Archive for July 5th, 2011
A good argument can be made that Kurt Hall was perhaps the most underrated road racer America ever produced. The reason is quite clear – the native of Louisville, Kentucky, never pursued a career in AMA professional racing. Instead he spent nearly his entire career riding under the radar of many road racing fans, racking up WERA National Championships in both endurance and sprint racing.
In a career that spanned 10 years, Hall became the all-time winningest rider in WERA history, earning 16 WERA National titles. He is easily considered one of the best endurance road racers of his generation as well. Hall was part of the biggest upset in WERA National Endurance racing history in 1988 when the Human Race Team, for which Hall was lead rider, topped the dominant Team Suzuki Endurance (formerly known as Team Hammer and today as the AMA championship winning Team M4 EMGO Suzuki) in that year’s championship. He later joined his former rivals at Team Suzuki and helped guide them to four national endurance titles. Hall also twice rode in the prestigious Suzuka Eight Hour, partnering Scott Russell in 1988 and David Sadowski in 1989.
“Kurt Hall was one of the two best endurance road racers I ever saw race,” claimed Team Hammer co-founder John Ulrich, who cited Michael Martin as the other. “Whenever Kurt rolled out on the grid he was there to win. It didn’t matter if it was in WERA or CCS Endurance racing, night or day, rain or shine, he was unbelievably consistent. I count him as one of the most underrated riders of his time. We took him to Laguna Seca one year and he finished on the podium in an AMA 750 Supersport race.”
Ulrich claimed Hall had an ability to turn in freakishly steady laps in WERA’s long six, eight and even 24-hour endurance races.
“It’s like he had a chip in his brain,” Ulrich said. “He’d plug in a lap time and just click off lap after lap at almost identical times, and all this while running into heavy traffic nearly every lap. On our pit board we only ever had to change the 10ths on his lap times and sometimes not even that.”
Hall was also known for being one of the truly nice guys of racing. Ulrich went on to say that Hall never once flipped off another rider or had a bad word to say about anyone.
In addition to his obvious endurance racing skills Hall was also a blazing sprint racer. He won the first Formula USA National Series in 1989 aboard a Dave Zupan-tuned Human Race Team Yamaha FZR1000.
While many may overlook Hall’s accomplishments, those in the know were big believers. AMA and World Superbike champion Doug Polen said Hall was one of the riders he always kept his eye on when they were on the track together. “He was fun to race against because all those years of endurance racing made him one of the smoothest riders on the track,” Polen recalls. “There’s no question he would have been a top AMA guy had he decided to go that direction.”
Hall was once offered a ride with the factory Yoshimura Suzuki team and turned it down. Fellow Kentuckian and Commonwealth Honda owner Martin Adams considered Hall for the Honda Superbike ride. In 1989 he was voted as the fifth best road racer in America by a panel of fellow riders and industry experts in the now defunct America Roadracing Magazine’s Top 40. John Kocinski, Jamie James, Scott Russell and Doug Chandler were the only riders to finish ahead of Hall in that year’s poll.
Hall came from a motocross background and began road racing in 1984.
“I used to lead a buddy of mine, Edward Hessel, when we’d street ride and then he started racing WERA and all of a sudden he was leading me and I didn’t like that,” Hall said. “Edward and I went in halves on a used [Kawasaki] GPz550 to go endurance racing and that’s how I got into it.”
By 1986 Hall was one of the nation’s leading club race money winners racking up contingency dollars riding Honda 500 Interceptors. He also teamed up with racer and tuner Dave Zupan that year to chase Yamaha endurance contingency money in the WERA Middleweight class. In 1988 the team had progressed from 600s to the powerful Yamaha FZR1000 and in a stunning upset, Hall, along with primary teammates Andy Fenwick, Tim Morrissey and Ben Martinez, won the WERA National Endurance Championship over the mighty Team Suzuki Endurance – a team that featured Jamie James and Mike Harth.
“Everyone was pulling for us, the underdog team,” Hall remembers of the ’88 season. “Dave [Zupan] put together a fast and nice handling motorcycle. Our bike was a lot easier to ride and we didn’t have to be as conservative as Team Suzuki because we had nothing to lose.”
In 1989 WERA launched its WERA Pro Series, with the premier class being the run-what-ya-brung Toyota/Dunlop Formula USA Series. Hall won the championship that year on the Human Race Yamaha FZR1000 over riders like Paul Bray, Chuck Graves, Scott Gray and Mike Smith (who Hall would later call his biggest rival). Hall won a Toyota pickup truck from the series sponsor for winning that year’s title.
While never on the level of AMA Superbike, WERA’s Formula USA gained a good deal of recognition mainly because of some of the extreme motorcycles being raced in the no holds barred series. Don Canet raced nitrous-injected Suzuki GSX-R 1100, Scott Gray ran Yoshimura Suzuki’s 1340cc GSX-R called Big Papa, Rich Oliver tried to punch out and feed nitrous to a Yamaha TZ250 in an effort to stay with the tire-shredding F-USA bikes. Later Kenny Roberts brought over Marlboro Yamaha 500cc GP bikes for Oliver and Robbie Petersen.
It was against the Marlboro Yamahas that Hall had one of his most popular wins. Riding the ultra-powerful Valvoline Suzuki dubbed the “Methanol Monster” at the 1991 Formula USA final at Road Atlanta; Hall beat the YZR500s of Oliver and Petersen. Petersen was amazed at the brute power Hall’s methanol powered machine had. “I was going down the back straight at 170 mph in practice and Hall blew by me,” Petersen said at the time.
“The challenge of racing that bike was trying to keep from spinning the rear tire at any speed,” says Hall. “It was really too fast if there is such a thing for a racing bike. Things happened very quickly on the Methanol Monster and I wasn’t too upset when we quit racing it.”
In 1992 Hall earned one of the biggest paydays ever in club racing when he swept all three Suzuki National Cup races at Road Atlanta, pocketing $15,000 from Suzuki alone. He was the first ever to sweep all three races in the popular year-ending event.
Hall’s favorite racer when he came into the sport was Wayne Rainey. Hall wore the number 60 because of Rainey. When Rainey was paralyzed in September of ’93 in the Italian GP, it hastened Hall’s decision to retire.
“I was being conservative throughout most of the tail end of the ’93 season having pretty much decided to hang up my leathers,” Hall remembers. “A lot of people thought I’d lost my speed, but at the GNF in the Suzuki Cup 1100 final at Road Atlanta, I beat Gerald Rothman to win my final race.”
It was a storybook ending to a great racing career.
Shortly after quitting racing Hall left his job as WERA’s organizational manager and took a position with an architectural firm. He’s been there ever since.
Today Hall lives in the low country region of coastal South Carolina happily married to his wife Jeannie. The couple has a son named Reeves. Hall still rides on occasion with old racing buddies in the mountains of North Carolina on a Ducati Monster. “Everybody beats me today,” he says with a laugh. “I’m usually the slowest guy in the mountains. I try to be pretty conservative riding on the street.”
He says he has few regrets for not pursuing AMA Superbike racing.
“I was the kind of rider who needed a lot of repetition to keep sharp,” Hall explained. “To go AMA racing in those days you only had eight or nine races per year and they didn’t have the testing schedule like they do now. I didn’t think I would have been successful racing so little. WERA was just a real good fit for me at the time.”