Before Larry Pegram and Tom Kipp, one of the biggest names in road racing to come out of the state of Ohio was Dan Chivington. Chivington quietly compiled one of the most impressive racing résumés of the 1980s riding Superbikes, Formula 1 and 250 Grand Prix machines. He also earned fame scoring a big upset in the very first Suzuki Cup Final and was a member of Team Targa, which kept Kawasaki involved in AMA road racing while it was between Superbike programs. Along the way he also raced in the Trans-Atlanta Match races three times.
Chivington got an early start in racing. As a teen he prepped local racers’ motorcycles at his family’s Honda shop. When he was 16, Chivington, who’d been doing some motocross racing to that point, took a Honda CB400F up to Nelson Ledges and as he describes it, got his tail kicked by a bunch of Canadians on Yamaha RD400s. “But it was too much fun,” Chivington added.
“I bought a year old Yamaha TZ250 D-model still in the crate from George Taylor,” Chivington recalls. “I think I gave 2400 bucks for it. I took it to a couple of WERA races to shake it down and then I went to Daytona in the spring of ’78 to race the novice race.”
There Chivington earned a podium finish alongside Freddie Spencer and Rusty Sharp.
In 1980 Chivington, now an expert, made a serious bid at the AMA 250 Grand Prix Championship and came up just short against Kawasaki factory rider Eddie Lawson. That year Chivington earned the distinction of being the first rider to win a professional motorcycle race at Road America, when he won the 250GP race there in June. Chivington might have won the championship over Lawson had he not crashed with a straightaway lead at Loudon that year.
“I still had a shot. It came down to the final race at Pocono that year,” Chivington remembers in his duel against Lawson. “I was on a three-year-old production Yamaha and Eddie was on a factory Kawasaki that was 30 pounds lighter and tuned really well and we were on a Speedway track. You can guess what happened. I didn’t have a chance in hell.”
Lawson won the race over second-place Chivington to win the title.
In all Chivington earned five podium finishes in Formula 1 during the 1980s, including a very close second at Mid-Ohio in 1986 to Randy Renfrow. Renfrow was on a Honda GP bike and Chivington was riding a well-worn production Suzuki GSX-R750 he raced in Suzuki Cup events and Chivington very nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in AMA Formula 1 history.
“Gary Goodfellow and I were duking it out for third,” Chivington said. “While Kork [Ballington] was battling with Randy [Renfrow] for the lead. Kork stuck his bike bad into the guardrail coming on to the front straight and hurt himself pretty good. It happened right in front of Randy. I saw it as well. I don’t care who you are, you get a sinking feeling when someone stuffs it that bad. Randy basically was kind of out of it after seeing the crash. Gary and I were reeling him in fast. Goody stuffed me in the carousel and spins out and took me off in the grass with him. I got back on the track and went like hell. At the finish line I came up about a wheel length short of beating Randy.”
One of Chivington’s biggest and most profitable victories came at Road Atlanta in 1986 in the Suzuki Cup GSX-R1100 final. There he made a dramatic last lap pass under the bridge on Doug Polen to take the victory in front of a national television audience.
“Everyone else had 1mm overbore on their bikes,” Chivington recalls. “Mine was stock bore and it would get killed off the corner, but on the big end I could draft by them with no problem since my bike would whistle on up another couple hundred RPM. I stuffed David Emde in that same turn back in my 250 days and pretty much did the same thing to Polen. I drafted by at the last possible second on the back straightaway and then if you’re going to outbrake me you’re going to end up in the pit lane.”