Scott Parker won an incredible 94 flat track races and nine Grand National Champion titles in his 20-yeear career.
standing record of four. Parker turned pro in 1979 at the age of 17 and became the series youngest winner that same year with a victory at the Du Quoin Illinois Mile aboard his Klotz/Wiseco-sponsored Harley-Davidson. Parker got his big break in 1981 when Harley-Davidson offered him a factory ride when its star rider at the time, Jay Springsteen, was suffering from a mysterious stomach ailment.
Since his retirement in 2000, Parker has enjoyed spending time with his wife, Wanda, and their two kids in Michigan. He has maintained a close relationship with Harley-Davidson, helping The Motor Company develop the flat-track based XR1200. And as impressive as his racing resume is, Parker doesn’t dote on his accolades and trumpets the people that he met and supported him during his 20 years of racing as the greatest reward of his astounding career. We sat down with the flat track legend to get some perspective on his amazing career.
Motorcycle USA: I just wanted to hear from you a little about how you got started in flat track racing.
Scotty Parker: I started riding a Rupp mini-bike at about six-years-old. We were on a city lot, it was a small lot and I started riding my mini-bike around a tree that I had in my backyard. Not long after that it was “Go,go,go.” I moved up to a bike that shifted around the time that Yamaha came out with its ’71 Enduro 60. That was the first bike that I rode that had a clutch and shifted and the whole nine yards. Mainly trail riding and stuff like that. I moved to dirt tracking after that as I continued to climb the ladder.
At what point did you realize, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this” and decide to pursue flat tracking as a career?
Around the age of 14-15, I got my first break from a guy named Rick Toldo. He raced a little bit himself, nothing professional but just having fun doing some local racing. He saw me compete in a couple of local races and came up to me after one of them and said he’d like me to ride his bike. I was leading the first race I ran for Rick and then ended up falling but he came back the next day and said he’d buy me two brand-new Bultacos. He came over and said, “Hey I’m buying these bikes,” so we raced the Bultacos for a year and ended up winning the Amateur National Championship and then it was pretty much off to the races. My next break was getting signed by the factory when Jay was having stomach problems.
What’s going through your head right before the flag drops?
It’s funny, you can go to four race tracks and you think nothing of it the first three and you go to the fourth and you’re more
Jay Springsteen (#1) leads Ted Boody (#12) and Corky Keener (#62) around the bend. Parker would get his chance to ride a factory Harley-Davidson when Springsteen came down with a mysterious stomach ailment.
nerved-up. There’s no reason or rhyme why you get all heated up for one event and the next you have no issue. For me, when I got on the bike, the idea was to win the race. That’s what I liked to do and it was at all costs. Whatever I had to do, that’s sort of how I would roll. Once I turned pro, I stayed strictly with the Nationals. We didn’t do the local racing, we stayed strictly to the ones where the money was. That’s why I would go in there with that mindset. You’d want to stay with your bread-and-butter, which were the Nationals. So I wanted to go there with the position of being healthy and ready.
For you, what was the most important strategy of dirt tracking – the holeshot, the draft, tire conservation?
A little bit of everything put together. Strategy varied because every race track is a little different. At Daytona, my deal was to make it to the main event. Short track wasn’t my specialty and you gotta be in the event before you can win the main event. Each one you go in with a little different philosophy as far as knowing what you need to get done to make it all happen. I felt more comfortable racing the mile where I knew the draft. Short tracks are really tough to make. When we were there, you’d have to win first or second to get you through the heats. Half-miles were a little easier, with four heats instead of six, where first, second and third advanced.
What’s your favorite track?
I really had no favorite track. If you asked me what race to go to, I’d say go to the San Jose Mile or go to the Sacramento Mile or Springfield. I’d suggest going to watch a race at those tracks because you knew you were going to see some good racing. I like the Lima half-mile because even up till today, it’s the closest to real-time, old racing where the bikes are going to be sliding sideways because of the track. The San Jose Mile always had some good racing. The Wide World of Sports used to broadcast from there. I liked tracks with multiple lines like the San Jose Mile where you could always find a faster line than what everybody else was running.
Who was your toughest opponent?
In my time, I’d definitely have to say it was me and Chris Carr who were banging heads all the time, pretty much through most of my career. We probably banged heads the most for race wins. Ricky Graham is one guy could ride a motorcycle like no one else I’d ever seen. The guy was talented, real hell-on-wheels. He was a guy who was one the toughest competitors because he was so fast.
Do you consider yourself more of a groove-track or a cushion track specialist?
I was more of a cushion guy. When I first came up, I really struggled on the grooves. Slowly but surely I started figuring out what I needed to do on grooves. They were definitely a little more struggle for me. I was more of a high, wide, and handsome guy, get up
Scott Parker battled the likes of Ricky Graham, Bubba Shobert, and Chris Carr on his way to becoming flat track racing’s ‘Greatest of all time.’
there and get on the gas. The cushion tracks are for a more aggressive-type person while the groove tracks are more for finesse guys who tip-toe through the corners real smooth on the throttle. Cushion guys have to turn the bikes a little harder in the corner and steer the bikes harder, riding more up against the bales.
So you won four Grand National Championships in a row, then Carr edged you out and then had for you what was an off year (the lost season), only winning the San Jose Mile. Then you ripped off five straight championships. What’d you do to get back on top?
The year I lost the title, that was the year Chris fell in Oklahoma City and I drove by and picked up his bike, catching my knee. I ended up missing three races and lost the championship (to Carr) by two points. OK, I’m good with that, you move on. The next year I came back in, we were right there with Chris and Ricky and one race, the bike blew up. The next race, I fell off. Suddenly we were 40 points down because they were going 1-2 and I think it was a year I that I just needed a break, you know. I went through the motions.
Since it was two years since I’d won, I started hearing people say, “He’s washed up,” “He ain’t going to do this or that” and I’m like “I don’t think so. I’ve got some plans for them.” You know how the press goes on that. They write to create interest. Then I went and won the championship that year, and got on a roll and started all over again. By no means did I think that I’d win four more championships after that to make it nine total. It just happened – there’s one, there’s two, now three, can I go for a fourth? There was a little pressure going for the fifth consecutive championship since I missed the fifth one the first time by only a couple of points. I put my head down and went for it and busted a… that whole year and ended up pulling it off.
I’ve never ridden flat track, but I’m curious as to what’s the key to sliding the rear end out without losing it?
(Knowing that I live in the Northwest, Parker made an analogy for me). When you get a bit of rain and the roads are a little slippery and pulling out of one of those corners you give it a little gas and the oil and all makes the roads slippery, that’s what we feel. It’s like our first snow in Michigan and we get the card sliding sideways, it’s a riot. The sensation of hitting that wet, slippery road and giving it the gas and it’s a little ‘Yee-haw!’ Road racers are starting to break it loose a lot more and slide the bikes and steer with the rear tire more. You really have to feel the bike and don’t let it upset you. It’s got to be a controlled slide. The more you do it, the more confident you get doing it. The worse thing to do is to chop the throttle because then the thing wants to highside you. It does put you on your toes every once in a while!
In your opinion, what makes flat track racing so different from any other style of racing?
The thing that I really like about it is it’s a short race, the racing is close. When you go to the Springfield Mile, there’s four or five guys pushing for the lead and there’s really no other racing like that. That’s what racing’s all about and what the people want to see. The runaways are fun if you’re the guy in that seat. If you’re not in that seat, us people in the stands want to see good, close racing. The thing is to put on a show, and that’s what’s going to draw people in and that’s where I think a lot of dirt tracks, I’d say about 85% of them, there’s some good racing on the racetrack. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s over and then on to the next one.
Why is the XR750 such a special bike?
I’ll bet that the never knew when they built it the success it would have today. I think that it’s one of those things that when they built that thing the first time they had no idea that some 40 years later they’d still be racing it and it’d still be competitive. It was something that it hit, it worked and it just kept on working and working and working. Obviously they did a lot of changes over the years, developing gearing, bearings and such, but the cool thing is you can go back to that original one in 1970 and put parts on it from the newer ones. Even the rockers are still the same. They just developed and developed and tweaked that thing instead of bringing completely new engines out. The bike hasn’t changed much in principle over the years.”
I know that you had a hand in the developing the XR1200. What do you think of the new XR1200 series?
It’s good for the dealer support people out there. I think it’s a good entry-class for people. The XR1200 I rode was a fun bike to ride. It’s an entry-level bike that gives a lot of chances to people at the local level, once they get the dealer support, to go out and run those things. Vance & Hines has done a great job of supporting it.
So you still enjoy a healthy relationship with Harley-Davidson?
Sure enough. Harley still supports me in all directions and I support them back the same way.
Do you still keep in touch with Bubba Shobert or any of the guys from back in the day?
I talk to Bubba every once in a while. But he’s in Lubbock and I’m here in Michigan. For a couple of years, I’d see him at the races back there. You used to have to go to the races while competing, but since those days he’s had kids. Personally, I try to hit three dirt tracks a year which gives me a chance to get out and see some old friends and makes it all worth it. One thing about it, since I retired in ’99, I haven’t really missed it since then. I did my 20 years of racing and it was time for me to get out and I was good with that.
What aspect of your career is the most rewarding?
I think going back to different races and someone coming up for an autograph, 10 years after I’ve retired and they say “Can we get you to come back for just one race, we just want to see you do one more.” Giving back to people who supported me for the pleasure I gave them through my racing all those years and that’s the part that makes you feel good. I did it for 20 years and people still wish I was doing it, which is the stuff that makes me feel good about my career. It’s the stuff that when I started racing I didn’t think about, it was all just about racing motorcycles. But now it’s rewarding when people come up and want to talk and get a little one-on-one.