Gary Scott was one of the top AMA Grand National riders during the 1970s. He won the AMA Grand National Championship in 1975, was AMA Rookie of the Year in 1972, and finished in the top ten in Grand National competition for 12 consecutive years. Known as an excellent racing mechanic, Scott may be best remembered for his famous independent streak. When he left Harley-Davidson in a contract dispute after winning the championship in 1975, the split was one of the most publicized divorces in Grand National history.
Scott was born in San Gabriel, California, on January 19, 1952. The sons of an avid motorcyclist, Gary and younger brother, Hank, began riding mini-bikes at a young age. Hank would also go on to become a top AMA Grand National competitor during the '70s and '80s.
"My dad would take me and my brother out on the weekends," Scott recalls. "He would sit around and just relax while we were out riding the mini-bikes around. It wasn't competition at first, it was just something fun to do on the weekends."
While going to visit his aunt one day, Scott and his family drove by Perris Raceway, a TT/Scrambles track where Gary's dad had previously raced. They stopped to check out the old track. Gary's dad knew the owner and he let Gary ride around a few laps.
"I guess the owner and my dad thought I looked safe enough going around the track, so they let me race there the next day," said Scott, who was 13 when he started racing. "I don't remember how I did. It wasn't very good, but that's how I got started motorcycle racing. From there, it seemed like I raced just about every weekend."
Scott progressed steadily through the ranks and became a top Southern California racer by the time he was 17. He took a job at Suzuki of Ontario so he could be closer to racing and to get discounts on parts. Scott also learned how to work on the bikes.
"My dad would take my brother and I to the races and give us the money to enter, but we were expected to do all the work on the bikes," Scott said.
Scott became a rookie expert in 1972. That class turned out to be one of the most talented in AMA history. Along with Scott, Kenny Roberts and Mike Kidd also came on the Grand National scene that season. It was Scott who emerged that year as the best of the talented young crop of rookies. In one of the most amazing rookie seasons in the history of the series, Scott, riding a Triumph sponsored by a Los Angeles-area dealership, qualified for 21 of the 24 nationals, scored two wins, and was runner-up to factory Harley-Davidson rider Mark Brelsford. Scott earned AMA Rookie of the Year honors.
After his rookie year, Scott was again runner-up in the series for the next two seasons, finishing behind future world champion roadracer Kenny Roberts. Scott didn't win any races in 1973, but came back to win three nationals in 1974 including a victory at the San Jose (California) Mile, his first win on a big track.
In 1974, Scott was signed by the Harley-Davidson factory team. He also moved his family to Ohio that year to be closer to the majority of the dirt track events. He won the championship while he was with Harley in 1975. That year, he beat his archrival Kenny Roberts and a new rookie sensation named Jay Springsteen to win the title.
After winning the championship, Scott got into a contract dispute with Harley-Davidson. Talks between Scott and Harley's racing manager, Dick O'Brien, broke down and it was a shock to most when it was announced before the 1976 season that Scott would not be riding for the factory.
In 1976, Scott, now a privateer, was involved in an intense battle for the championship that came down to the top three riders, Scott, Roberts and Springsteen, who finished one-two-three the previous season. The championship was not decided until the final race, but this time it was Springsteen coming out on top.
During this period, Scott came to be known as a fiercely independent rider. A factory rider for two years, he became somewhat infamous for claiming numerous factory Harley-Davidson and Yamaha race bikes after he left the factory team. Scott says that he simply needed the bikes for parts, which he claimed were purposely being kept from him by the factory teams.
In terms of race wins, 1977 turned out to be Scott's most successful season. That year he earned six victories on the Grand National circuit. Despite the number of wins, Scott suffered through an inconsistent season and was ranked third at the end of the year.
Even though he consistently finished in the top 10 in the series standings, Scott's racing career went into a slow decline throughout the late '70s and early '80s. He did have one more shot at the title in 1981 when he finished just five points behind Mike Kidd in the championship chase.
Scott continued winning races until 1982, his last victory coming on the half-mile track in Hamburg, New York. His final year in the AMA Grand National top 10 was 1983. Scott retired after the 1985 season having competed in 237 AMA nationals during his outstanding career.
In all, he won 19 Grand National races during his 13-year career and finished runner-up in the series an incredible five times, in addition to his one title.
After hanging up his racing leathers, Scott stayed involved in the sport for a few years managing a racing team, but was admittedly a poor spectator. Later, he got involved in commercial sport diving.
When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, he and his wife, Donna, lived in the Phoenix area. They have one son, David.