The legendary AMA Grand National Champion Ricky Graham passed away 12 years ago (on Jan. 22, 1998). That day we lost one of the greatest riders and warmest personalities in all of motorcycle racing. He had a huge fan following and it was well deserved.
Graham wasn’t a perfect human being. He, like all of us, had human failings. I got to know him in the mid-’80s and it’s no secret that Ricky had bouts of alcoholism and depression. The funny thing about it is that Ricky always put on a happy face at the races. He loved to hang out with fans and fellow racers. In spite of his troubles he overcame and made a stunning comeback in 1993 to have a record setting season where he won 12 races, including a record six straight, to win his third AMA Grand National Championship.
I got to hang out with Ricky a bit when he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis. Honda’s flat track team was based out of Indy and during the racing season Ricky and Bubba Shobert lived in some apartments on the Westside, just down the road from Sam Ingram’s little motorcycle shop/used car lot in Clermont.
Ricky and Bubba were archrivals on raceday, but buddies every other day of the week. One night I happen to be there when Ricky and Bubba were hanging out at Sam’s shop. After a few beers the two of them got into a bench press contest in the back of the shop. Then they grabbed one of the cars off Sam’s lot and took off into the night. I can only imagine what they did to that car, but a half hour or so later they came driving the thing backwards into the lot. Whatever they’d done messed up the transmission and the thing would only go in reverse. I don’t know how they didn’t get arrested, but Ricky said they’d driven the car five or six miles in reverse to get back to the shop.
The funny thing was that Sam didn’t even seem all that ticked off. He gave them a little grief, but was laughing too at the picture of Bubba and Ricky driving this car backwards through the streets of Indianapolis.
Ricky was a fun-loving guy and one heck of a motorcycle racer.