The perception of vintage racing is that it’s a little more laidback, more about the fun and camaraderie. That didn’t mean diddlysquat to two-time AMA Grand National Champ Gary Nixon. When Nixon strapped on his helmet he was out to win, vintage or not.
When vintage road racing hit its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it gave retired racers like Nixon a great way to come back to the track and a wonderful opportunity for a new generation of fans to get to see the guys their dads always bragged about.
One of the all-time great vintage racing promotions was the Battle of the Nines – a showdown between Nixon and Jay Springsteen, who like Nixon, ran national number 9 for years. The two racing legends went head to head in the field of the 2003 AHRMA Formula Vintage class at Daytona, Nixon racing a Honda CR750 and Springer on a Harley-Davidson XRTT750.
There were other riders in the race of course, but all eyes were on the pair wearing the No. 9 on their machines. Springsteen shot to the front, while Nixon got a bad start and was forced to work his way through traffic. The other vintage riders, even the young guns, knew they were wise to lift should Nixon get a wheel underneath them coming into a turn.
Finally, Nixon broke through the field and chased down his fellow former champ. The two had a great dice back and forth in spite of intermittent light rain, with Nixon’s Honda a little stronger on the top end giving him a slight advantage on the wide-open Daytona International Speedway circuit.
Just when it looked like the legendary duo would battle to the checkered flag, Nixon’s Honda went off song and Springsteen pulled ahead for the victory.
Afterwards Nixon graciously praised his younger rival.
“I’d go for that again in the dry for sure,” Nixon growled. “I know Springsteen’s better than I am. The only way I could beat him was having a faster bike. He’s the real No. 9, that’s for sure.”