Here’s a racing detail so almost lost to time that even the man who accomplished it has no memory of it.
There’s no way to really overstate the racing credentials that American Bubba Shobert can rest on for the remainder of his life: A born dirt tracker, Shobert won the AMA Grand National Dirt Track championship three times and also won the Superbike title. Shobert was successful in nearly every form of motorcycle racing he tried. He won the AMA F-1 race at Mid-Ohio in 1984 in the rain. Then in 1988 the Texan was also instantly competitive on an RS250 Honda in AMA competition, on a bike many light years away from the RS750 Honda dirt track bike he raced most weekends.
No American rider since Kenny Roberts went to Grand Prix with the dirt track credentials that Bubba Shobert did. With the passage of time, his career-ending crash at Laguna Seca now somehow overshadows his accomplishments, if for no other reason than it legitimately robbed Shobert of a full chapter in his career.
Okay, Bubba Shobert: dirt tracker, Superbike champion and incredibly versatile motorcycle racer. But did you know he had a strong role in early World Superbike history? Shobert, even though he doesn’t remember it, raced the first World Superbike event at Donington Park in April of 1988.
“Ahhhhhh … no,” is how Bubba Shobert responds when asked if he remembers racing the maiden WSBK event at Donington Park.
After his head injury in 1989 at Laguna Seca, sections of Shobert’s memory are hit and miss as far as retention. And, let’s be frank, this wasn’t a milestone race weekend for the Texan — you have to dig to even find him in the results. It remains the only WSBK event to be scored motocross-style aggregate or, combined, if you will..
“I think we were there for the Match Races,” opines a member of Shobert’s then Honda crew, “and we just stayed for the WSBK event.” (By 1988 the Trans-Atlantic concept was dead and the ’88 event was termed “Eurolantic”.)
Remembered now for being the late Nicky Hayden’s hero, or a dirt track legend or for his win at the Indy Mile, or the Mid-Ohio F-1 win, or beating Doug Polen for the AMA Superbike title while at the same time racing an entire season of dirt track, some might scoff when it’s suggested that Shobert was already a semi-accomplished Brit-track scratcher when the first WSBK event was waved off, but it’s true, he was. Shobert had raced English vs American Match Races previously and there is an iconic David Goldman photograph of him sleeping, in his leathers, inside a shipping crate at Donington.
Due to his head injury from the crash at Laguna, it’s all pretty vague
“Man, I just don’t remember it,” Shobert says honestly. “Some of that stuff … you know …”
Legitimately, American Fred Merkel gets the lion’s share of the limelight from the first season of WSBK–he won the title on a shoestring privateer RC30 effort. Yet, Shobert was running in the top six in race two at Donington that crisp day back in ’88–and on a generation old VFR Interceptor.
Maybe the fact that he was credited with the fastest race lap of the weekend in the very first World Superbike event will bump start his memory?
“Well, no. I mean, sounds good, you know, but no, I don’t remember it,” says Shobert.
American Bubba Shobert, a gentleman racer if there ever were one, was running in the top six in the second WSBK leg at Donington when on the closing laps he pulled in. It is said that he did so as to not take points away from those riders racing the entire championship calendar.