Steve Baker, the silent world champion – SuperbikePlanet


If there was ever a runner who had the right to be bitter, it would be 70s runner Steve Baker. Baker is the first American world champion, having won the Formula 750 World Championship in 1977, a full year before Kenny Roberts won the 500 title. The F-750 Series was a fully accredited FIM World Championship, the same than the more generally known titles 125, 250 and 500 / MotoGP. But, maybe because the championship has not been able to keep up, now sometimes only old people or motorcycle historians quickly remember the F750 and the Baker. You see Baker won the World Championship, won Daytona, and won races all over the world, but his name doesn’t easily slip into track lore or other bench racing style stories. And its World Championship is more of a decent trivia test source than widely recognized.

Treatment like this, forgetting or ignoring a man’s greatest achievement, can freeze your heart, especially if you are the man who won and now have to deal with people who can’t remember, or worse yet, never hear about your success. “And you are …?”

Steve “Steeplechase” Baker. His origin is to be the best TT rider in the Pacific Northwest. Okay, one of the best. YAMAHA

There are a lot of remarkable things about Steve Baker: that he can still fit into his 1978 leathers. That he survived the race at a time when too many of his rivals left the track behind. ‘a hearse. That he had dinner with Barry Sheene, Eric Idle and George Harrison–twice. But, what is perhaps the most remarkable thing about Baker is that with so many reasons to be bitter, he is not. Not at all.

He expresses his gratitude when told that when Dorna gathered the entire contingent of American world champions at Laguna Seca a year and gave them a nice press conference, motojournalist and storyteller Dennis Noyes stood in front of the panel. and asked aloud, “Where’s Steve Baker?” Why isn’t Steve Baker here? ” in the room.

“It’s really good that Dennis did that,” says Baker. “I hope to have the opportunity to thank him one day.”

Baker remains grounded and gives no indication that people who neglect his championship are something he cooks up every night, crushing his molars to dust in a chamber decorated with fist-sized holes in the slab walls. plaster. “You know, I was never very flamboyant and I didn’t really go out of my way to advertise myself or my accomplishments. Maybe I should have, because in the end, what the factories pay is this advertising, but it just wasn’t me, ”explains the former world champion.

Baker on Roberts: He was the first world champion in the 500cc class.
Baker on Roberts: He was the first world champion in the 500cc class. Al Ivins RIP

And does it bother him to see or hear people naming King Kenny Roberts as America’s first world champion?

“Well, he was in the 500 class,” Baker said simply.

“You know, Kenny Roberts’ record speaks for itself,” Baker continues. “He was a great rider. For me, I think the pity is that I didn’t really get the chance to go back to Europe and have a good test ride on a 500. Now I see guys who have raced in Europe, in Grand Prix, for ten years. and I’m like, well, I wish I had this opportunity.

“For me, really, Europe was so overwhelming.”

Steve Baker is kind of like a 1970s version of Zelig, the Woody Allen character who has seemingly been at every major event for a decade. Name a race: Daytona, Ontario, Laguna, Monza and the rest, Baker was there, still racing, generally winning. The failure of the Nixon F750 Championship? Baker was right in the middle of it all. Daytona? I won it twice.

One of Steve Baker's Yamaha 500s can be found at Red Rock Harley in Vegas.  It was the bike that was written off by Yamaha as
One of Steve Baker’s Yamaha 500s can be found at Red Rock Harley in Vegas. This is the bike that was written off by Yamaha as “totaled”, but which almost won the Daytona 200 three years later. True story. Dean Adams

Take, for example, the Indy Mile 1975, where Kenny Roberts won the race on a Yamaha TZ750 track bike. An iconic evening that quickly spawned a legend, a quote that will forever resonate “They don’t pay me enough to put on this thing”. Baker was at Indy that day and rode one of the TZ Miler bikes. Plus, he helped build four of them and drove the van that delivered them to Indy.

“This whole project started with Doug Schwerma of Champion Frames,” Baker recalls. “From my recollection, (Baker’s mechanic) Bob Work sent a set of suitcases (TZ750) to Doug in Hayward, Calif., And with those suitcases, Doug was able to simulate a frame and all the hardware needed to install a TZ engine in a track chassis. I mean, it was an amazing thing and a testament to Doug’s ability and ability as a mechanical wizard. These bikes weren’t really prototype bikes, they were kit bikes. By the time all the engines appeared, Doug had almost everything ready. Racks, fuel tanks, exhaust pipes, brakes, spacers, hangers and just about everything. We worked on a wire harness for a while, but it was the only thing that wasn’t completely ready. Bob Work and I stayed up all night building bikes and built the four non-Kenny bikes in a week. Bob stood for several days building bikes. They went very well together. “

“We really didn’t have time to make them look pretty,” Baker continues, “I ran mine at Indy without paint, but we did some preliminary testing on each bike to make sure it worked and it give it a general test. There was no time to take them to a race track. So what we did was we took them on a small access road to Hayward where we knew people would come in and drag races every now and then.There was a guy there with a pretty hot Harley that was basically a drag bike for the streets and he was pretty much the fastest thing around. Well we got on these Yamaha TZ Milers and he just left. I seem to remember someone passing him on the back wheel before he don’t charge, ”Baker says modestly.

In the 1970s, Steve Baker was the racing Zelig. He was everywhere a great race took place. Tito Bostrom

Baker and his company loaded a pickup truck full of four TZ750 Milers and headed for Indianapolis. They crossed straight and arrived in time to unload in the paddock. Former 250 world champion turned tuner Kel Carruthers had built Roberts’ bike and Roberts had already unloaded his well-polished TZ Miler and the paddock was in shock when Baker arrived and unloaded four more. “There was a lot of talk, I remember,” says Baker.

Steve Baker built and rode a Yamaha TZ750 powered track bike in Indianapolis. How was it ? 120 horses on clay.

Baker takes a broader view in responding. “You see, the reason these bikes worked was that even with an inline four-cylinder engine in the frame, it was still an inch narrower than the Twin engine that was in there. Of course, it was more. wide at the top, at the cylinders, but it was high enough that that wasn’t a problem – better than the four-stroke twin that was there before.

Was it terrifying to ride? “Well, said Baker,” By the time we got to Indy, I think Kenny was already on his and he was already talking about it being serious and maybe not being so good. idea. So that was the buzz when we unloaded. My take on the whole package was that it was somewhat impractical as we used them at Indy. Also, I didn’t have a lot of track experience and just rode cautiously in Indy, and ended up having some drivetrain issues. Was he a monster? It could definitely grab your attention, let’s say that.

The Miler powered by the TZ750 was finally banned from competition on the track. Was this a decision that Baker supported?

Baker at the first Champions Weekend in Daytona.  He shocked many by still adapting to his 1970s leathers.
Baker at the inaugural Champions Weekend in Daytona. He shocked many by still adapting to his 1970s leathers. Bob starr

“I think a month or so after Indy Kenny did some experimentation with a road racing slick cut for a rear tire on the TZ bike in San Jose, and it seemed to bring the bike up a bit. In addition, they were experimenting with moving the engine to improve traction and overall tuning. I think as it continued to move in that direction, if it hadn’t been banned, the bike might have been a decent weapon on some tracks.

Baker made history with his world championship and witnessed history as well. After all this, he remains modest and unpretentious. “I’m just glad I was there. For me, it was just an interesting experience to have.

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