When Gary phoned Bo O'Brochta, retired legendary rider, it didn't take long for Gary to realize that the years haven't dulled Bo's senses. Our corporate security officer (Kirby, the Doberman) was in house and chose the moment of Bo's call to get vocal…his bark waned quickly, but Bo asked Gary.
"Is that a Doberman?"
"Yup," Gary said. "A big Red."
Gary and Bo agreed on an interview appointment at Gary's house.
I (Dwight) arrived before Bo drove into Gary's driveway in a shiny black Olds Cutlass bearing Florida license plates…'SloBo 1.' I was skeptical about the slow part as I noticed Bo had a radar detector on his dashboard. A thin but spry Bo O'Brochta greeted us with big smiles, and opened his trunk to show us stacks of memorabilia. It was good I arrived early as it took all of us to carry the photo albums and magazine articles inside.
"I have more," Bo said. "I thought this would be enough for today."
Bo sat in the kitchen and opened the first photo album, and as we all moved to hover over the pages, it was as if we also stepped back two decades when Bo O'Brochta was speed king on America's motorcycle dragways.
Bo couldn't get his words out quickly enough, and we couldn't listen more acutely. Join us with an afternoon with Bo. The man Dave Schultz autographed his Sunoco poster for Bo with the words…"To the original pro."
What class or classes did you race?
"Prostock, Funny bike, ET bike, Top Fuel, A fuel, D Fuel. Just about everything.
(I also bought a Triumph, brand new at the factory, had it shipped from Gibraltar aboard an air craft carrier. I rode it around the deck on the trip home)"
What was your fastest run?
"199.55 mph." (1980!)
What was your best ET?
What difference is there between engines and equipment? Then and Now?
" Then we built a spaceship to the moon with a hammer and chisel. Crude. They had stuff that didn't need to be on it. They didn't have stuff that needed to be on it. Like rear brakes. They were thin aluminum stock brakes that would wear to dust fast. We built the first bike in a shop built for roundy-round cars…knee deep in parts. We were just engine mechanics. We had no timers or anything like that we have now."
Do you have a nickname?
"Bo. My real name is Robert. There were thirteen Roberts in school, so they called me Bob O. (Bob O'Brochta) since I was ten. Bob O got shortened to Bo."
What got you started in motorcycle drag racing?
"My dad was a gear head, he owned a big body shop in Chicago. An old guy down the road from his shop had a four-cylinder in-line Indian…stripped. He let me ride it. I was fourteen and hooked."
What do you miss most about drag racing?
"Going fast! Competition was great. Now, there are a lot more Top Fuel bikes, and it costs a fortune. Sponsors are hard to come by."
Who were your heroes?
"T.C Christianson will always be my hero. He and John Gregory from Wisconsin road a Norton and an alcohol burning BSA. He used to beat our butts."
Did you have a mental routine to prepare yourself for a run?
"Psyche yourself up. Total adrenaline rush to the last round. I was very seldom beat."
What was your scariest moment?
"I had a lot of them. My body was clocked going across the line at 136 mph, but the scariest moment was in the pits at Columbus, Ohio. We fired up the bike on a center stand causing a rumpled rubber floor mat to get caught by the wheel and kick into the stand, collapsing the legs. The bike took off with me holding on. It (AND ME) was headed for Russ Collins' bike across the pit lane. Fortunately, as I was being dragged across the lane, my pant leg caught the mag belt and shucked it off the pullies. That killed the motor, and the bike stopped about a foot from Russ's bike."
How many years did you race?
"As a pro from 1974 to 1987. I had a pro license in a bunch of organizations. Started racing in 1954 when I stole my Dad's car at age fourteen and took it to the drags."
Looking back, would you do anything differently?
"Stay away from drugs. That cost me a bunch."
Do you still dream about riding drag racing motorcycles?
"Kinda. Sorta. Larry McBride offered me to ride his old motorcycle, the Terry Vance Star Wars Bike that crashed. He's putting it back together. I'd probably have a heart attack."
What don't you miss about racing?
"I miss it all. The worst times were still good…Everything I made went into drag racing. It was easier and less costly to make a ten second motorcycle, than a fast car. We even had a golf cart to bring the bike back to the pits, before anybody else had one."
You're a skilled racer, what factor separates you from the fast traffic on smooth public highways?
"Boy, I'm aware. That's why I don't ride a street bike in this part of Florida."
What personal quality (one trait) would you want your fans to admire most?
"Probably…Stick to it. Never give up."
Are you happy?
"Yeah. I'm not married."
What could make you happier?
"Having a Kawasaki Drifter. Ride it coast to coast when I'm sixty-two. See my friends."
If you could make one part of your body stronger what part would that be?
When you were racing motorcycles, what did you do to unwind?
"I owe everything I've done to Mike Murdoch. If Mike hadn't crashed, I would never have gotten a chance to ride. Mike Grey had the first seven-seven Kawasaki. Mike Murdoch was supposed to ride for Mike Grey, but Murdoch crashed using the first air-shifter, so no one else was there to ride, but me. I rode it and won. After that I went two full years winning almost every race. 99.7% wins. I only lost when something broke. I became the first rider to be paid by a sponsor. Mike Grey owned the bike and the sponsor was Terminal Van Lines. When I retired, they gave everything to Elmer Trett."
Bo O'Brochta was proud to show us a picture of him receiving a trophy for best-engineered vehicle in the NHRA two years running. That was 1979. That bike won out of seven hundred cars and motorcycles.
Bo was continually proud to sift through all the memorabilia and show us his accomplishments as we turned back the pages on time for an afternoon…and drifted through two decades past. We could find many adjectives to describe this legendary rider…but we found one that should fit Bo O'Brochta for many decades to come: