I recently did an interview with longtime professional racer Mike Sullivan. During our interview I innocently brought up the notion that he may have been around long enough to have raced all three of the great Roberts clan – Kenny Roberts and his sons Kenny Roberts Jr. and Kurtis Roberts.
Mike said it was possible, saying he may have raced against Kenny Sr. in his early days of in AMA Grand Nationals. He certainly raced Kenny Jr. and Kurtis in AMA 250 Grand Prix.
I researched the AMA racing records and from what I can find so far, I can only verify with certainty that three four racers ever raced all three Robertes. The three riders are Jimmy Filice, Bruce Lind and Rich Oliver (Update Sept. 16, 2010: Mike Sullivan sent proof that he raced all three).
You think it would be as simple as looking at the records and stating the facts. But it seems that this whole “Who Raced the Roberts” thing has opened a can of worms. It’s the most controversy I’ve generated in posting something since doing a piece on Bob Hannah vs. Ricky Carmichael. Letters to Cycle News are still coming in on that one close to a year after I wrote it. (By the way I steered cleared of favoring one over the other, I just put the question out there and offered statements from others and it started a war).
It’s like Woodstock – it seems there more and more riders who’ve claimed over the years to have raced against all three, but for most there’s scant evidence to back them up.
One member on flattrack.com even brought up an exhibition race that Roberts Sr. held on his racing ranch in Spain back in the early 1990s to prove that Tommy Hayden had raced all three. Another rider says he remembers racing Kenny Jr. and Kurtis at Lodi and Kenny Sr. in practice for a Legends race at the Cow Palace in 1999.
OK, let’s just say that some riders may have ran an exhibition, done a lone practice session, raced in Kenny Sr.’s backyard, or whatever. What we’re looking for here are riders who raced against all three of the Robertses in actual national-level races or GPs.
Some claim the late great Randy Renfrow raced all three. I’m not saying Randy didn’t, I’m just saying I can’t find race results anywhere that shows Randy raced Kenny Jr. When Kenny Jr. raced AMA 250GP Randy was doing Superbike and Supersport racing.
Bruce Lind and Mike Sullivan are also both great candidates. Both had super long racing careers and would have as good of a chance as anyone of racing all three, but I can’t find definitive evidence that Mike raced Kenny Senior and nothing showing Bruce racing Kenny Junior. (update, Feb. 2, 2010: I just found proof that Bruce Lind raced all three Robertses).
Actually racing against Junior might be the rarest of all three, at least for American riders. He only raced here two full seasons – 1991 & ’92. He raced the WERA Pro Formula 2 Series in ’91 on Wayne Rainey’s Otsuka Electronics Yamaha squad and with that same team in AMA 250 Grand Prix the next year. With that he was off to Europe, never to race full-time in America again. Junior never raced the Daytona 200 or any other AMA road racing classes, so that eliminates a ton of riders.
So if you didn’t race 250s in WERA in ’91 or AMA in ’92, chances are you never raced against Kenny Jr.
Here are the facts as I have them so far: Rich Oliver raced against Kenny Sr. at Laguna Seca in the old AMA Formula 1 class in 1984 and 1985. He raced Kenny Jr. in AMA 250 Grand Prix in 1992 and raced Kurtis in AMA 250 Grand Prix in 1996.
Bruce Lind raced Kenny Sr. numerous times from 1976 to 1983 in the old AMA Formula 1 class. He raced Kenny Jr. in AMA 250 Grand Prix races in 1992 and Kurtis in AMA 250GP in numerous races in 1996 and 1998.
Jimmy Filice raced Kenny Sr. in the Daytona 200 in 1982 and at Laguna in the F1 class in 1983. He raced Kenny Jr. in AMA 250 Grand Prix in 1992. At first I thought Jimmy hadn’t raced Kurtis, because he wasn’t doing AMA 250 Grand Prix after 1995, but then I remembered that he came back and race AMA Supersport for Corbin Kawasaki in 2002 and Kurtis raced the Daytona Supersport race with Jimmy. Amazingly, as far as I can tell, that 2002 Daytona Supersport is the lone race where Jimmy and Kurtis faced each other on the track.
Mike Sullivan raced Kenny Sr. at the Ascot Half-Mile National in 1977 and raced both Kenny Jr. and Kurtis in AMA 250 Grand Prix competition.
So that’s it. If you know of another rider who raced in actually national or GP level races against all three of the Roberts clan by all means get in touch and share the info with the world.