Many recall Frederick Burdette Spencer’s amazing double title win in 1985, when he took both the 500cc and 250cc titles for Honda on their NSR250 and NSR500 two-stroke machines but his first title was no less dramatic.
This was to be a direct battle between the old king – Kenny Roberts – and the pretender to the crown, Spencer. 1982 had finally seen Honda ditch their over-complicated four-stroke NR750 and instead adopt a light-weight three-cylinder two-stroke 500cc machine, the NS500. Spencer would take his first 500cc win at the 1982 Belgian GP. That year he would claim four pole positions, four lap records and two race wins on his way to 3rd overall.
For 1983 he and the NS would go head-to-head with Roberts’ four-cylinder OW70. Surely the grizzled veteran would beat the fresh-faced mild-mannered youngster from Louisiana.
Spencer’s baby-faced looks religious background belied his fierce competitive nature which came from a lifetime of racing – he first hit the tracks aged just six. By 10, he was a multiple dirt-track champion and veteran himself.
With the season being King Kenny’s swansong, fans were forgiven for hoping for a Roberts victory, but it was not to be. Both riders claimed six wins on the way to the season finale at Imola, where Roberts would take the win but Spencer the title. For Kenny he felt that he underestimated Spencer in Sweden when the youngster had run them both off the track, before recovering for the win. The title would eventually go to Spencer by just two points.
To say this was a watershed moment for Honda and Freddie was an understatement. This was Honda’s first 500cc title and Freddie was then the youngest ever class champion.
Freddie’s greatness was assured and he would go on to even greater heights – and some would say a subsequently longer fall. We prefer to remember him this way…