Southern Indiana was a hotbed of automobile racing,
but Jackie Mitchell wanted to race motorcycles.
For flat-track racers on the rise,
going road racing was the thing to do then.
It had been the ticket to the Big Time for
racers like Kenny Roberts and Stevie Baker,
but it's quite a jump from
number 10's to clip-ons and rear-sets.
Jackie was all of 17 years old at Daytona in 1977.
Going to the Speedway was the Big Times.
He adapted quickly from the cushion tracks he loved
to the beating he took on the banking,
and his career appeared to be taking off
thanks to his sponsor, Bel-Ray Lubricants.
At his Daytona debut, even though he had an
FIM waiver filled out for being underage,
and qualified well,
they started him at the back of the grid.
When the flag dropped,
he charged from 36th all the way to 3rd in the first few laps, only to get brutally high-sided.
His lower left leg was badly shattered in the crash.
Some fans may have thought the crash was due to youth
and exuberance, but in reality, the motor had seized.
Jackie told me they were not familiar enough with
the finicky TZ250 two-stroke road racer.
I appreciated his raw honesty.
He said he does not remember the crash
but was told it was quite spectacular.
It's amazing what you learn talking directly to the rider.
After Daytona, Jackie was supposed to be
part of a team from Bel-Ray that was
traveling to Italy for road racing at Imola with
owner Kurt Kiefer and racer Randy Cleek.
He could not make the trip after all, due
to injuries from his Daytona crash.
Then, on the way back from Imola,
both Kiefer & Cleek sadly perished in a car crash.
Jackie lost more than just his race program that day;
he lost his friends.
For some racers, it’s not a lack of talent,
but a lack of opportunity.
“It's not if you get hurt, but when and how bad."
Our mission at the AMA Pro Flat Track Rookie Class of ’79
is to provide relief from the dark times."
Jackie and the other members of the Rookie Class rely
on the benevolence of other people, tirelessly
fundraising to help injured riders and their families.
Jackie feels blessed by the kindness of strangers
who have donated racing memorabilia, and to people
like Jeffrey Carver, Sr., who donated the
pulled pork and rolls used to make sandwiches sold
during the Springfield Mile fan walk.
Jackie said he was proud to sling pork
sandwiches at Springfield.
Throughout his career,
Jackie showed he could run with anyone.
In 1978, he won his heat race at his home track,
The Indy Mile.
He felt he had what it took to win the Main that day.
He was running second, saving his tires and pacing
himself…he had planned a late-race charge,
but then his brakes failed.
He still managed a decent finish, but regards
that race as the one that should have been.
Racing Harley Davidsons of that era was
about flow metrics and cams.
If you didn't have the money to destroy
a set of $1,500 heads on the bench then you
could not be competitive.
Having the money to spend was the difference between
racing up front and being a backmarker.
You can't be consistent without money.
Once a racer has had a taste of success,
it's hard to go back.
Jackie was broken-hearted with doing it badly,
so he left racing.
He moved to Los Angeles to work for Kerker Exhaust,
and went on to co-found AXO Sport America.
Jackie feels that motorcycle racers can't ever be “normal.”
His love of winning from racing makes him
successful in the automobile business today.
He has been providing a winning experience for
his guests and his employees for more than 20 years,
and he is still out there now, being racy in the Astro Cup.
Word around the campfire is that Jackie
was quite the cushion rider in his day.
|photo by Scott Perry|
Jackie told me his father was both Dad and wingman,
and kept Jackie on a short leash during his school years.
This kept him out of the trouble that some kids got into,
but he missed his fair share of dances and proms to racing.
He told me,
“A racer will sacrifice a lot for his craft.”
Racing is something you give your life to.
He may not have been from the same mold
of the guys he grew up with,
but how many of his buddies from Bedford, Indiana could
navigate Los Angeles by memory back then?
Jackie Mitchell earned his place in
Ohio's Flat-Track Hall of Fame.
He is rightfully proud of his achievements.
The Rookie Class of '79 has helped many flat-track racers,
from amateurs to professionals.
They even provided a special van for
wheelchair-bound Dominic Colindres,
who was seriously injured at the Peoria TT in 2016.
He also wanted to give special thanks to Tom Seymour,
Tim Estenson and the corporate sponsors.
Our sport is blessed to have men like
Jackie Mitchell & The Rookie Class of '79.
Note: Photos by Bert Shepard/Silver Shutter
via Jackie Mitchell,
Special Thanks to Jackie Mitchell, Charlie Roberts,
Sherry Beers & Kara Kumpel.