Brad Andres has the distinction of being the only rider in AMA Grand National history to win his first and last professional race. He is also the only rider in history to win the AMA Grand National Championship in his rookie season. Andres, best known for his three wins in the Daytona 200, retired in the prime of his career to take over management of his family-owned motorcycle dealership.
Andres was born in Stockton, California, on April 20, 1936. Born into a racing family, Brad's dad, Leonard, and his uncles were all well known motorcycle racers. His father owned a motorcycle dealership in Modesto, California. Andres starting riding at the age of 5 on a Powell scooter. Soon he graduated to a 125cc Villers and later a Harley-Davidson 125cc bike, which he began racing in field meets and scrambles around California.
When Andres was 16, his family moved to San Diego, where he continued to hone his racing skills. TT racing became one of his favorite forms of competition. As a kid, Andres cited Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman and California greats Ed Kretz, Chuck Basney, Jimmy Phillips and his dad and uncles as his racing heroes.
Brad upheld the Andres family's racing tradition and became one of the top novices in California. Racing at famous Southern California tracks like Ascot and Carroll Speedway, amateur Andres was often as fast of faster than his expert counterparts. In 1954, Andres hit the AMA national circuit as an amateur, traveling with riders such as Joe Leonard and Dick Mann. "I always traveled in good company," Andres would later say.
After winning races on a regular basis as an amateur, Andres was ready to run with the experts in 1955, his rookie season. But it was a surprise to nearly everyone in March of 1955 when Andres rode a Harley-Davidson tuned by his father to victory in his first Daytona 200 on the old beach course.
Andres steadily raced through the field that year until the only rider in front of him was Paul Goldsmith. Goldsmith's goggles got oiled and as he tried to wipe them off he ran into the ocean and was knocked off his bike by a wave. Goldsmith was able to rejoin the race, but Andres was long gone, heading towards victory in his very first professional race. At only 19 years old, Andres became the youngest rider ever to win the 200, a record that stands to this day. He won at Daytona again in 1959 and for a third time in 1960, tying Dick Klamfoth's then-record of three wins and becoming the final winner on the beach course.
His Daytona win in 1955 was only the beginning of a dream season for Andres. In June, he won the Laconia (New Hampshire) Classic road race. In July, he was victorious at another road race in Dodge City, Kansas. In September, he won at the Langhorne (Pennsylvania) Mile and he polished off the season in October with yet another win on a road course, this time the circuit in Torrey Pines, California. In all, Andres won five of the 13 Grand Nationals and finished on the podium five other times en route to the 1955 title.
Andres became the greatest road racer in the country during the middle-to-late 1950s. He said racing on makeshift road race circuits, laid out from Southern California's numerous drag racing strips, gave him an early feel for racing on pavement. Of Andres' 12 AMA national wins, all but two of them (Langhorne in 1955 and Peoria in 1956) were on road courses.
"I just got used to sliding a bike on pavement," Andres recalls. "The tires were not very good back then, so we'd throw the bikes in the corner and slide them just like we were on a flat track."
At the end of 1956, tragedy struck Andres. He was involved in an accident at Gardena (California) Speedway that killed his good friend, Chuck Basney, and left Andres badly injured. Andres sat out the entire 1957 racing season and had surgery done to try to repair his mangled leg. His doctors told him he would never race again.
Andres was determined to return to racing and he did in 1958. He proved to be just as competitive as he was before the accident, winning again at Laconia and earning a podium finish in the rugged Peoria TT.
Andres continued racing and winning until 1960. That year, his dad asked him to assume management of the family-owned motorcycle dealership. Andres was now married to Betty, and the couple later had one daughter. After talking it over with friends, including Harley's racing manager, Dick O'Brien, Andres decided to call it quits after winning his third Daytona 200 in 1960. Harley-Davidson talked him into coming back for one more race in 1960, the 150-mile road race at Watkins Glen, New York. Andres won that race and walked away from racing for good, thus ending a relatively short and brilliant career.
He walked away from racing at the peak of his career, it was the toughest decision that Andres would ever make and one he still questions.
"It was not easy, let me tell you. Going from winning big nationals one day to changing out oil on old Harley 74s the next."
Andres stayed with the motorcycle dealership until 1976, when his property management business became too big and lucrative to keep to the side. For recreation, Andres became involved in scuba diving and spearfishing. His father, Leonard, who Brad spent nearly every day of his life with, passed away in 1996. Today, Andres continues to run the property management business in San Diego.
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.