Rich Arnaiz, the winner of the 1989 AMA Superbike race at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and 1990 European Superbike Champion, died early Monday morning at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, according to his friends and family.
He was 58.
Malcolm Hill, who formed Yamaha-backed road racing team with Arnaiz as one of the riders, reported that he was told Arnaiz died as the result of a fall and resulting head injury. He had no further details.
Arnaiz was a top-notch flat tracker, who was especially good at TT racing. He scored his best AMA Grand National results scoring fifth in National TT events at Ascot Park, in Gardena, California, and at the Houston TT in the Astrodome during the early 1980s. Arnaiz then transitioned into road racing and gradually became one of the leading privateer riders of the late-1980s.
His victory at Road America in 1989 was considered one of the biggest underdog wins in AMA (MotoAmerica) Superbike Series history. He was riding his privateer Team Motor Sport Yamaha FZR750 by himself a distant third to the Yoshimura Suzuki pair of Jamie James and Scott Russell when the two leaders tangled on the final lap of the race and went down in a high-speed heap.
“I looked over and saw the bikes, but it didn’t click that it could be James and Russell,” Arnaiz said at the time. “I pulled up to the podium and thought that I must have been so far behind and that Russell and James had already left.”
From there his friend, World Superbike Champion Fred Merkel, helped open the door for Arnaiz to race in the European Superbike Championship with Team Rumi Honda. He won that title in 1990. Arnaiz came back to the AMA Superbike Championship in 1991 riding for the factory Honda squad, but he seriously injured his hand in a Daytona crash and it never got much better. After a short and unsuccessful stint in World Superbike in 1992 Arnaiz decided to call it quits.
Arnaiz, a second-generation racer, grew up racing, along with his brothers, in the Northern California hotbed of flat track centered around the Lodi Cycle Bowl.
Multi-time AMA Grand National Champion Chris Carr watched Arnaiz mature into a strong competitor.
“Rich was the youngest and fastest of the three Arnaiz brothers,” Carr remembered. “He was a good flat tracker, but really found more success as a road racer. I admired his riding style as a kid. He was always one of the smoothest riders on the track. A very quiet and unassuming guy, he sort of let his results do the talking. He was a versatile rider and I think he’s skills at TT racing translated well for him when he started focusing on road racing.”
Three-time AMA Superbike Champion Doug Chandler was another of the riders who knew Arnaiz growing up.
“I remember when he became such a good road racer, he was one of those guys you could trust running side by side at 100 mile per hour,” Chandler said. “He was such a laid-back guy, but once he put his helmet on he would race you as hard as anybody.”
Arnaiz will forever be remembered for that stunning win at Elkhart Lake. Remembrances of Rich are flooding in on social media from friends and fellow racers.
Fred Crane wrote: “I remember him falling at San Jose Mile once. He got up, got it going and rode the whole rest of the race wide open, feet up, at full lock, like a mad man. I swear he never let the gas off even a blip, and never put a foot down once, for laps ’till the end. It was spectacular.”
It’s obvious that Rich Arnaiz made an impact on the lives of those who were fortunate enough to watch him race.
Rich is survived by his daughter Kristin, his mother Shirley, brothers Tony and Howard and his sister Tina. A memorial service is being planned.
Memorial Service for Rich Arnaiz
Lodi Memorial Cemetery
5750 E. Pine St., Lodi CA
Services are on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 at 2:00pm
Cemetery # 209 333-7171