We talked to Garth about many topics:
ABOUT THE ROOKIE-YEAR WIN AT ASCOT:
“The time I won Ascot…yeah, that was the best. Second best was San Jose and Indy with Mert Lawwill…that was great, too!
The night before the half mile, at Ascot, I rode in the TT. I was riding my cousin Terry’s bike. I was doing pretty good, running 3rd or 4th in the main, but I ran up into the back of Hank Scott. I fell off. I don’t remember if Hank did, or not… but I sure did, and blew the whole thing, that night. Talk about a disappointment!
The next day, my dad showed up with his XR, with a Magnito (see below). That’s when we discovered it needed a tire, so we bought a Carlisle tire there, at the track. Dad and John Schmidt put her together for me, just in time.
Kenny Roberts was in my heat. That guy had been my idol, man, and now I was supposed to be racing AGAINST him? Talk about PRESSURE! But, that clay HURTS when it hits you. It’s like bullets! We used to stuff cardboard in our leathers, and it helped, but it still hurts! I didn’t want to get hit by that stuff, getting thrown up from the other guys. That motivated me enough to get out in front, and I managed to keep it there. It was great!
On the podium, I was standing between Jay Springsteen and Dave Aldana. Yeah…that, I’ll NEVER forget!”
“I called my dad from California and told him that the motor had a miss in it; Dad thought it was the magnito and he got a rebuilt one, got on a plane and delivered it to Marino Del Rey where the bike was being worked on in the parking lot of a Harley Motocycle shop. The Harley team was inside the shop. One of the mechanics from the Harley shop came by, and after looking at the bike, saw the big aluminum primary cover and asked, "Is that the only cover you have?" Dad said "yes". The mechanic smiled and said "Lots of Luck!”
Me, my dad, and John Schmidt were the last team to leave for the race track. I won my heat and also won the final by a full straight away. That made me the first "first year expert" to win a National race.”
ON THE CHALLENGES OF “BEING THERE:”
“There was a Saturday regional race in Wisconsin. I took one motorcycle (a Bultaco) to a race at Wausau, Wisconsin. Right after winning the race I had to drive back to Flint, where I met Ray Goff (a former racer and friend) who flew me to York, New York in order to meet my dad (who had transported my OTHER Bultaco to this race. He picked me and Ray up at the airport and got us to the Sunday regional race which I ALSO won.”
TRIALS ON THE ROAD:
“I was going to race at Daytona. I had gone ahead and was staying with Woody Kyle, awaiting the arival of my bike which my dad, my mother, and another couple were bringing. Unfortunately there was rain storm in Kentucky. The van (equipped with wide hard rubber tires) hydroplaned, hit a guard rail and rolled over. Dad was the only one injured. At the hospital in Cave City, Kentucky he got a brace for his injured spine. He, my mother and the accompanying couple then went to a local motel for the night. I was called, and Terry Poovey and I came from Florida to pick up my dad and the others at Cave City. Everyone (plus the bike, etc.) drove back to Florida. I raced… won the half mile at Tampa on the Harley and got 2nd to Terry Poovey at the short track stadium at Daytona.”
IT HELPS TO HAVE HELP:
“I was riding for the Bultaco factory and things were good. We had our Bultaco and Harley tuned and ready to go to the Florida races. They were in our van. Overnight, someone foiled our plans by stealing our van, WITH THE MOTORCYCLES INSIDE. The next morning, the only thing we could do was call our Bultaco sponsor at Virginia Beach to explain our situation. Thanks to them, we were able to pick up a new off-the-floor Bultaco on our way to Florida, to replace our missing one. From Virginia Beach we drove to Florida in my dad’s Buick, with the Bultaco stuffed in its trunk.
I won the 1ST short track race (at Ocala) with the stock Bultaco. My dad pput the winnings in his pocket. Unfortunately, the money fell out, and we never found it.
Things improved. Terry Poovey was 1ST and I got 2ND at the Daytona short track. Winnings from the Daytona race got us home, safely.
While we were at Daytona, the Flint police found our van abandoned at the end of a dead end street. We eventually got the stolen Bultaco back, and parts of our Harley. The Bultaco was identified by friends at Green's Raceway in Virginia. The new owner was a Virginia policeman who had unknowingly bought it from the suspected thieves.
We ended up with 3 bikes… one semi-Harley and two Bultacos. Parts of the Harley were eventually found, shortly after we returned to Flint. Someone called us, saying that he had received an anonymous call about the bike’s whereabouts. He retrieved the parts from a field, and returned them to us. Having no official connection to the Harley factory, we were unable to race with the big bikes that year.”
YOUR ADVICE FOR A YOUNG UP-AND-COMER:
“Learn to do it yourself. One of the best ways my dad ever helped me was, he never TOLD me what I had to fix or change, on my bikes. He’d ask me what I thought the bike needed. He let me figure it out for myself. He let me make my own mistakes, too. He also taught me how to WORK on the bikes I was riding. If you’re going to be a good rider, you’ve got to learn to do it for yourself, because no matter how much another person helps you, odds are that one day they won’t be there, and you’ll have to count on your own knowledge and abilities.
Get with someone who knows what they‘re doing, and learn from them how to set ‘em up. Have the right equipment to begin with. Learn to do it by yourself.”
“I always thought I could win. No one ever gets out there and races, if they expect they’re going to lose. You are always going to lose more than you want to. That’s a fact. But, as long as you believe you can win, you’ll keep going.”
WHY THEY CALL HIM “GONZO:”
“Well, my cousin, Terry, gave me my first nickname…”Weasel.” I HATED it. I’m a big Ted Nugent fan. I listen to him all the time. He helped me get in the mood I needed to be in, to race. I got the name Gonzo from that. I liked that one better.”
“More brands equals more sponsors, and more sponsors equals more help for The Sport. At least, it seems it should work that way.”
“To Paul Steverson, I have raced for him and he owns Mid Carolina Speedway. I ride now for Honda of Orangeburg SC…George Wells owns the shop, and Mark Strock builds the Honda 450 with help from Woody Kyle. Also, to my wife, Rhonda. She’s the best!”
Thanks, Garth, and best of luck to you!
Peace, Love, and Pea Gravel!
Chew and Mia ("The Fans in the Stands")
1. Garth, circa age 14
2. Garth's Big win at Ascot
photos courtesy of John Blackstock, from the Versal Brow private collection