Steve Eklund was one of the top AMA professional racers during the late 1970s. He earned the AMA Grand National Championship in 1979, becoming the first privateer to win the title in since 1963. Eklund was known as one of the best TT Steeplechase riders in the history of the Grand National Series.
Eklund started on the Grand National circuit in 1976 and began winning immediately, taking the coveted AMA Rookie of the Year Award that year. During his 14-year pro racing career, Eklund won 17 AMA Grand National races. Though his specialty was TT racing, he also won on miles, half-miles and short tracks, as well.
Tragically, Eklund suffered injuries and went into a coma on June 17, 1990 after a racing accident at the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mile. Eklund lingered in the coma for more than 15 months before he died on September 26, 1991. Eklund was very well liked by fellow competitors and fans alike, especially the Chicago-area fans at Santa Fe Speedway, who liked to call Eklund "Super Steve."
The youngest of six children, Eklund was born on June 20, 1955. His father took him to watch motorcycle races when Steve was a young boy. Steve's older brother, Rick, got involved in motorcycling and Steve followed in his brother's footsteps. As a teenager, he honed his broadsliding skills in the back yard of his house. It was a family affair when Eklund began racing at a local dirt track in Fremont, California, at the age of 14.
In 1975, Eklund made a name for himself by become the top amateur dirt track racer in the country. During the off-season, Eklund earned money working with his father as a carpenter.
In 1976, Eklund became a rookie expert and traveled the country racing on the Grand National circuit. He proved that he would be a force to be reckoned with in his very first pro racing weekend. He earned a podium finish (third) in only the second race of the season, the short-track national in the Houston Astrodome. It was a great start to what would turn out to be a great season for the young Eklund. Despite struggling at times to locate parts for his Zanotti Enterprises-sponsored equipment, Eklund still came through to finish fourth in the series and earn Rookie of the Year honors. Eklund's first Grand National win came in the Pontiac, Michigan, Silverdome on June 4, where he won the TT national. Eklund would go on to win two more races that year, including a victory at the prestigious Peoria TT.
In his sophomore season, Eklund won the short-track national held at Santa Fe Speedway in Hinsdale, Illinois, and finished fifth in the series.
The 1978 season was Eklund's best, in terms of race wins. He won six races, including a stretch of three national wins in a row, and earned a total of 11 podium finishes. Eklund's victory count matched that of '78 champ Jay Springsteen, but Eklund came up five points short of unseating Springer for the title. It was the closest any rider had come to beating Springsteen in three years.
In 1979, Eklund put an end to Springsteen's three-year reign atop the AMA Grand National Series. Eklund turned in a championship-winning season, taking three victories and a total of eight podium finishes en route to winning the 1979 Grand National Championship. Eklund was a model of consistency that year. He made the main in 22 of 26 nationals (he didn't race in the three road race nationals that were then part of the Grand National Series) and finished in the top 10 in every one of those races. Eklund was the first privateer to win the title since Dick Mann accomplished the feat in 1963.
The big factory contract that most champions would expect never came for Eklund. He was victim of the hard times that hit the motorcycle industry throughout much of the 1980s. Eklund loved racing, however, and continued to win occasionally until his tragic 1990 accident.
Eklund made many friends in racing. Eklund and fellow competitor Scott Pearson became buddies during their racing days. Mario Zanotti, an Italian-born racing fanatic and research mathematician at Stanford University, was Eklund's biggest backer, helping him with sponsorship so needed by privateer racers.
Eklund left a legacy as one of the top privateers to ever compete in the AMA Grand National Series. In 1987 Eklund's TT victory at Santa Fe Speedway broke the legendary Dick Mann's record of eight national TT wins, making Eklund the all-time wins leader in the TT category at the time.
Eklund was survived by his wife, Anne. Inspired by the life of his uncle, nephew Jeff Eklund would later become a national competitor in AMA Grand National dirt track and road racing competition.