Two-time AMA Grand National Champion Dick Mann died Monday at the age of 86. Mann, who started his two-wheel career delivering newspapers in Richmond, Calif., on a Cushman scooter, went on to take the coveted titles in 1963 and 1971—the latter at age 37. At the time, the GNC series required proficiency on road roading, short track, half-mile, mile, and TT circuits. In 1971, Mann was the first rider to take a national win in each of the five categories. Mann’s first and final national victories came at the Peoria TT in 1959 and 1972. He earned a total of 24 wins in the Grand National Championship series.
Mann started his career racing scrambles in the early 1950s. He went on to race motocross in the 1960s and 1970s, and was on the U.S. ISDT team in 1975, taking home a bronze medal in the enduro competition on the Isle of Man. Mann’s varied career earned him charter membership in the American Motorcyclist Association’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998. In a statement, the AMA called “Dick ‘Bugsy’ Mann, one of the most versatile racers to ever throw a leg over a motorcycle. Beyond being a legendary racer, Mann’s mentorship of the next generation of American racers and future Hall of Famers like Dave Aldana, Mert Lawwill, and Kenny Roberts was just as important.”
Perhaps Mann’s most storied win came in 1970, when he won the Daytona 200 on a CB750-based factory racebike, beating other legends such as Mike Hailwood, Gary Nixon, and Gene Romero. Here is Honda’s take on the Daytona win, which was a significant event for the Japanese company:
It was Honda’s first factory effort in the legendary endurance event, with a four-rider project aboard CR750 machinery—the racing version of the now-iconic CB750 four-cylinder, which had started production just a year earlier. Conversely, Mann, then 35, had a long and relatively successful history at the race, though victory had eluded him to that point.
After launching from the front row of an all-star starting grid, Mann eventually secured the lead, then preserved the bike in the race’s latter stages to score a 10-second win over Gene Romero, with Don Castro third. In the process, Mann ran a record average race speed of 102.697 mph. It was Honda’s first AMA National Championship race win, and it established the CB750 at the top of the performance hierarchy. As such, the victory was significant not only for Honda, but for its American subsidiary.
“For a Japanese company with its first, completely unproven big bike, it was hard to top that,” Bob Hansen, then American Honda’s National Service Manager, is quoted as saying in Aaron P. Frank’s book “Honda Motorcycles”.
“Hansen prepared the machine, and I rode it as best I could, just as I was contracted to do. That was it,” said the humble Mann in the same book.
“Everyone at American Honda sends their heartfelt condolences to Dick Mann’s family, friends, and fans,” said Bill Savino, Senior Manager of Customer Engagement at American Honda. “Dick tallied a number of accomplishments over the course of his long career, but he’ll always hold a special spot in our hearts for the role he played in proving that Honda motorcycles could perform with the very best.”
An extensive biography of Dick Mann is on the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame website.
Photography courtesy of Honda and the American Motorcyclist Association.