THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UNDERBELLY
EVEN the most casual observer would acknowledge that professional motorcycle racing is built on a rich tapestry of humanity, from the villains, spivs and downright crooks to the salt-of-the-earth types that make bike racing the truly unique sport that we all love. Some of our heroes may have even taken a wrong turn that descended them into a hell they were fortunate to be delivered from. As a hard-nosed newspaper reporter might note, Marco 'Lucky' Lucchinelli was 'one of the more colourful characters' to win a world 500cc championship. A blindingly quick rider of the '70s and '80s with a particular penchant for the ladies and a good time, Lucky had an even more intense and destructive addiction to hard drugs.
Insiders knew of Lucky's predilection for dangerous narcotics for some years, and his association with the seamier side of life came to a nasty head several years after he retired from racing in 1988.
The international bike scene was left stunned when reports on 9 December, 1991 revealed that then Ducati World Superbike team manager and 1981 world 500cc champ Lucchinelli had been arrested on suspicion of running an international drug ring.
The then 37-year-old was held along with four Peruvians who were alleged to have smuggled cocaine to Bologna, the home of the Ducati factory, from Peru. Police alleged that the syndicate transformed the cocaine into an invisible film that wrapped the suitcases of the drug couriers.
At the time of his arrest on 6 December, 1991, Lucky shouted, "I am a cocaine addict, but not a drug dealer." Lucchinelli was eventually acquitted of the more serious charge of being associated with the Peruvian drug traffickers but nevertheless received a hefty five-year sentence in February 1992 for possession of 200mg of the venal white powder. He was released after about two years and said the time in the slammer helped him reassess his life, and cure his addiction.
Almost a year before he was arrested, Lucky had a very lucky escape at Phillip Island after his star rider Raymond Roche had wrapped up Ducati's first-ever World Superbike Championship on 10 December, 1990.
Lucky, two of his Ducati mechanics and a mechanic from another team were driving across the bridge that links Phillip Island with San Remo
on the mainland when an apparent front tyre blow-out sent the car veering over the gutter and through the guard rail. Almost certain to plunge 20 metres to the mud-bank below, the car was arrested by a steel cable that became miraculously entangled with the vehicle.
'Lucky' was later breath-tested by Victorian police and released...
Two-wheel luminaries Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and Mert Lawwill weren't the only legends to star in On Any Sunday. If you're a fan of the film, you may recall one of the first scenes featuring a collage of all different kinds of bikes and riders, including a little urchin wearing an over-sized red full-face helmet doing a tremendous stand-up wheelie on his Honda 50 Monkey Bike, captured in slow motion. http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=qoEKHkvJIkQ (wheelie 1m57sec)
That little urchin was an eight-year-old Jeff Ward who would go onto become one of the most successful racers in U.S motocross history, the best ever two-wheel convert to Indy Car racing who in his mid 40s added a couple of AMA
Supermoto Championships and X Games titles to his bio. Not only was Wardy an extraordinary rider, he was a clean-skin with millions of fans and no enemies. In the face of the debacle that is AMA Pro Racing, its hapless managers at least had the foresight to recently instate a rare individual to the role of AMA Rider Liaison and Adviser to restore much-needed confidence in the organisation across road-racing, motocross and flat-track. That individual is Jeff Ward.
Scottish-born 'Wardy', whose family moved stateside when he was four, won nine AMA national championships and proved to be the most versatile rider in the history of the sport, winning 125, 250 and 500cc national motocross titles for the first time.
After he retired from MX in 1992, Jeff turned his attention to four-wheels. He recorded a brilliant third place at the
1997 Indy 500 and was named rookie of the year, and finished season '98 in career-best sixth overall which he followed with a historic second at Indianapolis in 1999. He scored one career pole to his name and an Indy Car race victory in the 2002 Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor
By way of comparison, four-time World 500cc champ Eddie Lawson switched to Indy Cars after serving an apprenticeship in Indy Lights in the mid-90s, and secured a best career Indy Car finish of sixth at Surfers Paradise in 1996.
After a stint with Suzuki in 1978, 18-year-old Ward moved to Kawasaki and would remain with team green for the rest of his 15-year pro career, an extraordinarily long dig at the very top when you add his extensive junior racing years.
Indeed, Ward was the most successful of the first wave of minibike-bred racers of the late '60s and early '70s to progress to the pro MX ranks. Brian Myerscough was another young hot-shoe of the mid'70s who was expected to go onto greatness, but never quite made it.
Jeff's son Brandon impressed with several victories in the Premier Mini Supermoto class in 2006, and at 17, has now joined his dad in off-road truck racing. Interestingly, Wardy's other two sons are named Ayrton and Alain after Messrs Senna and Prost.
Their dad Jeff Ward combined incredible longevity with true greatness and reached a level of versatility that remains unsurpassed in modern motorsport.
Not surprisingly, Wardy's favourite quote is: "If you're not first, you're last!"
The Good, The Bad & The Underbelly - we wouldn't have it any other way.
- Darryl Flack
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