Exclusive guest post from Sammy Sabedra.
There is a fairly famous poster of Mickey Fay at the Houston Astrodome TT national in 1979. Honda had produced the poster after Mickey won to help promote their new XR500 engine platform. At the time manufacturers were really pushing to make their large displacement four-stroke singles the future of Grand National short track and TT racing. The large four-stroke singles could really simplify a racer's choice in motorcycle and as an extra selling point they were a whole lot easier on the racing budget as well. Prior to this era, 250cc singles were used on short tracks, as they were easy to fling around, while big, powerful twins were the weapon of choice on the demanding TT courses. This meant riders competing the series had to have two completely different motorcycles to be competitive outside of half-mile and mile racing. Technically speaking, you could ride the same twin on a TT as you did on a mile but, in reality, TT machines were very specialized in their builds and that would take a tremendous about of work to switch back and forth. They were made to handle harsh demands of tight courses and the landings of big jumps, so they mostly stayed as TT machines. Not to mention the necessity of a complete engine rebuild as well. A high horsepower mile engine wouldn’t be ideal on a TT.
With that in mind, let’s get back to the manufacturers answer to this multi motorcycle dilemma. Large displacement singles that split the difference between the little 250s and big 750 twins while out preforming them in both many circumstances. Yamaha initially got the jump with their popular TT500 and had Honda playing catch up. Honda, not wanting Yamaha to get too far ahead, sent out five of their brand new XR500 engines immediately to select riders. The deal from Honda was, We will give you an engine, a set of Honda leathers, and help you get to the races. All you had to do was take an unknown engine, build a motorcycle around it in any fashion that you seen fit and go complete at the highest level there is. I’ll let Mickey Fay take it from here.
'The picture taken from the back. I’m on the inside of the corner coming towards the checkered flag and the guy that’s standing in the corner, in the Honda shirt with both arms in the air, is Roger Stanley. He built that motorcycle one week before that race.
'There were no parts for the 500 motor yet, they weren’t even out to the public.' Mickey explains, 'Roger and Dick Washer from Wasco welded a dome on top of the stock piston to make some compression and he was very afraid it wouldn’t last 25 laps he thought it would melt down.'
Mickey went on to tell me, as soon as they finished building the motorcycle they fired it up and rode it up and down the road for about ten minutes. Then they loaded it into the van and started the 35-hour drive [from Washington state] to Texas for the 1979 season opener at the Houston Astrodome.
Mickey went on to say, 'I knew before that year, that I was going to win that national! I came close in '77 on the BSA and got knocked down the next year on a Triumph. Then in '79 I got that opportunity with Honda. I spent two-and-a-half to three hours in the gym seven days a week, ran about five miles a day and rode motocross. I was in great shape.'
Mickey winning, aged 19. John Gennai #20
Honda will say they won that race, if Roger and Dick were around today they would tell you Mickey Fay won it. No matter how you look at it, history was made that day. It was an important win for Honda. Shortly after the '79 season more and more large displacement singles started to take over short track and TT racing both locally and nationally. Mickey's win at Houston also helped pave the way for Honda in their decision to launch a full factory effort in the coming years. Mickey Fay and that win, helped changed racing forever. Perhaps we all won.
Seeing this photo for this first time Mickey said, 'Wow! I really launched it.'
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Photos by Honda/ Winston collection