Kenny Roberts’ Greatest Ride – The Indy Mile
In the annals of American motorcycle racers, Modesto, California’s Kenny Roberts is in a league of his own. In 1978, the factory Yamaha rider became the first American to ever win the prestigious Grand Prix Motorcycle Championship. He was equally as fast on the dirt. Two times he won AMA’s Grand National Flat Track championship. This author was in the grandstands at Golden Gate Fields in September of 1974 when Roberts battled fellow Yamaha rider Rick Hocking for the win at the Golden Gate Fields Mile where a last second pass saw Roberts come up just short. That day left an indelible impression and a fascination with the man they called “King Kenny.”
But that’s not all. Roberts is one of only four riders in racing history to win the AMA Grand Slam, representing Grand National wins at a mile, half-mile, short track, TT Steeplechase and road race events. Kenny retired in 1983 and went on to field his own Grand Prix team and further down the road developed his own line of engines for international road race competition.
But today we focus on the story of the legendary yet short-lived Yamaha TZ 750. In 1975, Roberts and the Yamaha engineers fielded the most beastly motorcycle to ever grace a dirt track. Yamaha wedged a massive two-stroke road racing engine inside a dirt track frame. On a bike that was considered unrideable due to its excessive horsepower, Roberts (through sheer talent) came from behind to win the Indy Mile at the Indy State Fairgrounds in one of flat track racing’s greatest moments.
To this day, Roberts is shocked at how it played out. “The rear tire was done by the last lap. The only place it held was way up near the hay bales on the cushion,” he remembered. Somehow, he was able to muscle the bike into the straightaway groove and blast by Harley Davidson factory riders Corky Keener and Jay Springsteen for the heroic win. The feat left Roberts so weak he had to be literally dragged up to the podium. “They don’t pay me enough to ride that thing” he exulted in a post-race interview. The AMA banned the bike from competition shortly after the event.
In 2009, Roberts and the legendary beast – the Yamaha TZ750 – returned to the Indiana State Fairgrounds mile dirt track for a reunion ride. Being held the same weekend as the MotoGP event at the Brickyard, international superstar Valentino Rossi was even on hand to witness the spectacular exhibition ride.
Crank up the volume and listen to that massive two-stroke. Roberts again rode the cushion and held it WOT down the front straight on the last lap. It gave us chills. You will get a sense of the awe and splendor of the most powerful machine in flat track racing history. King Kenny is THE MAN.