In honor of the birthday of the great Scott Parker – the all-time wins and championships leader in AMA Grand National history – I thought I’d reprint a story I did for Cycle News last winter. Here’s to you Scotty!
Life After Racing
By Larry Lawrence
One of the hardest things for a racer to do is retire. You can go down the list and it’s much harder to find riders like Ricky Carmichael who went out on top then to find those who hung on too long and either faded into obscurity or were forced out by injury. One rider who seems to have made the transition from racing to “real life” is nine-time AMA Grand National Champion Scott Parker
I had the chance to spend a couple of hours with Parker at PD’s Pub in Flint, a cozy and friendly hangout he co-owns with partner Dave Donahue. Parker stays too busy these days to worry about the fact that he’s not putting his Bill Werner-tuned Harley-Davidson XR sideways on the broad turn of a Mile. As we walked in Parker was loading a pull-tab lotto machine.
It’s been ten years now since Parker raced fulltime in the Grand Nationals.
I’ve thought a lot about how Parker could seem so content in retirement while other ex-racers can’t seem to get past their glory days and I think I may have figured it out. One thing Parker said to me really stuck out and was unique to about anything I’ve ever heard another racer say.
“The thing I enjoyed most about racing wasn’t the race wins and championships,” Parker said. “Don’t get me wrong, that was a great part of racing, but for me it was all the people I got to meet and the friends I made in the sport over the years. I mean you can have all the championship trophies and race wins in the world, but if you don’t have good people in your life what does it matter?”
Whoa! This is Scotty Parker hitting me with one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard from a racer. The Scotty Parker who instead of speeches whooped it up at podium celebrations, the Scotty Parker who no one would mistake for a Philosophy major. Yet here is this racer, who walked away while he was still winning races, who was the all-time winningest rider in AMA Grand National Championship history with 94 national wins, who basked in the glory of hundreds of fans seeking his autograph every weekend, who seems perfectly happy with to have just made a couple of friends along the way.
Of course one could say that it was easy for Parker to walk away with the accomplishments he tallied. He reached his full potential and more. Maybe that’s why some racers can never leave well enough alone. If only they’d won that one race, or gotten that championship. Parker admits that maybe that’s part of it. He accomplished more than he’d ever dreamed and there was no looking back wondering what might have been.
But wait… he still talks about that time at Lima where he had the race won and the red flag came out on the last lap. His arch-rival Chris Carr changed tires and Scotty didn’t and Carr won the five-lap dash to take the Lima National. So even a rider who earned nearly a 100 national wins in his career can look back and lament ones that got away.
Parker seems to enjoy running the Pub. On this day I was there with newly crowned national champ Jared Mees, and a group of his friends. We were all sitting around cajoling Scotty to tell more stories and I noticed Mees was seemingly to hanging on every word even though he’d probably heard the same story dozens of times. Even though he’s now the national champ, you can tell that Mees is still a little bit in awe of one of his childhood heroes.
Parker enjoys reveling in racing stories, but he doesn’t live in the past. He talked as much about ideas to promote the pub, to try to be successful even in bleak economic times around Flint.
Parkers championship-winning Harley-Davidson XR750 sits on prominent display in the middle of the pub in a glass case. Legendary tuner Bill Werner once told a group of flat trackers as they sat around the table housing the bike, “Put gas, oil and a fresh set of tires on the bike and it could win a Grand National even today.” And he was probably right.
But like Parker, even the old factory racing machine does not sit pristine and sealed away allowing the world only to gaze. Instead the bike serves as a centerpiece for a giant charity donation center. You can slip bills through a seam under the tabletop and the money collected is given to various charities. Parker has a gleam in his eye has he tells of the thousands of dollars the patrons have given to charity by slipping bills into the display.
Even the stories about how some customers figured out how to get bills up on a handlebar or inside the exhaust pipe are fascinating become larger than life. Scotty points out to Mees and friends the $100 bill someone put in the case.
Parker talks about other projects he has on the burner. He develops property he owns, but for now that’s on hold because no one is buying houses in the area. Mees laughs at Parker telling him about how he built his first house. “I just did it.”
“You never built one before? How’d you know what you were doing?”
“I just jumped in and did it. I learned as I went along.”
Mees just shakes his head grinning.
If you’re ever around Flint you should look up PD’s Pub and swing by. It’s a great little place with good food and conversation. Chances are you’ll even get to hangout with the champ.