Gary Nixon's AMA racing career was marked by both extraordinary success and courage. Nixon's perseverance and talent at home and abroad made him one of the most popular and most respected racers in the history of the sport. Nixon rode a Triumph to back-to-back AMA Grand National Championships in 1967 and 1968.
Born on January 25, 1941, in Anadarko, Oklahoma, Nixon excelled in all sports in which he participated as a youngster. He first came onto the national racing scene as a teenager in the late 1950s. Growing up in Oklahoma, Nixon received his drivers license at the ripe old age of 14. By the time he took up racing, he had a couple of years of riding on the back roads of Oklahoma under his belt. By age 15, Nixon was already a drag racing champion. Weighing just 89 pounds, he had a big advantage over his fellow drag racing competitors. Nixon then took up scrambles racing and, again, quickly became a winner in that form of racing.
Nixon began his professional racing career in 1958 and at the AMA Grand National level in 1960. Nixon showed a great deal of promise in his rookie season, earning a seventh-place finish at the Springfield Mile in Illinois. For the next few years, Nixon was a steady performer, qualifying for a number of nationals and even getting the occasional top-10 finish. But it came as a complete surprise to everyone, including Nixon himself, when he won his first AMA national in convincing fashion on August 4, 1963, at the road race in Windber, Pennsylvania. He proved the Windber victory was no fluke when three weeks later he won a short-track national at Santa Fe Park in Hinsdale, Illinois. Nixon finished the season ranked sixth in the Grand National Series, his first time in the top 10.
Nixon got progressively faster over the next three seasons, earning a dozen podium finishes, including national wins on miles, short tracks and road racing circuits. In 1966 (right), Nixon was AMA Grand National runner-up to Bart Markel.
The 1967 racing season turned out to be the best of his career. He started the season with a hard-fought victory in the Daytona 200. By the end of the '67 season Nixon had tallied a total of five victories and had earned his first national championship. He followed up in 1968 with another title, this time in a close battle with Fred Nix that came down to the final race. Nixon's national wins in 1968 came at the season opener at the Houston Astrodome and in Columbus, Ohio.
Nixon's renowned toughness became clear in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A series of injuries that would have kept most people bed-ridden didn't even keep Nixon off the track. At one point, he raced for three years with an 18-inch stainless steel rod holding his left leg together. The injuries forced Nixon to focus primarily on road racing. While that prevented him from winning another Grand National title, Nixon turned his infirmity into new opportunities. Nixon became known as one of the world's best pavement racers.
A longtime association with legendary tuner Erv Kanemoto began during this period. Nixon represented the United States several times in the famous series of British-American match races in the 1970s. In 1976, he laid claim to the World Prize Formula 750 Road Racing title, but was denied the championship after international politics cost him a victory, and ultimately the title, at the Venezuelan round of the series. His international success earned him the title of AMA Pro Athlete of the Year in its inaugural year.
Late in the 1970s, the number of national road races decreased, leaving little opportunity for Nixon to ply his trade. His outside business interests became more demanding and Nixon hung up his racing leathers in 1979. During his 22 years of pro racing, Nixon earned 19 AMA National victories and amassed over 150 Grand National finishes. His career spanned three decades and he competed as a factory rider for Triumph, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.
Nixon died Aug. 5, 2011 in Baltimore following a heart attack. He was 70.