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Brickyard Magic: Motorcycle Racer Returns to Action for First Time in 36 Years at IMS

He once traveled the world racing motorcycles with good friend and eventual AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Dale Singleton.

But when Bobby Behel was carried out of Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, after being thrown off a bike, he stopped riding competitively. That was in 1981.

He’s enjoyed other forms of racing, including on jet skis, but Behel always thought about riding a motorcycle again. And he did June 16-18 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Behel, 61, rode on a 1988 Yamaha R6 600cc bike as part of a Historic Moto Gran Prix (HMGP) partnership with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). It’s the first time the bikes have been involved in the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational.

The former expert rider in American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) competition couldn’t be happier.

“It’s been 36 years,” Behel said after Saturday’s third practice session at IMS. “It came back. I’m back. I’m back up to speed pretty much now. I really shouldn’t be, but can’t help it. It’s still there.”

Longtime friend Bill Brown, a former AMA Pro racer and now the leader of HMGP, provided Behel with the Yamaha bike.

“I can’t hurt it. I have to fix it if I do,” said Behel, of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “We are pushing the envelope a little bit. You can look at the chicken strip on the tires, there’s not one now. The rubber is all the way to the edge. We’ve been pushing it pretty hard. The thrill comes right back. It doesn’t go away. It should, but it doesn’t.

“Bill introduced me to this new vintage class we’re doing. It’s fun. It’s mainly for old guys that used to ride and maybe some younger guys who want to ride fast and have fun. It’s not a lot of stress.”

Brown, who used to ride with Behel, is ecstatic to see his buddy doing it again.

“He was one of the top 250cc pilots around back in AMA,” Brown said. “You don’t lose everything. He’s ridden really well and done a nice job.

“Having your friend back out there riding again, seeing the smile on his face as he comes off the track, that’s what does it.”

Behel, who owns a tool-and-die metal stamping plant in Muscle Shoals, reflects on the old days as a privateer working so many long days to pursue a racing passion.

“I started riding in 1969,” he said. “My first bike was a Harley-Davidson. My second bike was a Rickman Metisse. I raced it flat track on Friday nights, then motocross on the weekends.

“Eventually it kind of got to the point to where to continue racing and make a living at it, I was going to have to move to Europe. Things were changing then. The privateer didn’t have a chance. I didn’t have a factory sponsorship. We had to do everything with our own funds and our own abilities. Yamaha helped us some.”

His friendship with Singleton, who died in a 1985 plane crash, made those long days more worthwhile. Also a privateer, Singleton won the Daytona 200 in 1979 and 1981 as well as the AMA National Road Racing Championship in 1981.

“We traveled all over the world racing motorcycles and just had a ball,” Behel said. “That turned out to be a good friendship.

“Back then, it was so hard. We built our own bikes, our own engines. We had to get our bikes to the races. We didn’t have mechanics to fix anything. Everything was done as a privateer. It was hard. It was a lot of work. People didn’t realize that. We’d work from daylight until way after dark.”

They raced at Daytona, Talladega, Mosport in Canada and at tracks in California and New Hampshire, among others.

Then came Road America.

“The last time I rode, I ended up in a hospital tied to the ceiling after the engine seized on me,” he said. “I was going about 140 mph. I broke every bone in my left hand, broke both bones in my left arm, slung bones out of my feet. They had to cut the boots off. It was pretty nasty.”

His body recovered, but his mind never accepted walking away. Behel couldn’t stop thinking about riding again someday.

While it’s fair to say he would be thrilled to ride anywhere, he’s thoroughly enjoyed the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course.

“This is a great track,” he said. “The history of this place is just phenomenal. I really like it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s got some really fast sections. The R1s, they’re probably running 170-180 mph down that straight. I’m riding an R6, it’s probably doing about 150 mph.

“Hopefully we’ll put on a good show for the fans that come out. We want to be invited back again.”

The racing isn’t about winning or losing, he reminds, although “the guys are riding like that.” He smiles and says, “Just enjoy it.”

Behel laughs at the suggestion he could be taking it easy on a porch back home.

“I probably should, but I just can’t do that,” he said. “This is a lot more fun.”

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Brickyard Magic: Motorcycle Racer Returns to Action for First Time in 36 Years at IMS
Behel, 61, rode on a 1988 Yamaha R6 600cc bike as part of a Historic Moto Gran Prix (HMGP) partnership with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). It’s the first time the bikes have been involved in the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational.
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