Gary Nixon, Motorcycles, Class of 2003
Oklahoma native Gary Nixon is one of the most colorful riders in American Motorcyclist Association history and also one of the most successful.
In a 20-year pro racing career, Nixon scored 19 AMA National victories and earned the coveted AMA Grand National Championship twice. At the time of his retirement in 1979, he was the AMA's sixth all-time win leader and ranked third in road race victories (11) behind fellow Hall of Famers Kenny Roberts and Dick Mann.
Although the majority of his 19 national wins came on pavement, Nixon also was beyond doubt one of the fiercest and most competitive dirt-track racers of his era.
He began his professional career in 1958 at age 17, and won the Oklahoma State Scrambles Championship that year. After paying his dues for several seasons, he broke into the national limelight with his first AMA Grand National Series victory in 1963. That same season, he made his first appearance among the AMA's top 10 riders and he remained in that elite company for the remainder of the decade.
In 1966, he was runner-up to the sport's then winningest rider, Bart Markel, in the AMA point standings. Then, in 1967, he guaranteed himself a spot in the history books when he logged a personal best five national victories and captured the AMA's coveted No. 1 plate.
The 1968 season was one of the most competitive in AMA history and Nixon scored just two wins. But consistency carried him to a successful title defense by a narrow nine-point margin over a brilliant young Harley-Davidson rider named Fred Nix, who led the series with six victories.
Fred Nix tragically lost his life a year later in a dune buggy accident and Nixon would never again contend for the AMA Grand National Championship. But their 1968 championship battle still ranks as one of the sport's most memorable.
After recovering from a serious leg injury suffered in a 1969 dirt track accident, Nixon began to focus his energies more on road racing. In 1973 and 1974, he won AMA National events for both the Kawasaki and Suzuki factory teams. But his career very nearly ended at midseason in 1974 when he suffered multiple injuries during a testing session in Japan.
Despite sitting out much of 1974 and virtually the entire 1975 campaign, Nixon was back with a vengeance in 1976, contesting the World Formula 750 Road Racing Series. A controversial ruling by the world governing body cost Nixon the championship, but at age 36 he had added the respect of the international racing community to his already legendary stature in US racing circles.
Although he officially retired in 1979 and devoted more time to his motorcycle aftermarket company, Gary Nixon has remained visible as a team manager and has even made an occasional return to the saddle, most notably in BMW Legends events (where he won at Daytona in 1995) and in the 2002 AMA Dirt Track Grand Championships.