A racing XR-750 from back in the day. It’s a bare-bones machine with minimal weight.
The new bike made its debut in 1972 where it instantly spanked the competition. By year’s end, Mark Brelsford won the Grand National Championship astride his factory XR-750. That was the start of one of the longest (if not the longest) dynasties in professional sports.
What’s more, the XR-750 was possibly the brightest spot in the dark years Harley spent under AMF’s yoke. While the rest of the company fell sick around it, Harley’s factory team, and Mert Lawwill’s prominence in the film On Any Sunday, put a positive face on a bad situation. It was also during this time that Cal Rayborn, Mert’s fellow factory racer, won two nationals and brought Harley its last AMA Grand National road race win.
Unfortunately, Rayborn died in a club event in New Zealand in December of 1973 and an inner ear problem forced Mert into retirement as a racer in 1977. They passed the torch to a new generation of riders like Jay Springsteen, Scott Parker, and, after Harley divorced itself from AMF, Chris Carr. They, as much as anyone else, kept the XR-750 dynasty alive and well far beyond anyone’s expectations.
It wasn’t always easy, though. In the mid-’80s Harley-Davidson was struggling just to stay alive and rumors floated that the racing team would get axed at any time. Indeed, the factory program was outsourced for a few years, forcing Scott Parker to hire Harley-Davidson mechanic Bill Werner as his tuner.
After Harley’s execs bought the company from AMF though, things got a whole lot better. Harley-Davidson renewed the factory flat track program, keeping the XR’s legacy alive and well. In fact, the XR-750 is such a famous part of Harley’s history that the manufacturer gave a nod to it in 2001 when it launched the 883R—a stock Sportster with XR-750 paint (one of which sits in my garage). The nod to nostalgia proved so popular Harley created the XR1200, launching it first in Europe, then here in the US in 2009.
Even that wasn’t enough for some XR fans, though. If the old XR-750 could still tear it up at the track, why not set up a competition for the XR1200? In 2010, Vance & Hines got together with the AMA to do just that, on pavement however. No one can say what the future holds but with such a great legacy behind it, the XR1200 series is off to a great start. HB
In fact, the XR-750 is such a famous part of Harley’s history that the manufacturer gave a nod to it in 2001 when it launched the 883R—a stock Sportster with XR-750 paint (one of which sits in my gara..
In fact, the XR-750 is such a famous part of Harley’s history that the manufacturer gave a
The XR-750 was also the bike of choice for one of the most famous riders in the history of motorcycling, and he wasn’t even known for his racing ability. His name: Evel Knievel. Between 1965 and 1980, Evel Knievel (aka Robert Craig Knievel) attempted over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps as well as a jump across the Snake River Canyon in 1974. The 37 broken bones he suffered during his career earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of “most bones broken in a lifetime.” Knievel died of pulmonary disease in Clearwater, Florida, at age 69. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.