Chris Carr was the dominant rider in the AMA Grand National Championship during the early 2000s. Through the 2007 season, the Northern California native won seven national championships and was second on the AMA Grand National all-time wins list. He rode for Harley-Davidson as a factory rider for much of his early career, but gained the majority of his success as a private team owner. He was also one of the few riders in his era of Grand National racing to attract major corporate sponsorship, being backed by Ford Motor Company. In 2006, Carr became the fastest man on two wheels when he set a motorcycle land speed record of 350.884 mph piloting Denis Manning's BUB Enterprises streamliner at the AMA/FIM International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Carr was born on May 6, 1967, in Stockton, California. His father was an amateur racer and put young Chris on a motorcycle at an early age. He lived only a few miles from the Lodi Cycle Bowl, which spawned the racing career of many top riders. His parents were members of the Lodi Motorcycle Club and young Chris (an only child) practiced countless hours on the track and began racing at the age of 6. His first racer was a 38cc Moto Villa. He counted Alex Jorgensen and Kenny Roberts his heroes as a kid.
He progressed through the junior ranks chasing older Northern California riders such as Doug Chandler and Fred Merkel. By the time he was 17, Carr had earned numerous Northern California and national amateur championships and was already turning lap times comparable to the top pros.
In 1985, Carr turned pro and embarked on his rookie season in the AMA Grand National Championship. He showed great promise in his debut. In his first national, the Houston Astrodome TT, he scored a ninth-place finish. It was but a preview of things to come. In his first pro season, Carr tallied a slew of top-10 finishes, including podium results at the San Jose Short Track and Peoria TT Nationals. He finished ranked seventh in the championship and was named AMA Flat Track Rookie of the Year.
Carr continued to climb the ladder in 1986, his sophomore pro season, taking fourth in the final Grand National standings and scoring his first national win in August of that year in the Peoria TT. It would mark the first of many wins at Peoria for Carr. He became so dominant at the historic race in the 1990s he became known as the “Prince of Peoria.”
“I remember in my rookie year I finished third at Peoria behind Ricky (Graham) and Bubba (Shobert) and realized I needed to be in better shape to run that pace,” Carr said. “The next year, I came back better prepared. The Woods Rotax kept getting better too, and by then I think it was better than the factory Hondas. I cut some blazing laps that year and won my first national fairly easily.”
Carr’s steady climb continued as he scored two wins in 1987 and then finished third in the final AMA Grand National Series standings in 1988. He was made a full-fledged Harley-Davidson factory rider in 1989. In 1990, he nearly reached the pinnacle, holding the points lead longer than anyone else that season. But an engine failure in the Labor Day Springfield (Illinois) Mile took him out of the series lead. He was unable to match Harley teammate Scott Parker's late-season drive and had to settle for the runner-up spot in the final standings.
In 1991, it was even closer between Carr and Parker. The two tied in the final standings, but Parker won the title based on more national wins.
In 1992, Carr’s time finally came and he scored his first AMA Grand National Championship, taking four national wins along the way. He was by now becoming a complete rider, winning on Miles, Half-Miles, Short Tracks and TT courses. Only 5’ 5” and 135 pounds, Carr developed a unique riding style, learning to finesse his race bikes rather than muscle them.
“I always felt if you could find a way to use less energy that it would pay off in the closing laps of tight races,” Carr said of his finely tuned technique.
In 1993, Carr lost his title to a red-hot Ricky Graham and in 1994 Parker again nipped him by a scant three points.
Carr was offered the opportunity to compete in the AMA Superbike Championship in 1995 as part of the Harley-Davidson factory team. That year, he contested both the AMA Grand National and Superbike Championships and still managed a third in the Grand National Series, despite focusing on road racing. Harley-Davidson’s VR1000 Superbike proved to be underpowered against its competition, yet Carr did an admirable job as a road racer. He won AMA Superbike Rookie of the Year in 1995 and in 1996 gave Harley-Davidson its lone AMA Superbike pole, topping qualifying at the Pomona (California) round. His best Superbike result came in 1996, a fifth on the factory Harley at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California.
Also in 1995, Carr earned a record seventh AMA 600cc Dirt Track Championship, making him the all-time king of the single-cylinder dirt track racing class.
The 1998 season marked a return to the AMA Grand National Championship for Carr after a two-year absence. Early in the season he split his time doing select road races in addition to his full Grand National schedule. He had a notable runner-up road race finish in the Laguna Seca Formula Xtreme race aboard a Muzzy Kawasaki. He again led the Grand National Flat Track Series most of the season, but was caught by rival Parker in the closing races and lost the title by two points.
The turning point in the long Carr/Parker rivalry came in 1999. Carr, now running as a privateer, dominated the season, scoring nine podium finishes, including five wins. Carr finally dethroned Parker in what he calls his most satisfying championship.
“Scotty and I pushed each other throughout our careers and raised the level of competition,” Carr explained. “He was six years ahead of me in experience and gained a lot of speed during the years of him chasing the factory Hondas. It was also a Mile-dominated series during much of that era and Scott was a master of strategy on the Miles. It took me a while to discover the nuances of winning on the Miles. By ’99, I was at the top of my game and it was very gratifying to win the championship in a dominant fashion.”
After a short sojourn winning the Formula USA Dirt Track Series in 2000, Carr returned full time to AMA Grand National racing in 2001 to begin one of the most commanding runs in AMA Grand National history, winning every AMA Grand National Championship from 2001 through 2005, including the 50th anniversary season of the championship in 2004. Tuner extraordinaire Kenny Tolbert built Carr’s bikes during this fruitful period.
Carr was named AMA Pro Athlete of the Year in 2003 and persevered to become the second-winningest rider in AMA Grand National Championship history. In 2002, Carr brought Ford Motor Company on board as his team’s sponsor, marking one of the few times a major corporation backed an AMA Grand National team during that era.
Carr made history in another genre of motorcycle competition in September of 2006 when he became the fastest motorcycle rider in the world. At the Bonneville Salt Flats, he was the first motorcyclist to crack the 350 mph barrier. In one pass, he rode the BUB Enterprises streamliner to 354 mph. His record average for two runs was 350.884 mph. Carr followed in the footsteps of Cal Rayborn, another AMA Grand National racer, who set land speed records.
Carr continues to race and run his racing team. He and wife Pamela are raising a family in eastern Pennsylvania.