Sitting astride the pit wall at Daytona last fall during a tire test sat ex-world champion, financial wizard and general chatterbox Barry Sheene. Around him were Troy Corser, Tommy Kipp, Pascal Picotte and a host of lessor known wrists. Sheene doesn't make it to the States too often therefor he held court with the pupils, answering their questions in his frank manner. Besides, Kenny Roberts wasn't there to urge Sheene to shut up and as long as there's oxygen, Sheene will continue to talk, seemingly amazed at the sound of his own voice.
One of the striplings noticed Sheene's signature Gary Nixon Enterprises T-shirt and after a few moments of thought, queried Sheene, "Say, just who was this Gary Nixon guy, and how did he die?" Sheene let that question sink in for a few moments before he began to giggle, the giggle muffled momentarily until it exploded into a choking laughter. When he could enunciate clearly and his side ceased to ache, Sheene replied, "Nixon's not dead, not dead yet anyway!"
Gary Nixon is not dead and he actually attended that Daytona session as a guest of Sheene. But that assumption really isn't that far out of the realm of credibility as the stories about Nixon are just as legendary as he has become. Death seemed to be the obvious conclusion to many of the accounts. Tales of driving across the country in a van with two broken feet, or racing bar to bar without the benefit of sleep for forty-eight hours prior, or two rental cars upside down in a swimming pool on Atlantic Avenue to this day are repeated in hushed tones in paddocks around the States.
Ask one Ervin Kanemoto Jr. about his old comrade Nixon and he'll smile for a moment, thinking of their times in Europe in the seventies and only say, "He's really not the quiet type." Kanemoto's chief US racing liaisonGene Mellard pipes in, "Gary Nixon's a real racer. They were a different breed back then and Nixon just personifies what it was like to be a racer in the sixties and seventies, only more so. He's a real honest to God racing hero and living legend" Nixon, a former Grand National Champion also is America's first real world champion, although the title was stolen from he and Kanemoto after they'd won it.
Gary Nixon, the former factory Triumph and Kawasaki rider now resides on the east coast in his native Maryland. After criss-crossing the globe like the racing nomad he is, Nixon now enjoys his family life and working in an mechanical design firm. Once a racer always a racer, Nixon, albeit with a tad more sleep now, bangs bars in the BMW-sponsored Legends series, flicking it in with Reg Pridmore, Yvon DuHamel and others. In addition, Nixon will fly to England in September to race against Roger Marshall and other notables in a Past Masters race at Mallory Park. Nixon will ride Triumph machinery in the race, although he's not too familiar with the newer Triumphs. "I've never even seen one of the new bikes. I've been trying to get somebody to send me a photograph of one so I know what I'm in for over there."
The gentleman style racing featured in the Vintage series is not the only racing that Nixon - Racer has been competing in. "I dirt tracked just a few weeks ago for the first time in many years, reliving the days of glory. I started eighth, finished fourth and probably could have finished third. I was passing a expert rider on the outside of the groove on the last lap when I encountered some problems with my equipment. Fourth, though, not bad ..." In addition he joined Jerry Wood recently at a Penguin Riding School at the new Loudon. "I had a lot of fun there even though I don't know the new Loudon half as well as the old track. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I was real sore the next day, I could hardly move my legs!"
Nixon has discovered street riding again. Riding to NASCAR and motorcycle races on his ex-La Carrara winning Kawasaki Ninja 250. Not too surprisingly it didn't take Nixon long to produce the circumstances for another potential adventure. "Yesterday morning, the road was clear so I decided to wind the bike up a little bit and ran it up to about ninety-five miles per hour when I came up on a police car with a radar gun." After a short silence, Nixon confesses, "I probably avoided a hundred dollar ticket there."
How he did so is certainly another tale.