It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Fifty years ago we all went to Houston for the first indoor national championship race. The venue was the Astrodome, opened just three years before as the first ever indoor field for Major League Baseball. The American Motorcyclist Association was the sanctioning body for major races at the time, and this was the largest attendance at any national event up to the time.
I had never been to a national, and I was seeing some famous riders for the first time. Note, please, number 20, Gene Romero.
One rider I had seen previously was Bentley Hardwick, number 44, from Dallas. I first met Bennie in 1964 on the occasion of my first ever motorcycle race. By “meeting” him, I mean I had the experience of having him blow by me on his Harley 74 at the airport course in Wall, Texas, his rear tire blowing track debris in my face as he accelerated out of a turn. He was 15.
This was Bennie’s first national race, and he made it to the finals. The championship race started, and on the first lap, Bennie jumped into the lead, pulling into the first turn ahead of everybody else. And that was that for the day.
I continued to meet Bennie Hardwick for several years afterward at various motorcycle races. Some time after this photo was taken he was in a motorcycle shop in Peoria, Illinois, when a random person walked in and shot him in the back. We thought that might be the end of his racing career, but he recovered after months of therapy and continued racing, appearing at least once at Austin Raceway Park. Sadly, he was killed in a flat track race at Alameda Speedway in Houston on 27 March 1971.