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It is with a heavy heart that I write this post today, last night I found out that an Iconic hero of mine and great friend, Gene Romero, the Flying Burrito as many knew him, passed away of Cancer at the young age of 72 .
Gene Romero was one of the best-known motorcycle racers in the U.S. during late 1960s and early ’70s. Romero won the AMA Grand National Championship in 1970 riding for Triumph. Known as a TT specialist early in his career, Romero became a top contender in all forms of Grand National racing and won nationals on miles, half-miles, road-racing circuits and TT tracks.
The biggest win of Romero’s career came in the Daytona 200 in 1975. Romero had been racing in the 200 since 1967 and came close to winning in 1970 and again in 1971, when he was the runnerup. Romero came through with an excellent ride in 1975 aboard a factory Yamaha. He rode for most of the race in fourth. About midway through the race, he began to pour on the speed, passing Giacomo Agostini and Steve Baker and eventually taking the lead when Steve McLaughlin crashed under Romero’s relentless pressure. Romero cruised home to victory. It would prove to be his only win in the Daytona 200 in 14 starts.
Born on May 22, 1947, in Martinez, California, Romero honed his racing skills on the dirt track and scrambles tracks of the Central Valley of California. He cites Johnny LaManto as a major influence on his desire to race. Romero described LaManto as a hell-raising local legend who lived at a ranch that neighbored his grandfather’s ranch near Hollister, California. As an amateur, Romero used his scrambles skills to become a top TT Steeplechase rider. Not surprisingly, Romero’s first pro finish came at the Castle Rock (Washington) TT in July of 1966. His first national win came two years later, again on a TT course, this time in Lincoln, Nebraska, riding a Triumph.
Romero won 12 AMA nationals during his 16-year racing career. He became known as one of the first riders to bring sponsorship into the sport from outside the motorcycling industry. One year the famous motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel was Romero’s primary sponsor. In 1970 Romero won the prestigious AMA Most Popular Rider of the Year Award.
Romero raced motorcycles until 1981. After a short auto racing career, Romero became the manager of Honda’s AMA Grand National dirt track racing program from 1982 to 1985. From there, Romero formed a promotions company and is involved in numerous projects from motorcycle racing series to town fairs and festivals.
Gene came to my shop quite a lot and used to hang out and tell me many stories of his racing career, I was always in awe of him and we got on like he was my uncle, such a great guy and will never be forgotten.
I mentioned to Gene that when I was a kid, I loved the smell of Castrol R oil as i used to hitch hike to Snetterton race track to watch the international Trans Atlantic series, where Gene raced my Brit hero Barry Sheene, the very next day gene turned up and gave me some of his old Castrol R oil , he was sponsored by Castrol and still had some left, what a great guy.
A man I will always respect and hold in high esteem, Thank you gene for spending many hours with me and making me feel part of the Romero Family, you have completed your final lap but can now look down on us all and smile that people will always love you mate. Rest in peace gene, my thoughts are with you and your family today.