Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scooter Pilotes' (Part 2)

"Steady Eddie" Lawson at the 1990 Japanese GP. (Source: images)
And like the zillions 'O stories languishing away here in the fields of Nofendersville... This teeny-weeny story has mushroomed outta perportion, like many stories I begin scribblin'.

As arguably noted in Part 1, Messer Surtees is the most famous of the two-wheel warriors to cross over into the realm of four wheels, specifically single seaters, the only person to have won a world championship in both disciplines ever! Yet there's some other hugely successful knee draggers who've also been somewhat successful in the world 'O Carz.

Below is just a quick listing of various Scooter Pilotes' who've made the leap, (in no particular order) as this list by all means isn't complete, especially since it seems to grow constantly the more effort I put into researching I-T! (Having become Part Two of Three...)

Formula 1: Part 1
John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, The Rodriguez Brothers, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Francois Cevert, Johnny Cecatto, Damon Hill, Mark Blundell and Mark Webber.

IndyCar: Part 2
Joe Lenard, Danny Ongais, Swede Savage, Eddie Lawson and Jeff Ward.

(Years Denoted are for only the respective years raced in the Top categories)

Joe Lenard
Motorcycles: 1954-61
Championships: 3
AMA Grand National: 1954, 1956-57
Wins: 27
Cars: 1964-75
Championships: 2
USAC National Championship: 1971-72
Teams: AAR, Leader Card, Sheraton-Thompson, Vels Parnelli Jones, Granatelli, Smokey Yunick

Originally, I only knew of Joe Leonard's name due to being one of the three Granatelli drivers of those iconic Lotus 56's, with Leonard having won the Pole for the Indy 500 in 1968 and barely losing the race due to a mechanical failure while leading on lap-191 when his fuel shaft broke.

Yet Joe was unquestionably a 'BAD ARSE on  Scooters, where he began his racing career, winning the inaugural AMA Grand National title in 1954, then winning it twice more, (1956-57) along with runner-up finishes in 1958, 1960-61, third place in '55 and a lowly fifth place in '59! As Leonard also won the prestigious Daytona 200 twice between 1957-58 before turning his attention to four wheels after the completion of the '61 season.

And while his team-mates of Vels Parnelli Jones "Superteam" of 'BIG AL (Unser) and Mario Andretti overshadowed him, how many people know that Leonard beat both men to the USAC National championship twice in a Samsonite sponsored car. Yet with the highs came his ultimate low, when a tyre burst upon his VJP Eagle/Ford at Ontario sending him hard into the wall, resulting in a skull abrasion and serious feet and leg injuries to both appendages, effectively ending his racing career - although he made an abortive comeback attempt one year later at the same track...

Danny Ongais
Championships: 1
Hawaiian National: 1960
F1: 1977-78
Teams: Ensign, Non-Works Penske, Shadow
USAC/CART: 1975-87, 1996
Teams: Interscope, Penske, Menards
Drag Racing)
Championships: 3
AHRA AA Gas Dragster: 1963-64
NHRA Gas Dragster: 1965

Y'all can check out my monster story on Ongais's career in: The Flyin' Hawaiian

Swede Savage
Cars: 1967-73
Teams: AAR
Championships: 0
Wins: 1

Everyone probably knows the name Swede Savage due to his infamous wreck at the Speedway in 1973, where multiple factors contributed to his gruesome looking accident which sent a fireball into the air some sixty-feet high! As sadly, the San Bernadino, CA native would die from complications 33-days after the accident.

Yet Swede, like many began his career by racing motorcycles, having even been denied eligibility for High School football from accepting prize money while racing!

Reportedly his cool sounding name and ability to "Wheelie' his motorcycle for a mile at a Ford test at Riverside got him the push from marketing executives and he began his career running Stock Cars, then Sports Cars and extensive time in the Trans Am series alongside AAR team owner Dan Gurney before winning his lone IndyCar race at the Bobby Ball 100 at Phoenix Int'l Raceway in 1970.

Savage made two starts at Mother Speedway, earning his rookie stripes the year prior to his unfortunate death in one of Indy's darkest  years...

Eddie Lawson
Motorcycles: 1983-92
Teams: Yamaha, Honda, Cagiva
Championships: 4
500cc: 1984, 1986, 1988-89
Wins: 31
Poles: 18
(2) AMA 250cc champion: 1980-81
(2) AMA Superbike champion: 1981-82
Cars: 1996
Teams: Galles Racing
Championships: 0
Races: 11

"steady Eddie" Lawson was my favourite 500cc rider during the late-1980's, as he simply was one Bad Hombre! Winning four world championships by beating the likes of Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spenser and Wayne Gardner to name just a few; while my favourite memory of Eddie was his shock decision to leave Yamaha after his third world championship and then steadily motor onto a fourth title aboard his rebel Honda, as Eddie did things his own way...

Lawson made his name by winning multiple AMA titles and then spring boarding a la rival "Fast Freddy" Spenser, who'd moved up to international 500cc GP competition the year prior to Lawson's debut as "the King's" (Kenny Roberts) team-mate during 'KR's final season; as the rest  as they say is history!

After having given Italian manufacturer Cagiva its debutant 500cc GP victory, notching the Californian rider his 31st GP win, the third most overall at the time, Eddie walked away from Scooters' at the end of 1992, albeit riding twice more post-retirement in the following two years Daytona 200 - which he won for a second time in 1993 and finished third in '94 before focusing solely upon racing cars.

Unfortunately "Steady Eddie" joined the Galles Racing team during its swan-song, as Rick Galles feature driver 'lil Al (Unser Jr.) had since jumped ship to run for The Captain, aka Roger Penske years prior, and with the cash strapped Mercedes Benz team hurting for funding, Lawson decided to retire from motorsports altogether at the end of the '96 season and now scratches his need for speed by playing in Go Karts with his good friend Wayne Rainey...

Jeff Ward
Motorcycles: 1978-92
Teams: Kawasaki
Championships: 9
125cc: 1984
250cc: 1985, 1987-88
500cc: 1989-90
AMA Supercross: 1985
(AMA SuperMoto: 2004, 2006
Wins: 56
Cars: 1997-2002
Teams: Cheever, Ganassi
Championships: 0
Indy 500 Rookie Of the Year: 1997
Wins: 1

Had NO idea that Jeff Ward was actually from Glasgow, Scotland and nicknamed "the Flying Freckle." As Ward moved to California at the age of four and  immediately immersed himself in the SoCal' environment, including minibikes.

Ward took like a duck to Water en route to becoming one of the best of all time Motocross riders, becoming the first to win championships in all three categories, and added a  Supercross title to his burgeoning list, which includes seven Motocross des Nations victories.

Ward walked away from two wheels at the end of 1992 in order to pursue a four wheel career which saw him finish third in the controversial 1997 Indy 500 behind Arie Luyendyk and Scott "what Pacecar?" Goodyear en route to winning Rookie Of the Year honours.

Ward's best season followed a year later when he finished sixth overall in the '98 Indy Racing League standings, along with winning the 2002 Texas IRL race by just inches ahead of Al Unser Jr. in the No. 9 Target chip Ganassi Racing machine - which we all know now is Scott Dixon's number.

On a trivial note, Ward claimed that the Washougal track in Washington was his favourite, while also claiming his debutant AMA Supercross podium (3rd place) in 1980 and victory (1984) in the Kingdome at Seattle - the predecessor to Century Link Field, home of the reigning Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks...

To continue reading, see; Scooter Pilotes' (Part 3)