The competition is every bit as fierce as it's ever been in my career. I've raced against these guys and I've raced against Graham, Shobert, Parker and Springsteen. With the exception of Mike Kidd, I've raced against all the Grand National champions dating back to Gary Scott. There's every bit as much talent in this pit area as there was back then. They're just not as popular, and that's the difference. They're every bit as skilled, though.

CW****: Who was your greatest rival?

CC: Well, certainly, Scotty . We raced against each other for 15 years. And for a good 10 of 'em, we were one-two. You don't see two-guy domination for that length of time in any sport. So, yeah, he was my biggest rival. The best performance I've ever seen was Ricky Graham in 1993. That year, he was better than all of us.

CW****: What is the future of flat-track? What changes would you like to make to improve the sport?

CC: I think we're on a plateau, trying to figure out if it's gonna drop off, go straight or go back up. The biggest difference from the 1980s was that we made our money based on performance. There wasn't a whole lot of money up front; it was back-loaded. You win races, you're making money. I made a lot more in purse money and points funds during the first half of my career. Now, it's a different type of business. You've got to collect up front to cover your nut. Before, you threw caution to the wind. You could make $25K a night, $150K for a championship. Now, you've got to create a good marketing platform for your team and get all that money in advance to make it work. Without television, that's a difficult sell.

I would make a lot of little changes that would add up in the end. I have some ideas that I don’t really want to put out there yet because I believe I can enact them. But I can’t do it on my own. I have to do it in cooperation with the AMA, AMA Pro Racing, promoters and teams. The whole business needs to change in a direction in which we’re not fighting each other for marketing dollars. That’s where we’re at right now, and that’s why we’re on a plateau. I hope to be involved. I hope to be able to carve out my own niche, make ends meet and help build the sport. I don’t want to just take. I want it to be better for everybody. I want the next generation to be able to race at age 44 if they choose to do so—and make a living doing it.

CW****: Upon reflection, is there anything that you wish you would have done differently?

CC: Well, I think if you look back at every race that you didn't win, you always could have done something better. I always strived to improve every time, even today. This was my last race, and I wanted to finish as best as I could. I was close to having a really good finish. I'm going to hurt like hell in the morning, and that, in and of itself, tells me it's time, that I'm making the right decision. This is the right time for me to go out. I'm looking forward to the next phase of my life. I hope that I can figure out a way to help flat-track grow and continue to be a part of something that's given me, really, everything I have.