Ricky Graham was AMA Grand National Champion three times: 1982, 1984 and 1993. Graham is widely considered one of the most talented dirt track racers ever to strap on a steel shoe. His record speaks for itself: Four AMA National Championships (three Grand National and one Harley-Davidson Sportster Performance, then known as the Harley-Davidson 883cc Series); 39 career Grand National victories; seven Sportster Performance national wins; and named AMA Athlete of the Year in 1993. In addition, Graham set two incredible records in 1993 that may not be broken for many years to come. He won a record six AMA Grand National races in a row and tallied an incredible 12 Grand National victories that season, also a record.
Graham was born on Dec. 26, 1958, in Carmel, California. He started racing and riding as a young boy with his two brothers and father. At the age of 19, Graham began his professional racing career in the Grand National Series. He earned a season-best tenth-place finish at Gardena, California, in his 1978 rookie season.
Graham was known early in his career for his wild riding style. He rode his bikes much deeper into the turns before letting off the throttle than most other riders and most of the time he was able to get away with the radical style.
Graham progressed quickly, and in 1979 he earned a pair of podium finishes. In 1980, Graham won his first national at the Indianapolis Mile. In 1982, Graham won his first AMA Grand National title by a mere two points over Jay Springsteen. Two years later Graham won his second championship, this time by a single point over Bubba Shobert. The rivalry between Shobert and Graham became one of the most intense in the history of the series. It was only magnified when the duo became teammates on Honda's rising dirt track team in the mid-1980s.
Graham's racing career was marred by several serious injuries and a well-publicized bout with alcoholism. Despite these challenges Graham came back to have a history-making championship season in 1993. That year, Graham was spectacular, winning a record 12 races riding a Honda. On June 26, Graham won the Lima, Ohio, half-mile Grand National and launched a six-race winning streak that lasted most of the summer. Chris Carr's win at Peoria, Illinois, on August 8, broke Graham's stranglehold on the series, but not before Graham had set the mark for the longest winning streak in the history of AMA Grand National competition. In addition to his record-setting season in Grand National competition, Graham also won the new Harley-Davidson 883cc Series (which was a support event at the Grand Nationals) in its first year. Graham's accomplishments earned him the AMA's Athlete of the Year award in 1993.
Graham showed his versatility by competing on the pavement in AMA Superbike and Harley-Davidson 883cc road racing events. In 1993, he earned three top-five finishes in the H-D 883cc series on road racing circuits. Graham also competed in the Daytona 200 three times. His best finish in the 200 was 15th in 1994, as part of Honda's factory Superbike team.
A fifth-place finish at the Del Mar (California) Mile in 1997 proved to be Graham's final race. His career was tragically cut short when he lost his life in a house fire on Jan. 22, 1998. Graham will be remembered not only for his tremendous riding skills, but also for his warm and open personality, which won him legions of fans during his 20-year racing career.