Scott Parker was one of the greatest motorcycle racers in first century of AMA racing. His records are nothing short of remarkable. Parker’s nine titles and 94 national wins made him the all-time leader in championships and wins in AMA Grand National history when he retired in 2000.
King of the MileParker, who rode for the factory Harley-Davidson flat track team for most of his career, was considered the undisputed King of the Mile. His 55 career wins on mile flat tracks was more than double that of his nearest competitor. He was also the leader in wins on half-miles. Parker won on all forms of flat track competition – miles, half-miles, short track and TT Steeplechase. Parker won the prestigious AMA Athlete of the Year Award three times during his 22-year racing career.
The early yearsDavid Scott Parker was born in Flint, Michigan, on November 21, 1961. His father, a firefighter, was also named David, so the family used his middle name, Scott, and it stuck throughout the rest of his life. His dad bought Scott a Rupp mini-bike when he was 6. Scott remembers his small backyard was his practice track.
"There was a tree back there that I would go around and just ride in circles," he said.
By the time he was 12, Parker began racing flat track and motocross. Eventually, it was flat track that won out.
"Back then, motocross was just really getting started and flat track was the big thing. You’d see flat track on TV, and that’s what I wanted to do."
Amateur careerParker had a very successful amateur career. Early on, his dad took him to the races and Parker often raced a small, 60cc bike against bigger 80cc machines.
"We didn't have the money for more than one bike, so we raced what we had," Parker remembers. Racing against bigger bikes meant that the young Parker had to find ways to pass other than using sheer power. As a result, he became very fast in the corners and was noted for his ability to make a cushion work when others couldn’t.
Parker caught the eye of local racer and sponsor Rick Toldo. Toldo helped Parker get better equipment and owned the first Harley-Davidson Parker raced.
"Rick believed that I should race nothing but Harleys," Parker remembered. "Even when I was an amateur, I think he had an eye towards someday helping me get a factory ride with Harley-Davidson."
In 1976, Parker won his first amateur championship in the 250cc division. He followed that up with a national title in the junior division in 1978.
Going proParker turned professional in 1979 and, at just 17, was the youngest rider at the time to earn his expert pro license.
"I came into my first year as a pro thinking, 'This is no problem. I'm going to win everything,' " Parker recalls. "Then, when I went to Houston that first year and didn't even qualify for either race, it was like reality set in. I found out these guys were serious and it wasn’t going to be easy like I thought it would be going into it."
Despite the rough start to the 1979 campaign, Parker was impressive in his rookie season. He scored eight top-10 finishes and won the nationals at Du Quoin, Illinois, and Indianapolis aboard his Klotz/Wiseco-sponsored Harley-Davidson. To earn national wins as a rookie was a rare enough feat, but Parker won both his races on miles, which normally took most riders years to master. At the time, Parker was the youngest rider ever to win an AMA Grand National Series race. He finished his inaugural season ranked ninth and earned the AMA Rookie of the Year Award.
"I won my first national at Du Quoin by running way up near the haybales," Parker said. "At the time, I’d never crashed on a mile and I didn’t think anything of running up high near the bales like that. I started out running about third or so and I made my way up to the front and got away. It was a pretty good feeling to get the win, but at the time all I remember thinking was I wanted to do it again."
Harley factory riderParker finished ranked eighth in 1980 and 11th in 1981. By the middle of the 1981 season a big opportunity came Parker's way when Harley-Davidson was looking to hire another rider. Harley's star rider, Jay Springsteen, was going through a rough time with a mysterious stomach ailment that caused him to miss a lot of races.
Parker was a promising young talent and he got the call. The factory ride with Harley-Davidson was something Parker had been hoping for since his amateur days.
All through the mid-1980s Parker worried about how long his newfound job would last. Harley-Davidson was struggling to survive and rumors persisted that the racing team could be axed at any time. In fact for a few years the factory program did go out of house and Parker hired Harley-Davidson employee Bill Werner to be his tuner. For a two-year period, Werner was working on Parker's machines on his own time after work at Harley-Davidson. By the late 1980s, Harley-Davidson's flat track racing program was back in house as the company made its historic financial recovery.
Throughout the mid-1980s, Parker continued to improve. In 1985, he finished third in the AMA Grand National Series. And then in 1986 and ’87, he was runnerup to Honda's star, Bubba Shobert. In '87, Parker missed winning his first championship by just seven points. This was during the height of the Harley-Davidson vs. Honda battles on the dirt tracks across America.
National championIn 1988, Parker finally broke through to earn his first AMA Grand National Championship. He won four of the last five nationals to beat rival and friend Bubba Shobert for the title.
Then Parker continued winning. He won the AMA Grand National Championship again in 1989, 1990 and 1991. The 1991 season was especially noteworthy in that he matched Carroll Resweber’s long-standing record of four consecutive championships, exactly 30 years after Resweber completed his four-year sweep. At the Indy Mile that year, Parker surpassed fellow Flint native Jay Springsteen as the all-time win leader in AMA Grand National history with his 41st career victory.
In 1992, Parker’s string of championships was broken by fellow factory Harley-Davidson rider Chris Carr. Parker lost that title by just two points after suffering a freak accident in the Oklahoma City Half Mile, where Carr crashed and picked up his bike right in the path of a speeding Parker, who ended up seriously injuring his knee in the crash. Parker missed the Peoria TT race, but came charging back to win three of the last four nationals and nearly catch Carr in the championship chase.
The Lost Season & comebackThe 1993 season saw Parker winning only one race and finishing third in the standings. It was his worst season in 10 years. Parker called it his lost season.
"I was coming off the disappointment of losing in 1992," he said. "Ricky (Graham) went on an great run there and I got out of the title hunt early on, so I just sort of went through the motions."
This down period didn’t last long, however. Parker came charging back in 1994 to start what would become the most impressive run in AMA Grand National history. In 1994 through 1998, Parker became the first rider in history to win five straight AMA Grand National Championships. In those five championship seasons, he won an astounding 39 nationals.
By the end of the five years, Parker had laid waste to the AMA record books. Nine championships and 91 career national victories solidified Parker’s reputation as one of the elite riders in the history of AMA racing. He would go on to win three more Nationals before retiring to bring his career total to 94.
RetirementParker raced only one more full season before he retired from racing. He felt he had accomplished everything he’d wanted to in the sport. He said he didn’t want to hang on until people thought he was washed up. Parker came back in 2000 and raced his beloved Springfield Mile in Illinois one more time and took the victory, much to the delight of the fans. It was a fitting way for him to walk away from the sport.
After retiring, Parker started a home construction business. He continued to make personal appearances for Harley-Davidson, but was content with his decision to retire even though he was obviously still very competitive when he called it quits.
Parker is an avid golfer. At the time he was inducted, he and his wife Wanda had two children and still lived in his home state of Michigan.
Parker summed up his career not by citing records, championships or financial gain, but by saying that the people he met through racing was the greatest reward he received from his years in the sport.