AMA Grand National Champion Gene Romero, 1947–2019 | Cycle World

AMA Grand National Champion Gene Romero, 1947–2019

“Doesn’t it just burn you when you make one of those big saves and there’s no one there to see it?”

Gene Romero

A talented, hard-working all-round rider, Gene Romero was also popular with fans. He was once sponsored by stuntman Evel Knievel and later successfully managed Honda’s AMA Grand National dirt-track program.

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It was a shock to learn this past weekend that we lost another of our respected senior motorcycling heroes, Gene Romero.

Romero started on Love Brothers Triumph twins in the 1960s. His rookie Expert year in AMA Grand National racing was 1966, with a high placing of third at Sacramento. He took a while to scope out the lay of the land, but everything came good for him with a rush after 1968. From that year’s seventh in Grand National and 10th in the Daytona 200, he jumped to second in the nation a year later and then was national champion in 1970, finishing second in the Daytona 200 on a Triumph triple. In 1975, he won the Daytona 200 on a two-stroke Yamaha TZ750C.

For years, I had a photo of Romero in practice for that 1970 race, braking for turn 2, the “International Horseshoe,” his Triumph’s front end compressed hard. I carried that image in my mind a long time—powerful forces in dynamic balance.

Romero’s racing career was one of transitions, from private Triumph twins to factory triples, from the AMA as a hometown sport into a new era of big-contract internationalism—Romero had to pass Giacomo Agostini to win Daytona—from the production-based four-stroke past into a factory two-stroke future in which American roadracing would for a decade reign as the pinnacle of two-wheel sport. A Daytona win was huge; nothing else compared.

Burritto

Nicknamed the “Burritto”—yes, two “T”s—Romero won 12 AMA nationals during a 16-year racing career. He also tried his hand at four wheels. Romero was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.

Cycle World archives

Romero worked at racing. He had talent in all disciplines, but he also kept up the pressure when lesser men might have felt all was lost. In racing, you’re either in or you’re out. Romero was definitely in. And it worked for him; he didn’t win race after race but he kept finishing high and his bikes didn’t quit running. Working against him was the rapid decline of Triumph from 1970–’73, but he made the transition to two-stroke roadracing in his workmanlike fashion.

In the 1974 Daytona 250cc race, Boston Cycles Yamaha rider Jim Evans told me, “I got a draft from Gene; he throws a really good draft.”

“You mean he’s a big guy?” Jim nodded enthusiastically.


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At Pocono in the late 1970s, I overheard my rider Rich Schlachter saying to Romero, “I just saved it big time going into the chicane. My heart’s still pounding.”

Romero replied, “Doesn’t it just burn you when you make one of those big saves and there’s no one there to see it?”

After his racing was over, Romero promoted dirt track in California and in the 1980s was a major player in the give-and-take Japanese/American development that resulted in Honda’s RS750 dirt-tracker, which earned Grand National championships 1984–1987 inclusive and 1993. The RS was a Japanese bike whose success grew out of American experience, as embodied by Gene Romero.

Human life is too short. We want our heroes to stay longer and do more, but life is what it is.

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