Happy birthday goes out today to two-time World Superbike Champion, three-time AMA Superbike Champion and Hall of Famer Fred Merkel. It’s hard to believe, but Fred turns 48 today, even though he looks 15 years younger.
Merkel grew up in Stockton, Calif., racing flat track and switched to road racing while still a teenager. Fred spent his early years racing 250 Grand Prix bikes before Honda pegged him as the young up and comer to race AMA Superbike in 1983. Merkel racked up an amazing 20 Superbike wins making him the all-time winningest rider in AMA Superbike, a record which stood until eclipsed in 1998 by Miguel Duhamel.
Merkel won three consecutive championships for Honda. His reward from Big Red? A pink slip. Merkel used the firing as an opportunity. He moved to Italy, started racing Italian and European events and then became World Superbike’s first superstar when the series was launched in 1988. He will go down in history as the first ever World Superbike Champion. He backed it up and won a second world title in 1989.
As it turned out getting fired from American Honda turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Merkel.
Merkel raced until 1995 when he hit an unprotected wall at Firebird Raceway and was forced into retirement. Fred moved to New Zealand, a country he fell in love with when traveling the World Superbike tour.
Today Fred lives in New Zealand with wife Carla and their new baby boy.
When the book of Superbike racing history is written Fred Merkel should have his own chapter.