Motor Racing : Hannah, at 30, May Take a Shot at a World Title

July 09, 1987|Shav Glick

Bob Hannah, named by five-time world champion Roger DeCoster as the greatest motocross rider he has ever seen, is 30 now but at that advanced age--for motocrossers--the Hurricane is still on the move.

Hannah, who came out of the Antelope Valley community of Quartz Hill to win seven national championships in the 1970s, has never attempted to win a world championship. He has steadfastly declined to race in Europe, prefering to dominate the American scene.

Now, eight years after winning his last national championship, Hannah may race for the world 250cc championship next season on a Suzuki.

With an eye toward that possibility, Hannah rode in the French 250cc Grand Prix last Sunday in Paris and finished second to points leader Eric Geboers of Belgium. Hannah, riding for the first time in a European GP, finished fifth in the first moto and won the second.

Hannah's next appearance will be in the United States GP July 19 at Hollister Hills, a Northern California track located between Salinas and San Jose.

Hannah is defending champion, having won the USGP 250cc title last year at Unadilla, N.Y., after a tense race with Johnny O'Mara, a Honda rider from Simi Valley.

"It's up to Suzuki," Hannah said of his reported plans to race for the world championship. "If that's what they want, that's what I'll do."

Hannah, who spends most of his time testing and developing new models of motocross bikes for the Japanese manufacturer, said of Europe in 1979 that he "didn't like it over there," that he "never knew where to go to eat, how to order or what to do," and that he'd "rather stay home and race."

Asked what had changed his mind, the Hurricane grinned and said, "Time and money can make a lot of difference."

It was in the '70s that Hannah won everything there was to win on Southern California tracks and then continued the same pace on national circuits. He won the 125cc championship in 1976, stadium Supercross in 1977, 1978 and 1979, the Trans-AMA in 1978 and the 250cc national title in 1978 and 1979. In a remarkable two-year stretch during 1978 and 1979, Hannah won 30 national championship events.

A water-skiing accident Aug. 18, 1979 on the Colorado River nearly ended Hannah's career and severely restricted his riding. Since then, he has not won another national championship, but he has won at least one major event each year.

"I've cut back on my racing but the good thing about it now is that I only ride where I want to ride," he said. "I'm through with stadium racing because I think it has become too dangerous. It's definitely taken its toll of racers. After Hollister, I'm done for the year except for testing new bikes."

Shortly after his accident, Hannah announced plans to become an automobile racer, but he found it took too much time to make the transition. He couldn't quit motorcycle racing because the money was too good, and there wasn't enough time to do both.

"Flying is my other passion now," he said. "When my riding days are done, I'll spend most of my time in the air. I have three planes right now, a six-seat Centurian P210 for business, a Super Cub for fun, just flying around in Idaho, and a stunt plane, a Pitts biplane. I love it so much I even live in a hanger (in an apartment at the Sun Valley, Ida., airport)."

Hannah also maintains a home near El Toro, where he spent more time when there were places to ride in Southern California.

"It's a crime not to have motorcycle parks around here where kids can learn to ride and compete, places like Saddleback and Indian Dunes, where I got started," he said. "The government is going to have to do something about product liability.

"Someone is going to have to tell people that if they want to ride a bike, or watch a drag race or a motocross or whatever, that they are going to take a certain risk by being there. If they don't want to take that risk then they don't have to be there, but manufacturers and track owners can't keep risking lawsuits and huge payoffs every time someone gets hurt. The way things are going, pretty soon there won't be any place to ride--or watch."

This is the first year the USGP has been held at Hollister Hills. Since 1973, when Gavin Trippe and Bruce Cox brought it from Europe, the national championship race was at Carlsbad Raceway, north of San Diego.

MIDGETS--P.J. Jones, Parnelli's son, will be going for his second United States Auto Club win in Sunday night's twin bill at Ascot Park. P.J., 18, won the USAC main event last Saturday night at Bakersfield Speedway. Also in Sunday night's 30-lap main event will be sprint car drivers Lealand McSpadden of Tempe, Ariz., and Brad Noffsinger. Also on the bill will be a three-quarter midget main event featuring points leader Dennis Hart of Ventura.

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