Jimmy Filice was one of the most versatile AMA professional racers from the 1980s to early 2000s. He was AMA Flat Track Rookie of the Year in 1981 and later turned to road racing to become one of the elite riders in the history of AMA 250 Grand Prix racing.
The Californian won a total of 29 AMA nationals in both the AMA Grand National Championship and AMA 250 Grand Prix Series. He would go on to become a three-time AMA 250 Grand Prix Champion. His single biggest victory came in 1988 at the U.S. round of the 250cc Grand Prix World Championship at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Filice was also a factory AMA Superbike rider for Yamaha in the mid-1980s.
Filice was born in San Jose, California, on Nov. 18, 1962. As a grade-schooler, Filice was picked on a lot due to his small size, but he never backed down. As a result, he was often in trouble for fighting. His father made a bargain with Jimmy. If he would focus on his school work and stay out of trouble, he could get a motorcycle. It was an offer a 9-year-old couldn’t refuse. He got a Yamaha 60cc and started riding and competing in local minibike races around his hometown.
Filice got off to a unimpressive start, finishing last in his debut race at a short track in Monterey, but it wasn’t long before he was one of the top young riders in the highly competitive Northern California circuit that included riders such as Randy Mamola, Fred Merkel, Rick Ryan, Doug Chandler and Chris Carr.
As a teenager, Filice became a regional and eventually national amateur flat track champion. He picked up sponsorship from Yamaha and Champion Racing Frames and embarked on a professional racing career.
1981 was Filice’s rookie expert season and he landed on the Roberts/Lawwill team, which brought together an all-star squad made up of owners Kenny Roberts and Mert Lawwill, Dick Mann as suspension specialist. Bud Askland served as road racing mechanic and engine development was handled by Mike Libby.
Filice had an excellent rookie campaign. He won a national on the Louisville (Kentucky) Downs Half-Mile and went on to earn the AMA Flat Track Rookie of the Year Award. He also found success on the road racing circuit, winning the AMA 250 Grand Prix at Pocono and finishing second to Eddie Lawson in the final standings.
His sophomore season on the AMA Grand National circuit was a disappointment, however. Filice was Yamaha’s sole factory rider in the series. It was a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old rider, and the flat track bikes were not as competitive as they once were. He suffered an injury-plagued year and only scored two top-10 finishes all season. He lost his ride with Yamaha at the end of that season. The year wasn’t a total loss for Filice, though. He earned four victories in the AMA 250 Grand Prix Series and was in the hunt for the championship all season, eventually finishing a close third to champ Gary McDonald and old minibike rival Fred Merkel.
Filice bounced back to score his best season ever in the AMA Grand Nationals in 1983. He hooked up with Eddie Atkins and took eighth in that year’s championship. He closed out the ’83 season with a flourish, winning three of the final five miles. His victory at the San Jose Mile was a dream come true for Filice.
“That was the track my dad took me to when I was a boy,” Filice said. “I saw all my heroes race there growing up and to win a national there was really more than I could have ever dreamed for.”
By the mid-1980s, AMA Superbike was the place to be if you were a road racer in America. Filice joined the series in 1985 as part of the Super Team Yamaha sponsored by Jim France (of Daytona and NASCAR fame). Filice scored two runner-up finishes that season on the brand new Yamaha FZ750. The biggest disappointment came at Mid-Ohio, where Filice lead by a huge margin when the motor blew up on his bike halfway through the race. Filice ended the season ranked sixth in AMA Superbike.
His performance was good enough for Yamaha to sign him, along with a young John Kocinski, to lead its new factory AMA Superbike team in 1986. Unfortunately, the Yamaha Superbike was still in its early stages of development and the team suffered numerous engine failures. In fact, the team sat out several races while trying to resolve its engine issues. Filice only scored two top-five finishes all season.
He returned with the team in 1987 and had better results. He scored three podium results at a time when the series was loaded with talented riders such as Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Doug Polen, Doug Chandler and Bubba Shobert. Filice ended 1987 ranked seventh in Superbike.
In 1988, Filice was set to return full-time to his dirt track roots when a phone call from legendary GP tuner and team owner Erv Kanemoto changed the path of Filice’s entire racing career. The call was to ask if Filice would be interested in filling in for an injured GP rider and racing in the 250GP event at the United States Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, just two weeks away. Filice jumped at the opportunity and showed up to ride a 250 Grand Prix machine for the first time in five years.
Filice said the factory Honda NSR250 was the best bike he’d ever ridden during his career. He was conservative in qualifying, but still nearly matched the pole time set by future 250GP world champ John Kocinski.
“I knew right then I had a really good chance to win the race,” Filice recalled.
He not only won, but also turned in the race of a lifetime and took the checkered flag by a 12-second margin. The victory marked the pinnacle of Filice’s racing career and put him in a very select group of only four American riders, including himself, to have won a World Championship 250 Grand Prix race in the history of the series. The win led to Filice’s decision to retire from flat track racing and concentrate solely on road racing.
Over the next few years, Honda began grooming Filice for Grand Prix racing. He became a factory test rider for Honda’s racing arm, HRC, and he raced select Japanese, U.S. and world championship races. In 1990, Filice was set to tackle the world championship full-time when, as a passenger, he was involved in a serious automobile accident. The accident left Filice with numerous and serious injuries. It would take him more than a year to recover.
The 1991 season was a roller coaster ride for Filice. He began the year racing in World Championship Grand Prix, but found he was not fully ready to return to that level of competition. He returned to America and found a ride with Morris Murray’s L.A. Motor Works Yamaha. His first race back in America was an 11th-place finish in the AMA 250GP race at Loudon, New Hampshire. It appeared Filice was not able to find the speed he had before the auto accident. But things began to turn around, and Filice went on a late-season run, winning four races and earning the AMA 250 Grand Prix title – his first professional championship a full decade after he began his pro career.
In 1992, Filice rode for Martin Adams and the Camel Honda squad. He won two races that year, but lost the title to an up-and-coming Colin Edwards.
In 1993, Filice’s good friend Wayne Rainey offered Filice the opportunity to race on his Otsuka Electronics Yamaha AMA 250 Grand Prix team that was managed by another good friend, Bubba Shobert. That combination set up the best season of Filice’s racing career. He dominated the AMA 250 Grand Prix Series, winning nine of the 10 rounds on his way to his second championship. In the final round at Sears Point Raceway, Filice’s win was the 19th AMA 250 Grand Prix win of his career. That was a record for the series, eclipsing the old mark of 18 career AMA 250GP wins held by John Kocinski.
Filice then concentrated his efforts in Europe for the next several years. He raced selected AMA 250 Grand Prix rounds over the next few seasons and won several races, including a victory in the Daytona AMA 250 Grand Prix in 1994. He rode the occasional 250 and 500cc World Championship GP and in 1996 accepted the job of running the Kenny Roberts Training Camp in Barcelona, Spain. For about a four-year period, Filice did very little racing, and although he never formally announced it, was for all intents and purposes retired from racing.
Filice returned to America when the Roberts Training facility closed, and in 2000 he decided to make a comeback to racing. He rode a limited schedule on a PJ1-sponsored Yamaha, but managed to win at Loudon, a track he would later call his all-time favorite.
In 2001, Filice decided to race a full season in AMA 250 Grand Prix for the first time since 1993. Since Filice’s departure, Rich Oliver had dominated the class and broken all of Filice’s records in the class. The two hooked up for one of the best battles in the history of the series. Oliver won the majority of the races, but Filice used his experience and savvy to win races when he was able to and score valuable points when he couldn’t. As a result Filice won the title over Oliver by a single point. It marked not only the closest championship battle ever in AMA 250 Grand Prix racing, but also the third national title for Filice.
Filice attempted to make the move to AMA Supersport racing in 2002, but without a great deal of manufacturer support. While his results were not what he expected, Filice will always look back at fondness on his final season of pro racing, since both his retired father and his son traveled with him to the races as part of his race team.
After his 22-year professional racing career came to a close, Filice continued his involvement in the sport by taking a position with a management company where his role is to help guide up-and-coming racing talent.