Toronto, ON – Forty years ago, on September 19-21, 1980, Shannonville Motorsport Park held their first-ever CMA National motorcycle road racing championship round at the former Nelson International Raceway. The fall S.M.P. event was the second and final weekend in the National Championships, and for the first time, a Superbike racer would take the overall title and coveted Number One plate.
At the 1980 National opener in Edmonton in June, George Morin had taken the victory in the Superbike category, with many of his potential adversaries suffering a range of problems and challenges.
At the Alberta Feature race finish, Morin had almost lapped third placed Rueben McMurter, the injured University student from London considered the most likely Superbike contender. Both Morin and McMurter were aboard the most popular street-based racer of the time, a Kawasaki in-line air-cooled four-cylinder 1000 built between 1973 (Z-1) and 1979 (KZ 1000 Mk II).
The championship then headed to the original four-year-old, seven turn Nelson layout of Shannonville for the September National decider, and the locals were expected to dominate on the tight and twisty layout. Most of the top guns had updated equipment, including Lang Hindle.
Now a famous equipment manufacturer with the rest of his family, Hindle had retired in the late 1970s but returned to action when the Superbike class was announced for Canada in 1979. Hindle opted to skip Edmonton in 1980, instead letting protégé McMurter seek glory while the veteran competed at home at Shannonville. Hindle won on his bike now known as the “Lucky Lady,” the same machine that brought him within a few turns of victory in the first-ever Superbike race in Canada at Mosport in 1978.
Meanwhile, Morin had been busy refining his Kawasaki, purchased as a partly finished project from an American builder in late 1978. Morin had run the early season races at Mosport, Elkhart Lake, Edmonton and Loudon, New Hampshire without a tuner, but a series of coincidences helped his growing program prior to Shannonville.
“I was at least a contender for Shannonville, so that helped me get some more help from here and there,” continues Morin. “I recruited Mike Crompton from Rocket Motorcycles, he was back from his time with American Honda and between projects. I think he wanted everyone to remember what he was capable of. Mike had a look at everything I had and he figured out what could work. He was instrumental in putting together the combination that could succeed.”
Friday practice was a new thing in this era, but Shannonville, like Edmonton, had a third day, to give non-locals a chance to figure out a new track. This also helped Morin and new tuner Crompton.
“I wasn’t a Shannonville Regional regular, like most of the other guys. So that Friday, my first day on track with Mike, gave us the time we needed – it was a shake down.”
As far as the 1980 Title was concerned, Morin’s memories are concise: “I didn’t think I had a chance in Hell! Gary Collins was the two-stroke guy, and I thought he’d win both races and the crown, but he got taken out by his team-mate! I thought, holy smokes, I really have a chance here!’”
Run in cool and overcast conditions, the Superbike race served as the Feature, so Morin knew the results of previous classes and was well aware he now had a serious shot at the Number One. The challenge was McMurter, third in Edmonton – if he won, and Morin was third, McMurter would get the title on the tiebreaker with the best, most recent placing.
Morin was worried about Hindle and McMurter working together, keeping him down in third. At the start, the “other two” Kawasakis took the point, but collided in turn two with Hindle going down.
“I watched the whole thing happen, I couldn’t believe it was happening,” reflect Morin of the fight for first forty years past. “In my mind, I’m thinking, oh no, this is bad. But...wait...wait...oh yeah, that’s good for me!”
McMurter then built a solid lead, while Morin worked to get the second spot that would ensure the Superbike title and number one plate.
“We settled into a fight, but I had Dave Park on a Suzuki right in front of me,” continues Morin. “It took me a while to make a pass, but I was aware of what could happen from Lang and Rueben.”
Morin found a safe way past Park, and got the second place needed, behind the dominant McMurter, to seal the deal.
“Even when the chequered flag came out, I didn’t believe I won (the plate),” laughs Morin. “I didn’t even go and pick up the flag!” Over the next winter, the lack of that perfect image annoyed a range of Morin’s happy sponsors.
There were a number of ironies involving Morin, Park, Kawasaki, Suzuki and all the characters involved at Shannonville in September 1980. The man tuning for Park was Harald Surian, who would build for Norm Murphy with Weld Rite Racing throughout the 1980s, then take Steve Crevier to three number one plates in the early 1990s. Eventually Surian would work with Crompton on the dominant Jordan Szoke-lead Kawasaki teams of the late 2000s.
Morin, meanwhile, had unknowingly finished his successful Kawasaki career.
“I had quite a lot of help from Kawasaki back then, both front and back door,” starts Morin. “But then I didn’t get invited to the dealer Meeting in the fall of 1980, and the number one guy always did that. I knew I was in trouble!
“I decided that, if I had raced for them for five years and I didn’t get the call, it must be Lang, Lang, Lang! They were focused on Hindle, so all of a sudden I needed a job. I felt snubbed. I had done my part, and then I didn’t even get included or mentioned. But I guess it worked out in the end.”
Morin eventually organized a program and took his number one plate to Suzuki Canada, purchasing Park’s GS1000. That lead to success with Suzuki, including the famous Katana program, and then the mid-1980s GSX-Rs with Crompton and former top flat track racer Michel Mercier.
“Defiantly, the switch to the Suzuki program lead to an amazing variety of opportunities,” confirms Morin. “I knew that we could do great things together. We really were the team to beat.”