Pressure will either break a man or solidify a hero, and Freddie Spencer hardened to a diamond during the 1983 500cc Grand Prix world championship season, which boiled down to a battle of legends. It was Spencer versus Kenny Roberts, Honda versus Yamaha, Michelin versus Dunlop, and tuner Erv Kanemoto versus tuner Kal Carruthers.
Also in 1983 Spencer had been warned that it would be Honda's last year in 500 GP unless he triumphed. Spencer responded with his first world championship. And he wasn't finished setting records.
Two years later, Spencer set the impossible goal of winning the 250cc and 500cc Grand Prix titles in the same year. Others had failed due to the mammoth challenge of simply competing at the world level, much less in two classes.
What fans saw in Sunday's main event was the culmination of months of development, and in 1985 Spencer pulled double duty, and double victory. In fact, five times during the season the Honda rider netted 250 and 500 wins on the same day, closing the season with seven wins in each class. For even the most casual Grand Prix fan, this effort was nothing short of astounding.
Fans will remember that it was 1985, when he was an 18-year veteran of the sport, that Spencer set records at Daytona by winning the three major AMA classes (250, Superbike and Formula One) in the same weekend.
Spencer left the GP circuit after the 1989 season and raced occasionally in the American Superbike series over the next few years, scoring his final win in 1995 at Laguna Seca
Freddie Spencer entered motorcycle road racing at a pivotal time and proved to be the fulcrum that helped lever this sport into the modern era. His work with Honda shaped the company's sport-bike lineup that began with the CB-line and morphed into the Interceptors, CBRs, VFRs and RCs, bikes shaped by Spencer's innate abilities and the same Honda engineers who worked with Spencer at the track. Spencer also led Michelin's development of the radial tire, a slice of technology we now take for granted, but a slice that Spencer paid for with sweat and lots of laps.
Spencer's work with future technology also bit him a few times--once, when a carbon-fiber wheel exploded and again, when an active-suspension component failed. Both experiments put him in the hospital, and undoubtedly shortened his GP career.
With his father as tuner, Spencer learned about winning, losing--and life. "I threw my helmet once and my dad packed the bikes, put me in the van and we left the track," Spencer recalls. "He made it clear that anyone can win, but to lose gracefully was just as important. My dad didn't say much, but what he said always stayed with me."
In 1997 he launched his renowned rider's school in Las Vegas and became a color commentator for Speedvision, both careers aimed at giving back to the sport that has given him so much.