When Honda Went Dirt Track Racing

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courtesy Chris Carter, Motion Pro, Inc.

Before we discuss Gerald Foster’s (with Chris Carter) book When Honda Went Dirt Track Racing — truly a titanic tome packing 544 pages within hardbound covers measuring 12-3/8-inches by 11-1/4-inches and weighing a hefty 7.25 pounds — we should talk about the real elephant in the room. That, of course, is that flat track racing is an American sport dating back to (seemingly) the early days of dirt itself.

Honda? Well, it’s a motorcycle (and automotive) company that originated in Japan back in 1948, not doing business on these shores until mid-1959. And during that span of 11 years every racer to win the AMA Grand National Championship did so riding a Harley-Davidson.

Not even Honda’s celebrated 1970 Daytona 200 win (Dick Mann on a CB750) could elevate the company’s Grand National Championship status among AMA hierarchy because that single race was on pavement, not good ol’ ‘Merican dirt. It wasn’t until 1979 when Mickey Faye, riding a modified Honda XR500, won the TT National at the Houston Astrodome that the Japanese company finally made inroads into dirt track racing. And, almost on cue, Honda answered the siren song with a rather peculiar and unorthodox V-twin racer based on its CX500 street model.

Honda’s flat track addiction

That concoction led to Honda’s flat track addiction. As Dave Despain relates in the book’s Introduction, Honda’s CX500 flat track racer was spotted at the 1979 San Jose Mile “by Honda’s Shoichiro Irimajiri, a race-savvy heavy hitter who would eventually run Honda’s entire American operation,” wrote Despain, “and who also designed the CX500! (Coincidence and good luck indeed.)” Despain continued, “Irimajiiri was hooked.”

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