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Hurricane Is the Duke on a Motorcycle

You get a pretty good fix on Bob (Hurricane) Hannah, the motorcycle racer, when you know he has prints of every film John Wayne ever made, all 91 of them. He also has a standing offer of $10,000 or more to a charity of choice for the copper band the Duke wore on his left wrist over the years.

Hannah is to dirt bike racing what Wayne was to the sound stage Indians, a scourge, a legend, an implacable foe. Rambo on wheels.

He carries a magazine interview of Wayne around with him to remind himself constantly of what his idol would do in a given situation.

When he gets on a cycle, he’s Wayne against Geronimo, the Japanese Imperial Marines, the commie pinkos sabotaging a war effort. He’s a gung-ho attacker with total identity with his hero.

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You get a clue into what his sport is all about when you know that he is almost the grand old man of motocross. At age 29.

When you ask him how he got his nickname, Hurricane, he can tell you right away: “Three broken wrists, six broken ribs, four broken ankles, one broken leg, one collarbone and one pelvis, twice. It was either that--or Crunch.”

When you ask him what caused all those orthopedic calamities, Hannah answers: “Bravery.”

Bravery, he contends, is a leading cause of broken bones in this country, ranking right along with holiday traffic and soap in the bathtub.

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Fortunately, you can outgrow bravery. It’s a young man’s disease, like measles. It tends to diminish, like your hair or your hearing, as you get older. Hurricane figures he has it controlled to where he might merely be classified as a tropical disturbance on a race track today.

“When I was 19, I’d never crashed a lot of times, and my ankles, my wrists and my arms all felt brand new, right? Well, after you break ‘em all about three times, you don’t like to break ‘em any more. Am I scared? Sure. Those big jumps, I respect now and I never did before. You go into a corner that’s 20 feet wide with 40 bikes on it and I respect that a little bit too. And the more respect you get, the slower you go in.

“It gets old getting hurt, man. If you don’t like sitting in a hospital, if you don’t like being in a cast, if you don’t like itching where you can’t scratch, it gets old. I just like being in one piece. I like being able to walk on something besides two pieces of aluminum.

“My doctor drives a new Ferrari. But, I got even. I wore out two X-ray machines. I’ve had more pictures taken of my bones than my face.”

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Hannah the widely held notion that motocross racers have to be in the best shape of any athletes in all sport.

“All crap,” he says in his best Green Beret tone of voice. “Prize fighters have to be in the best physical shape of any athletes. Marvin Hagler has to be in better shape than anybody who ever climbed on a motorcycle. Of course, the motorcycle doesn’t try to thumb your eye out. At least, not on purpose.”

He pooh-poohs the notion that any other motor racing calls for the stamina bike racing does, however.

“Indy car racing? It’s like sitting in a lawn chair,” he says scornfully. “It takes the physical resources of a 95-year-old. You get more tired in six minutes on a motorcycle than you do in two hours in a car.

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“You take a car driver out there, you take Rick Mears or A. J. Foyt, put ‘em in a motocross, they won’t go six minutes. You won’t see any 54-year-old riders in motocross.

You won’t see many 34-year-olds.”

The outspoken Hurricane has been likened to golf’s Arnold Palmer, the man who lifted his sport out of the weeds of tank towns and put it on the Saturday afternoon sports anthologies.

He has won more Supercross races--stadium spectaculars built to duplicate the hazards of natural terrain--than any rider since Hitler’s scouts reached the Channel. He has won the national title three times and has won 26 Supercross events, not to mention 35 other Motocross races.

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He has been on a motorcycle since he learned to walk. His second pair of shoes had lead in the toe. He grew up in Lancaster, the high desert area of California, where his backyard was a perfect motocross course as far as the eye could see.

He has grown with the sport. “I signed with a manufacturer in 1976 for $1,000 a month and my total earnings that year were $51,000,” he said. " I get more money than that now just to wear a brand name of boots for a year.”

Now signed with Suzuki, for whom he will ride in the Coors Superbowl of Motocross Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum, Hannah has made more money on two wheels than a casino. He not only owns and flies his own plane but keeps a condo in Sun Valley, Ida. But when you ask him what his permanent address is, he answers, “Holiday Inn.”

When you ask him what the danger of Supercross racing is, he replies, “Landings. No one gets hurt in the air. If you land in a spot already occupied, or you land in a spot that shouldn’t be occupied, there goes the old collarbone. Racing is easy. Landing is what makes you old. Pilot error.”

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On his chances in Saturday’s Supercross, Hurricane scoffed. “Don’t bet on me,” he said.

Then, after reflecting a minute, he added: “On the other hand, don’t bet on any of them other guys I have to beat, either.”

Rooster Cogburn or the Ringo Kid couldn’t have said it any better. Like his idol, the Duke, the Hurricane means to hold the fort.


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