Motorcycle.com

Be a Facebook hater if you must, but if you’re involved in any sort of information-gathering work, FB is amazing. Case in point, somebody turned me onto the 1970’s Motorcycle Road Racing page on FB, where I stumbled onto some great old images I’d never seen before.

Mary Grothe’s father was a professional writer who hated writing and loved photography.

“If you love photography so much,” she asked him, “why not do it professionally and quit writing?”

“Because it’s too easy for people to steal your photos.”

Some things never change. But the seed had been planted in Mary’s young noggin, and fear of non-compensation isn’t going to stop us from making 10 of her photos this week’s Top 10. Disclaimer: All these aren’t necessarily Mary’s favorites because nobody has time for her to sort through all the boxes and pick 10. But they’re all definite keepers.

Mary’s brother Scotty Seegers became an AMA Expert racer back in the ’70s (that’s Mary taking Scotty’s picture), and her husband was an amateur club racer. At some point she began to bring her camera along to the races, and by 1968 she was shooting for Cycle News, Australian Motorcycle News, Cycle World, and many of the biggies – a thing she kept doing until 1981, when the arrival of children on the scene began to curtail her Loudon-trotting activities. Also Danville, Daytona, Atlanta, Charlotte, Pocono, Summit Point, Bridgehampton, Indianapolis (not the 500 track), and maybe one or two more she’s forgotten.

A house fire burned up most of her collection a few years ago, but a recent call from another magazine to do some posters had her digging into what was left for some Wes Cooley images, whereupon she realized she still had quite a trove, and began sharing some of it on Facebook. (She says there’s an 1980s page too. I haven’t even gone there yet…)

Those were the days, says Mary, when you could get up close to the action with your motor-drive Nikon F2 and 500mm Nikkor lens. Sometimes she’d work the corners where there should’ve been cornerworkers but weren’t, snapping away while keeping an eye out.

“The camaraderie was great, it was a really special community of people. Loudon was my favorite, there were all different angles to shoot from. It was a fairly tight course and always tight racing. We’d camp out, and I always had a good time wherever I went there. I had a Bultaco trials bike to ride from turn to turn…”

Mary’s lived in Buckland, Virginia since 1978, where she’s been helping put on the Art at the Mill fine art show in Millwood, VA, for a number of years, shooting the occasional horse event, raising her brood. “We’re very prolific”, she says. In fact, Mary’s now expecting her sixth, wait for it, great grandchild. Time flies.

Mary’s caption: 1977, Charlotte: Kenny Roberts finished the 250 event with a 27.5 sec. lead over second place, making the rest of the machinery look like bicycles. He followed that with a win in F1!

Mary: Dave Emde (56) gave Harry Klinzmann (87) a run for the money in the 1978 Loudon Superbike race, but ultimately Harry squeezed by for the win.

From the FB comments, we learn that “these two were best friends, and might have arrived at Loudon in the same truck.” “Young guns from SoCal, talented and fast and among the best in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Emde died in a 2003 crash (brother Don won the 1972 Daytona 200 and is an active member of the SoCal moto community). Harry Klinzmann piped up on FB to thank Mary and ask if she had any pics from the winner’s circle? Of course she did.

Mary: Connecticut Yankees, Mike Baldwin & Richie Schlachter at Pocono 1978, Formula 1.

Baldwin won here and at Sears Point to take his first of five AMA championships. He won three Suzuka 8 Hours, finished fourth in 1986 in 500cc GP. Schlachter won F1 the next year, 1979. Soon we’re going to need something besides duct tape on our knees…

This shot of Anton Mang is one of MG’s favorites: At Daytona 1980, Mang came from the back of the pack to catch Lawson and Spencer, finishing 2nd to Lawson, in a photo finish with third-place Spencer.

Mang also won the 250cc GP world championship that year – one of five – in a career that spanned 1975 to 1988. His 1987 250 championship made him the oldest rider ever to have won a GP world championship, at 38.

That’s Kurt Lentz. We know this because he posted a comment on FB: “This bike built by George Vincensi, had me as far forward as second place in the Daytona superbike race in ’76.”

That would be the year before Cook Neilson won on a similar 900SS called Old Blue (RIP Phil Schilling). In those days you could race a Ducati in Kawasaki helmet and leathers. I guess you still can, really, but a lot of PR people would stroke out.

#6 would be one Erik Buell, who reports: “This is Daytona ’78 on a Ducati 909SS. I battled with David for a while and finally got ahead of him. I was struggling because the Ducati kept popping out of fourth gear on the banking, but I had fifth place locked in – until on the white-flag lap, my rear carburetor fell off! F@&k!

“This was a stock 1977 900SS, converted for ’78 season to round case on the left side (because I wore through the square case several times in ’77), with Reno Leoni ported head, high-comp pistons and Imola cams. Stock junk transmission. Stock suspension. Homemade high pipes made with headers bent at a local muffler shop, and the megaphones were the stock 900 mufflers with the guts cut out and reverse cones made from slices out of some old TD Yamaha expansion chambers. Low-buck special! I had so little money back then you cannot imagine. I took throw-away tires from the trash and raced on them at Expert level in AMA Superbike and F1.

“Memories… so clear after all these decades! That was an intensely rewarding and frustrating year in AMA for me.”

Daytona Formula 1 race, 1980 or ’81. The AMA says: In addition to his Superbike exploits, Cooley also made history by becoming the first rider to win an AMA Formula One National on a four-stroke. It was at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, one of Cooley’s favorite tracks, where he rode a specially built Suzuki GS1000-based F1 bike to a win over the dominant two-stroke GP machines of the era. Cooley would go on to win two more AMA F1 Nationals on big 1000cc four-stroke bikes.

Also AMA Superbike championships for Yoshimura Suzuki in 1979 and ’80, and two Suzuka 8-Hours.

Mary says: #97 Ron Pierce and Mike Baldwin dueled for first in the 1977 Loudon Superbike event. Mike crashed just a few yards from the checkers and pushed his Moto Guzzi across the finish line, but was penalized a lap and dropped to 6th for having help with the push. Victory went to Pierce.

Ron Pierce, commenting on Facebook: What happened, the full story. Mike and I were going the same speed. I couldn’t get away from him and he couldn’t get away from me. We had a great race going on. I moved wide on a turn to let Mike get by (to watch him and see where he was making time and where I was making time.) He went high in the hairpin every lap. I call it the Mike Hailwood line. I tested him a few times on the inside but he didn’t try to block me (Mel taught me this move). The last lap I dove down low (what is known as the Bakersfield line), I used it for block passing. I had him right there. I stayed low on the last turn, his only line to win was high and outside. He lost his bike doing his best but I had the advantage.

That was a shame that they docked him a lap. I didn’t know the officials did that to him. Mike is one of those guys that you just loved to race with. He liked to get close and bump. He was a great racer and I truly enjoyed watching his career. What fun we had, it was never about money for me, it was always about the competition.

Bad luck for Mike; this may have been the last time a Moto Guzzi had a shot at a race win in the 20th century.

Judging from the PRESS badge, this must’ve been when Cameron was writing “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright,” a long-form feature about the cocky, ascendant Baldwin for Cycle magazine – a highwater mark of motojournalism in an era when it occasionally veered into, gasp, literature. This pic later appeared on Cycle World’s last page with the caption, “You forgot to do what?”

Mary says: Rookie Freddie Spencer on his way to the Novice win on a TZ250, Daytona 1978.

I have never seen Freddie Spencer in glasses before or since. Later, FF got contact lenses and the rest is history. I hear he talks about the big difference the contacts made in his new book, Feel, My Story. I need to read it.

One thousand thanks to Mary Grothe.