Steve Morehead, aka the "Findlay Flyer," was one of the leading AMA Grand National dirt-track racers from the mid-1970s through the 1990s. In all, No. 42 won a total of 23 AMA Nationals during his 26-year professional racing career. He finished ranked in the top-10 a remarkable 17 times. Morehead became a fan favorite and was one of the oldest riders on the professional dirt-track circuit when he retired.
The motorcycle racing bug bit Steve Morehead at a very young age. Born in Findlay, Ohio, in 1955, Morehead got his first motorcycle, a 100cc Hodaka, from his dad when he was 8 and rode countless laps around his backyard. He began competing in amateur motocross, roadrace and dirt-track events as a schoolboy. His dad had to take the seat off his Hodaka and replace it with a wooden board with a little padding on it just so young Steve could touch the ground.
Morehead began winning early, and before he turned pro he already had sponsorship deals with Bultaco and Kawasaki. Morehead’s brother was also a top amateur racer who specialized on indoor concrete race tracks.
Morehead appeared to be headed in the direction of becoming a motocross star, but for a fateful visit to the Lima Half-Mile in Ohio. There he saw George Roeder sliding his big Harley-Davidson around the white crushed-limestone track and he knew that’s what he wanted to do. Roeder and Ronnie Rall became Morehead’s big childhood heroes.
Morehead obtained his professional license in 1972 at the age of 16. He was the top novice in the country. He became an Expert class rider in 1974 and competed against the likes of Kenny Roberts, who successfully defended his Grand National Championship that year.
In his early years, Morehead raced only the nationals that were close to home. His bread and butter came from racing the numerous regional dirt-track races around Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Winning over 200 regional events on country fair tracks across the Midwest earned Morehead a strong grassroots following of fans.
In 1976, Morehead, who got the nickname the Findlay Flyer from announcer Dave Despain, scored his first podium finish in a home state National, the Columbus Half Mile. He earned three podium finishes the following year. In 1978, he scored his first career Grand National victory at the Meadow Lands (Pennsylvania) Half Mile and cracked the top-10 for the first time with a seventh-place ranking in the year's point standings.
"My first national win was pretty exhilarating," Morehead remembered. "It was a big pea gravel white limestone half-mile like I’d grown up racing on and I got the holeshot and led the race from start to finish."
Chris Carr (1) leading Scotty Parker (2), Ricky Graham (3) and Steve Morehead (42) in an early 1990s AMA Grand National race. Picture via : theriderfiles.com
As his career progressed, Morehead became known as a half-mile specialist, but in 1979 his two National victories would both come on the long, high-speed mile ovals at Syracuse, New York, and San Jose, California. Harley-Davidson backed him that year. Seven top-five finishes and a total of 12 top-10 finishes earned him fourth place in the final point standings, the best he would do until nine years later, in 1988, when he would again rank fourth.
In between those years, he garnered nine National wins. The four National victories he scored in '88 -- the San Jose Mile, and half-mile Nationals at Louisville, Lima and Hagerstown -- brought his total to 14, an average of one per season since he first took the green flag in a National. It was in 1988 that Morehead rode for Hank Scott and had his best season in terms of national wins.
During his career, fan-favorite Morehead was the king of the privateers. He was the consummate professional who approached racing as a business. During his long career, he rode for Harley-Davidson and Honda. Morehead also helped Yamaha develop its V-Twin Virago-based dirt-track racer in the mid-1980s and helped the AMA develop a new formula for flat-track racing engines by developing street-based 1,000cc V-Twin motors in the SuperTracker Series.
He developed long-standing relationships with his sponsors, including KK Motorcycle Supply, which adorned his leathers throughout most of his career. He always portrayed a positive image of the sport and developed a strong fan following across the country.
Morehead won the Louisville Half Mile again in 1989 and also repeated his fourth-place finish in the point standings by virtue of a dozen top-10 finishes. He won two Nationals in 1990 and finished fifth on the year. The next three years produced a dry spell as far as National wins go, but he celebrated his 20th year on the Grand National circuit by finishing fourth for the year in 1993, thanks to a noteworthy 14 top-10 finishes.
The Findlay Flyer began his third decade as an Expert by turning in his best-ever year in 1994. Putting in a strong challenge for the Number One plate, he finished a career high third, behind Scott Parker and Chris Carr, after a brilliant season that saw him win three half-mile Nationals - Dallas, Lima and Lake Odessa. He scored career-best marks in top five finishes, with 14, and in top-10 performances, with 17, all at the ripe old age of 39! Morehead continued to race for four more years, scoring his last National win on the half-mile oval at Las Vegas in 1998 at the age of 43. He hung up his steel shoe after the 1999 season, ranked 10th on the all-time AMA Grand National win list, and fourth-ranked in half-mile victories in the history of the series.
We all think of Steve Morehead as strictly a flat tracker, but here’s proof that Steve raced on pavement as well. Morehead in the 1990 Daytona 200.Copyright Larry Lawrence photo
In addition to his National wins, Morehead also took SuperTracker wins at Lima and Del Mar in 1999 and won the Du Quoin 50-Miler non-points paying national.
Lima was Morehead’s favorite racing circuit. During his career he became the only Ohio rider to win the popular race. He won three AMA Nationals there.
Besides his obvious racing credentials, Morehead also became a successful promoter, co-promoting National events at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. At the beginning of the 2000 season, he accepted a position as operations manager for the AMA Grand National Championship Series. After spending most of his lifetime with the spotlight shining on him, Morehead went to work behind the scenes, lending his expertise to help bring dirt-track racing to an even higher level.
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