“I cried when I heard that Cal Rayborn passed away and I cried when I heard that Dick Mann passed away. We lost a lot of good people over the years but I have to admit that those two hit me harder than others.”
Asked to tell about the Dick Mann he knew King Kenny Roberts says, “Well, he was one of my heroes growing up, one that was a real racer. He was a no bullshit guy. He wasn’t a “image” rider or a rider who had to have everything perfect and then he’d race. Not at all. He was very much his own individual, he was one of kind. He was very much a motorcycle racer, and everything that being one entails.”
“When I was a junior or first year expert rider Dick came up to me at a race and asked if I wanted to go to dinner with him, Mert Lawwill and Cal Rayborn after a short track race in Chicago. I … was very wild back then. You know … you’re young and you’re winning races and making more money than your parents ever did and things are … you know, good. I didn’t know anything beyond turning the throttle. I was partying all the time. Who needs sleep?
“So, they take me to dinner, it’s just the four of us and Dick sits me down and says, we want you to be a motorcycle racer and not a partier. I’m like, ‘What? I am a motorcycle racer.’ And Dick explained that yes, I was racing and winning but I wasn’t taking it seriously enough and if I did take it more seriously that I’d have a much bigger future in the sport. I asked him, ‘Well, how do you know that?! I was just thinking ‘next race, next party, next town.’
“Dick, Cal and Mert all explained that I needed to think about the future and not accepting the way things had been done for thirty years. Dick said, ‘I used to get $50 a day for (doing) PR. So now if you do PR for less than $50 a day that makes me worth nothing, do you understand? He was very good with subtle suggestions like that. I have thought about that dinner and what Dick said for … almost fifty years now. I think they were trying to tell me to not just accept the way things were or are now. I just remember sitting there and being in awe I was having dinner with Dick Mann; I wasn’t thinking about the future before that dinner but I sure did after that.”
While Roberts does agree that Mann was a mentor to him when he raced, it wasn’t the typical professor/student relationship. “Well, Dick was a motorcycle racer. I don’t know if you know what that means, but if you’re a real motorcycle racer then you probably are not going to help someone beat you. So, Dick did not really work that way. He was, again, quite subtle. I remember asking him about swing arm pivots, you know, ‘Dick, what do you think of this swing arm pivot? I’m having problems.’ He said, you know what Roberts? Why don’t you leave all of that shit alone and just ride? Do you realize that if you’d simply left those bikes alone last year and ran the same frame as everybody else you’d have won every race? Put the swing arm pivot an inch above the center line and just ride it, ok?
“And he was right. If I’d just rode a standard frame with the standard swing arm I’d have won a lot more races. But what fun is that? Because when you start messing with the swing arm and stuff it will break chains and wheels and … in 1975 I led every TT race we did and I only finished one, which I won but … the rest of the races I was leading and the bike broke.”
Roberts had a close friendship with Mann, and brought him to the UK to see his Banbury MotoGP operation.”He was really overwhelmed. He was working on his own BSA in his shop then he comes over and sees where we took it. Making MotoGP bikes in an F1 shop.”
Roberts has many memories of Dick Mann. Asked for one more he recalls:
“I remember standing in turn four at a half-mile race in Ohio and Dick was there. We were on the inside of the corner and checking things out, surface and stuff. I said to Dick, ‘Look at that water hole right in turn one down there. Big, giant water hole.’ He looked at me and asked, “Roberts, can you see turn one from here? I said, yes, look at the water hole.
He says, ‘Well, f*ck no wonder you beat me all the time.”