Dick Mann, one of the all-time greats of American motorcycle racing, has died. He was 86.
Mann will go down in history as one of the most versatile racers ever to throw a leg over a motorcycle. A two-time AMA Grand National Champion (1963 and 1971), Mann was one of the very few riders to compete on the national level in dirt track, road racing and motocross. When he retired from professional racing in 1974, Mann was second on the all-time AMA Grand National Series wins list with 24 national victories and had one of the longest careers of competing successfully on the pro circuit spanning the early 1950s to the mid-70s.
In 1971, Mann became the first rider to complete motorcycle racing’s Grand Slam, winning in all forms of AMA Grand National Championship racing: mile, half-mile, short track, TT and road racing. Only three other riders ever managed to accomplish the feat (Kenny Roberts, Bubba Shobert and Doug Chandler in that order). And it was Mann who set the standard that, for decades, other riders compared themselves to.
In 1970 Mann became the first rider to win the Daytona 200 on a Japanese-made motorcycle when he took victory on a Honda CB750-based machine.
Dick had at least two books written about his life – one penned by Joe Scalzo in the early 1970s and the other written by Ed Youngblood in the early 2000s. Both are excellent.
I had the privilege to have dinner with Dick one night. It was in Florida during Bike Week. After a AHRMA gathering in the early 2000s, I asked him if he had plans for dinner and to my great fortune he did not. What I remember most about that dinner was Dick had an absolute glow on his face when he talked about growing up in Richmond, California, and the riding opportunities that area offered in the early ‘50s.
“Back then you could just top off your tank and head up in the hills and ride the cow trails,” Dick told me. “You could pretty much go anywhere you wanted, and no one bothered you as long as you didn’t do anything stupid. It was pretty remote in those days.”
The next time I was in Richmond I looked up to those hills and there were still cow trails to be seen. I am sure many of the areas Dick rode as a kid in the early ‘50s were developed by then, but there was enough left further up the hills, that you could imagine seeing a lone rider up there just exploring and enjoying the view.
Looking back on that night it made me realize just how much Dick loved to ride. If it had two wheels Dick probably rode it. Dirt track, motocross (or scrambles as they called it in his days), road racing, trials and so on. And the roots of that go back to those days spent in the hills above Richmond.
Dick was a humble legend and maybe that’s why we admired him so much. – Larry Lawrence