Bobby Hill earned the title of AMA National Champion in 1951 and 1952 by virtue of his victories on the Springfield Mile. Hill won a total of 12 AMA nationals during his professional racing career spanning the years 1947 to 1959. Hill was always known as one of the most friendly riders of his era and was voted the AMA's Most Popular Rider in 1951.
Hill was born in Triadelphia, W. Va., on July 8, 1922. When Hill was a teenager, his older brother worked at a local Harley-Davidson dealership. Hill began sitting on the bikes, then progressed to kick-starting them and finally, when he was about 14, got up the nerve to ride around in low gear.
Hill's love for motorcycling grew and when he turned 16, he purchased his first bike, a Harley-Davidson WLD 45 cu. in. model, brand new off the showroom floor for $327. Hill joined the Wheeling, W. Va. Roamers motorcycle club and caught the racing bug.
"The club used to gather for Sunday rides," Hill remembers. "Everyone would talk about how they were going to start racing and I was about the only one that went ahead and did it."
Hill started as a novice in 1940 and quickly began moving up the ladder. His heroes at the time were Ed Kretz, Sr., Jimmy Chann, Billy Huber, Chet Dykgraaf and Leo Anthony. Like many racers of the time, Hill's promising racing career was put on hold during World War II. As a top novice and amateur rider in the early 1940s, Hill was about to turn pro when the war began. Hill enlisted into the Marine Corps and saw action in China and the Philippines.
After the war, Hill nearly won his first Pro race, the 1947 Daytona 200. Riding an Indian, he gradually worked his way through the field, and with about 50 miles to go was in second place. Hill goes on to describe what happened from there:
"I could see Johnny Spiegelhoff (the eventual winner) ahead of me and I was gaining. I kept getting a pit signal from my crew that read P2. I thought they were telling me I was in second place. As it turns out I was really in the lead since we started by rows back then five seconds apart and were timed. Even though Spiegelhoff was in front of me I was actually about 15 seconds in the lead. I didn't know that though and I was riding as hard as I could to catch Spiegelhoff. At about the 180 mile mark I came flying into the south turn and pitched the bike in hard. Two slower riders were going through the turn and I just drifted out wide and hit one of them and lost my rear brake lever. I came into the north turn and thought I had slowed down enough, but apparently I didn't and I crashed out of the race."
Hill moved from West Virginia to Grove City, Ohio during the 1947 season to be closer to the racing action.
After coming so close to winning his very first national, Hill had to wait nearly a year and a half before finally getting his first win in Atlanta on Aug. 8, 1948, and even then he had to share the victory. In one of the most memorable races ever, Hill and Billy Huber crossed the line in a dead heat and both were declared winner, the only time that has happened in AMA racing history.
After winning the national title in 1951 and 1952, Hill finally earned a victory in the Daytona 200 on his eighth attempt in 1954 riding a BSA. That victory earned Hill the honor of winning the first ever AMA Grand National Series race.
Hill continued to race until 1959. By that time he was 37 and didn't feel as competitive as he once had, so he chose to hang up his racing leathers. During his career Hill raced professionally on Harley-Davidsons, Indians, BSAs and Nortons. Hill still remained active into the 1960s as an engine builder, building Harleys for several well-known racers.
Hill still lives in Grove City, Ohio, with his wife Nancy. The Hills have three grown children. Hill retired from his regular job as a gas tanker truck driver in 1984. He still loves to attend races and was honored in 1998 by being inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.