The life of a racing champion is supposed to be one of checkered flags, endorsements and red-carpet treatment. But defending U.S. speedway motorcycle champion Kelly Moran has experienced nothing but injuries, mechanical failures and frustration over the past two months.
Moran, a 24-year-old from Huntington Beach, won his second consecutive U.S. title last October at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. In two seasons, he has reached a popularity level with the large crowds that flock each week to the track equalled only by Bruce Penhall and Rick Woods in 17 seasons.
But Moran has paid a price for his success. An incredible string of bad luck began exactly two months ago at Carlsbad Raceway when he cracked two ribs in a riding accident. He missed six weeks of racing with a series of accidents, was overlooked by selectors for the American team that competed in the World Team Cup, and then missed an important qualifying race in Auburn last Saturday because his van broke down.
Tonight, Moran will try to reverse the trend at Costa Mesa in the fifth of sixth qualifying races that lead to the U.S. Championship on Oct. 12 at the Fairgrounds. Actually, Moran could have skipped the qualifiers. He was automatically seeded into the championship race by virtue of being the defending champion.
"I couldn't stand to sit out another week," Moran said. "I missed 32 days. I was watching everyone climbing while I was getting stagnant. I needed to get back out on the race track."
What Moran needed most was a reliable vehicle to get him to the race track. He departed for Auburn on Saturday morning but never got past Modesto. Moran's van stalled with a broken fuel pump.
Moran managed to get to the second qualifying round at Ventura and scored 18 points by finishing third in the main event. But he never made it home. The alternator went awry in Woodland Hills at 3 a.m. and he spent the night in his van.
It seems as if Moran has been on the mend all season. He sat out two weeks with cracked ribs suffered at Carlsbad and then broke his left foot on the first night he returned to racing at the Fairgrounds. He estimates the injuries cost him $8,000 in purse money.
"Both injuries were flukes," he said. "I was trying to lay my bike down to avoid another rider in a handicap race at Carlsbad when I hurt my ribs. I was getting up from a crash at Costa Mesa when the push bar hit the back of my heel, bent up my riding shoe and broke my foot."
Moran claims the setbacks actually were a blessing in disguise.
"I'm hungry now while some of the other riders appear to be burned out," he said. "I feel fresh. My equipment is fresh. I feel like it's the start of the season. I think I can win the title a third time. I'd like to win it five or six times."
The U.S. Championship has been the private domain of the Moran family for the past three years. Kelly's younger brother, Shawn, won the title in 1982, and Kelly kept the crown in the family for the past two seasons.
Shawn has been seeded directly into the 1985 championship based on his performance in the American Final last June at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach. Kelly will join his brother with a strong showing tonight. Shawn recently completed a successful Southern California tour before returning to Europe where he will compete in the World Final on Aug. 31 in Bradford, England.
"I have a hunch Shawn might be coming back to race here next year," Kelly said. "A lot depends on how he does in the World Final. I'd like to see him win both the world long track and world championship, and then I'd like to win the U.S. Championship. That way, we'd be like Sherman Williams Paint . . . we'd cover the world."