Rookie World Champion? What About That Fabulous Baker Boy?
by staff
Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Before Marquez, before Roberts, there was Baker. Steve Baker...rookie world champion.
image by thanks, John Player

It's been well-documented that Marc Marquez is the first World Championship motorcycle roadracer to win the premier-class title in his rookie season since American Kenny Roberts did it in 1978. It's obviously a remarkable feat that has only happened twice.

Or is it only twice?

The implication is that Marquez and Roberts are, in fact, the only two World Championship motorcycle roadracers to win the premier-class title in their rookie seasons. That's not 100% accurate, however, because another American actually did virtually the same thing just one year prior to the King.

If you ascribe to the theory that MotoGP is the most badass, be-all-end-all motorcycle roadracing championship on God's green earth, then you have to agree that the FIM Formula 750 World Championship was equivalent to MotoGP back in the 1970s. It was an FIM certified world championship series using bikes that in some cases were faster than their 500cc GP counterparts.

Formula 750 existed as a racing series until 1979. It began in 1971 as a collaboration between the American Motorcyclist Association and the Auto Cycle Union. In 1973, it became a British-based series, which was won by Barry Sheene on a Suzuki. In 1975, it was upgraded to European Championship status and, in 1977, it finally became a World Championship.

The first stop on the 1977 Formula 750 World Championship calendar was Daytona Beach, Florida. The 36th annual Daytona 200 was actually a World Championship race for the first time in 1977.

Steve Baker, a quiet, unassuming rider from Bellingham, Washington, who had done a lot of his racing in Canada, came to Daytona in 1977 and promptly set the pole for the Daytona 200 on a Yamaha TZ750. He won the rain-shortened 200 and caught of the eye of Yamaha brass enough that they enlisted him to compete in the entire 1977 Formula 750 Championship and the 500cc Grand Prix World Championship, to boot.

As a rookie riding for the factory Yamaha team in both series, Baker won the Formula 750 World Championship, and he also finished runner-up to Barry Sheene in the 500cc World Championship.

So, one season before Roberts, Steve Baker won a roadrace world championship as a rookie.

Inexplicably, he was released by the factory Yamaha team after the 1977 season, and he competed in the 1978 500cc Grand Prix World Championship on a privately supported Suzuki RG500. Unfortunately, during that 1978 season, Baker suffered a devastating accident at Mosport in Canada that left him with a broken arm and a shattered left leg. He still finished in 7th place in the final points standings, while of course, rookie Kenny Roberts won the first of his three consecutive 500cc World Championships that year.

After the 1978 season, Steve Baker decided to retire from competitive racing, just one year removed from his remarkable Formula 750 World Championship and 500cc World Championship runner-up finish.

So, the next time you think about MM93's amazing rookie feat and quickly recall that King Kenny Roberts did the same thing in 1978, remember that Steve Baker was a rookie World Champion, as well, and one year prior to The King.


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