The passing of George Morin at 74 is certainly a major milestone in the history of the Canadian national Superbike championship. During his key career season, 1980, I got to know Morin well, and travelled with him occasionally, or did things together socially, from that time forward.
In 1980, Morin was one of a small group of mostly Ontario-based racers who had the pace and equipment to run at the front of the Superbike category. Launched regionally in 1979, the Superbike division was very much a work in progress, and heavily influenced by the American tour, already established by the likes of Reg Pridmore (winner of the first two US titles with BMW and Kawasaki).
I was at Nelson Ledges, Ohio, when Morin arrived to meet up with the American racer who sold him a huge assortment of Kawasaki Superbike equipment. Setting up by the archaic washrooms, I helped George arrange an impromptu “swap meet,” and sell off a bunch of street bike parts so he didn’t have to drag them back to Canada in his loaded van!
In Canada, most of the era’s ace racers (Morin, Lang Hindle, rising rookie Rueben McMurter, Bob Price, veteran “Crazy Frank” Mrazek) used the economically preferrable Kawasaki Z-1 platform, with the occasional Suzuki, Ducati or Honda pilot joining the small grid mix.
When the CMA announced that the 1981 No. 1 plate would be decided by the best national result from either 250 cc GP, 500 cc GP or Superbike, it was big news for these racers – they could now hunt for the top national crown. Prior to that, it took a Yamaha TZ two-stroke twin to earn the No. 1 plate, and in 1979, Robert Generoux was awarded the top Canuk crown without participating in any specific series.
The 1980 Canadian season opened with the non-championship but well funded Victoria Day Sprints at Mosport Park. The next weekend, everyone started west for the Edmonton national two weeks later, with a stop along the way for the first-ever Elkhart Lake AMA national.
Morin made the podium at Mosport, and then showed well at the fast and technical Elkhart Lake, placing tenth overall in his AMA debut, third privateer. From there Morin headed west in his white Chevy van, accompanied by loyal canine advisor Portia, to attend a rare Friday practice pre-national at Edmonton International Raceway.
The track on the north edge of the Alberta city was already run down by 1980, even though it was barely ten years old. The local club did a great job of hosting the event, and Morin was popular with the locals, having raced there in the past.
McMurter was the favorite going in, but injured his shoulder on the Friday and was in survival mode for the rest of the event. Morin took control, his main challenger turning out to be local ace Steve Dick, a skinny kid on a very big and unwieldy Honda CBX-6-cylinder street bike.
I travelled with Morin during this period, and it was interesting to see his practical approach to winning the No. 1 plate. Previously, Morin had shared bikes and run in a wide selection of classes, but for 1980 he distilled his program to aim to get the coveted plate – he had raced the likes of former No. 1s Yvon Duhamel and Jim Allen and wanted to be on that list.
He also wanted to increase his support, since in that time most racers were strictly hobbyists. Very few competitors saw a possible financial windfall – but Morin did. Having briefly lived in the U.K., Morin had great belief in the potential of road racing in Canada, and his timing couldn’t have been better.
I was doing contract work for Burmah-Castrol, the oil giant supporting most of the top Canadian road racers. Morin was the exception. At the time, he was with Quaker State, and would soon forge a lucrative, long-term relationship with Sunoco – starting with their premier oil brand of the time, CAM2.
Morin admitted that he probably wasn’t doing any better with his specific brands financially when compared to a possible Castrol relationship, but he didn’t want to look like most of the other riders on the grid. This was literally true – the Castrol boys looked snazzy in their orange and white Bates Leathers (the California brand was the Dainese of their time), but Morin liked his blue-on-blue design produced by sponsor Treen Leathers in Alberta.
The second and final round of the 1980 nationals was at Shannonville Motorsport Park in September, a venue that at the time hosted 12 Regionals from two different series over the summer months. One of those series was the Quebec-based Brimaco Leather Tour, a controversial group that drew the ire of the CMA by paying racers in the mid-1970s.
After racing in the US and deciding to take a break, Lang Hindle returned to competition in 1979, since he was always a big proponent of the Superbike class on a range of Kawasaki Z-based machines. Hindle had skipped Edmonton to race for Brimaco at Shannonville in June, and had updated his Z-1 in preparation for the National decider.
In the S.M.P. national Superbike race, run in cool and overcast conditions, Hindle and protégé McMurter clashed early. Hindle went down, and while McMurter settled into a solid lead, “the Rueb” had a problem – he need someone like Hindle to pad Morin down in the standings.
I had taken Morin to do some pre-race media, and at the time he wasn’t optimistic about facing off against fellow Kawasaki pilots Hindle and McMurter at the stop and go, early version of Shannonville.
Morin also figured that to get increased support from Kawasaki, who had shuffled some marketing staff, he needed to handle the Hindle/McMurter combo.
“Then I saw what happened early in the race, and right in the middle of everything, I saw I could win the championship.” Explained Morin, post-race. “There was just the matter of Dave Park to deal with.”
Park was the top Suzuki pilot, and battling McMurter for the second spot Morin needed to earn his crown. Morin made a pass stick, finished a distant second to McMurter, and scored the national No. 1 for the growing Superbike category.
The battle with Park turned out to be a key back story for Morin. Kawasaki opted to focus on Hindle in 1981, and a frustrated Morin negotiated Suzuki support and purchased Park’s GS1000S. Morin also joined up with Sunoco, and when he retired three years later he turned the CAM2-Suzuki team into the start of Michel Mercier’s dominant GSX-R750 program.
This squad eventually entered the likes of Miguel Duhamel, Jamie James, Steve Dick and Jeff Gaynor on the top, Suzuki Canada funded superbike effort, with unprecedented success.
Morin managed the team, and convinced his long time friend Mike Crompton to build the oil-cooled machinery.
The pair had met in 1971, at Le Circuit Mount Tremblant, when Norton racer Crompton helped Morin start his Triumph. What did the eventual Hall of Fame super tuner do? Crompton recommended that Morin take the carb covers off his British twin! Amazingly, for decades, Crompton and Morin told this story the same way, laughing throughout.
If you are wondering about the title of this blog, it has to do with recent road race history. Morin thought his name worked well for marketing, since he might be French-Canadian (he was) or English. When the Spanish started taking over MotoGP, I started calling him Jorge. He didn’t mind one bit.
- From Colin Fraser