Person of the Week “Legends”: Bo O’Brochta

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Person of the Week “Legends” Bo O’Brochta
Vol. 2, Issue 19
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Photos by: Dwight Drum, Kelvin Fagan, Larry “Rabbit” Smith, Dave Kommel, and unknown.

Bo O’Brochta, The Original Pro
By Keith S. Kizer

Born April 23, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois, Robert F. “Bo” O’Brochta was one of thirteen kids named Robert (Bob) in school, so they called him Bob O, which was eventually shortened to “Bo,” said Bo in an interview with Dwight Drum in 1999. Bo’s dad was a gear head and owned a body shop in Chicago. An old guy down the street from the shop had a four-cylinder in-line Indian. He let Bo ride it when he was 14-years old. Bo was hooked. He started drag racing that same year,1954, after stealing his dad’s car and taking it to the dragstrip.

Bo was later a crew chief for a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier. His cousin Tom said “If the Navy could have had him in the plane as a pilot, he would have felt sorry for the pilot that was his enemy.” He went on to say that Bo loved speed, he could conquer speed.

Sadly this past Fall, we learned of the passing of Bo O’Brochta in his home in Dunedin, Florida. I received an email from legendary drag racing photographer, Dave Kommel on October 13th letting me know that Bo’s neighbor had gotten Dave’s name from the back of a photo. They had yet to find any next of kin after Bo’s death on October 7th, and were searching his home in hopes of finding clues. After going through many sources, like Larry McBride, Sam Wills, George Babor, Mike Grey and others, I finally called the medical examiner in Penelas County, FL who said that Bo’s daughter, Sheri Goodwin, had been located. On November 7th a memorial service was held for Bo at the local funeral home in Dunedin, Florida at the address of 1320 Main St. Wow, was that not the perfect address for a drag racer’s farewell? The service featured a framed Cycle News magazine with Bo on the cover, a poster from Kawasaki titled, “Our Bo is a perfect 7.08” and a Wally from one of his NHRA wins alongs with other photos.

I got to see Bo race when I was a teenager and my early twenties, but Bo had retired from racing a couple of years before we started Prostar. So, I never really got to know him or the history behind his climb to stardom in the world of motorcycle drag racing. As I look back I remember why I never talked to him. Bo had a Clint Eastwood appearance that made him sort of unapproachable to a naïve kid. Not that Bo was evasive at all, he just had this Jesus in white leathers aura about him and I was just another fan observing, not engaging. To quote Billy Vose, “When I met him for the first time it was like meeting a movie star.”

So, to tell the true story of Bo O’Brochta, it makes all the sense in the world to tell it from the tales of those who knew him best. Prior to Bo’s service, the funeral home had put up a website for people to sign a register and leave comments. Comments came from all around the world and from a list of Who’s Who in the drag racing community. I would like to share some of these comments and stories with you.

“7.O Bo will be most remembered for his stunning 7.08 second elapsed time pass at the Ontario Motor Speedway during the NHRA Winston World Finals. The run was not only historic, but the icing on the cake for what the Terminal Van Lines team accomplished in 1980. Truth in fact Bo O’Brachta forever changed the world of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing in 1980. One of the true “God’s of Thunder.”” ~ Tom McCarthy, West Brookfield, Massachusetts

“One of my best memories of Bo was from an NMRA race at Freemont, CA in 1980 when he ran against Teson & Benard’s Top Fuel Yamaha in the final. I was sitting on the return road on Mo (Mo Parsons) and I’s Funny Bike when Bo and Jim stopped on the track after their run (Bo won), and they got off their bikes and started walking toward each other like two guy’s getting ready to duke it out. Instead when they reached each other they gave each other a big adrenalin charged bear hug. Too cool! You should have been there. I always thought Bo was so cool. The Elvis of motorcycle drag racing. Say Hi to Mo & Elmer for me will you old friend? ~ Terry Kizer, Houston, Texas

“I was a 24-year old photographer when I saw O’Brochta in July 1981 at the Long Marston Raceway for the very first Trans Atlantic Drag Bike Race. While some guys were still chasing 8’s Bo lay down a 7.83 pass which was the quickest ever run in Britain. It was a great weekend of motorcycle drag racing, and I will always remember where I was the day I saw my first 7 second run, and who it was that rode it.” ~ Kelvin Fagan,
Cambridge, UK

“First time I ever seen anything to do with Bo was a poster at Karata cycles. That poster of Bo had one of the biggest impacts on my desire to race. When I met him for the first time it was like meeting a movie star to me. For me he was an icon that gave me something to shoot for. I’m sorry to hear of his passing and wish him and his family all the best. He will live on in my memories for as long as I live!” ~ Billy Vose,
Buck Mountain, Pennsylvania

“Bo was a great guy! One time in the early 80’s, qualifying rained out at Atco. Bo says ‘Let’s all go bowling’. We did, and he kicked our butts with a 260 something. We have lots of ‘Glory Days’ memories with Bo.” ~ Mike and Kathy Keyte, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

“I remember him from the time that he rode the green streaker gas bike. When I started to run in Top Fuel, I did a burnout and was not lined up straight. Bo ran over to the bike and helped me straighten out. One of the many times that he helped people!” ~
Joel “Joey” Norman Jr., Cleveland, Ohio

The list of contributers also included Ian King, 5-Time European Top Fuel Champion, Nigel Tee, UK, Chris and Sharon Hand, Honda Jim, Jim Fox, Ed Hughes, Steve Rice, John & Jody Gregory of the TC Christenson Norton “Hogslayer” team, John Cracolici, Marshall and Vicki Farr, and Johnny Vickers just to name a few.

Exactly ten years before Bo passed away, Gary Larsen and Dwight Drum of conducted an interview with Bo. Without quoting the entire interview I would like to highlight some of the more interesting aspect from it. The interview was done at Gary’s house, which happened to be around the corner from Bo. As Dwight drove in the driveway he first notice the license plate on Bo’s black Olds Cutlass, “SloBo 1” which he jokingly referred to himself. Bo noted that he had raced everything from ET, to Pro Stock, “A” Fuel, “D” Fuel, Funnybike and Top Fuel, “just about everything,” he said. He once shipped a brand new Triumph from the factory in Gibraltar aboard an aircraft carrier and remembers riding it around the deck on the trip home. Questions directed at racing highlighted Bo’s quickest and fastest times, both recorded in the magical year of 1980, a 7.08 and 199.55mph. The 7.08 was the shot heard around the world, set at Ontario Speedway at the NHRA Supernationals World Finals aboard his Terminal Van Lines blown Kawasaki. It was said that the pass was the single best pass by any type of vehicle. The pass was a full two-tenth quicker than any Top Fuel pass before it. With that pass he won the event and the championship. That was the event that launched Bo to rock star status.

Bo said his hero was T.C. Christianson. “He and John Gregory from Wisconsin road a Norton and an alcohol burning BSA and routinely beat our butts.” When asked what his scariest moment was, Bo replied, “I had a lot of them. My body was once clocked going across the line at 136 mph, but the scariest moment was in the pits at Columbus, Ohio. We fired up the bike on a center stand causing a rumpled rubber floor mat to get caught by the wheel and kick into the stand, collapsing the legs. The bike took off with me holding on. It (AND ME) was headed for Russ Collins’ bike across the pit lane. Fortunately, as I was being dragged across the lane, my pant leg caught the mag belt and shucked it off the pullies. That killed the motor, and the bike stopped about a foot from Russ’s bike.”

Bo said, “I owe everything I’ve done to Mike Murdoch. If Mike hadn’t crashed, I would never have gotten a chance to ride. Mike Grey had the first seven-second Kawasaki. Mike Murdoch was supposed to ride for Mike Grey, but Murdoch crashed using the first air-shifter, so no one else was there to ride, but me. I rode it and won. After that I went two full years winning almost every race. 99.7% wins. I only lost when something broke. I became the first rider to be paid by a sponsor. Mike Grey owned the bike and the sponsor was Terminal Van Lines. When I retired, they gave everything to Elmer Trett.”

The story behind Bo’s Top Fuel ride started with Sam Wills. Bo and Sam met while Bo was working at Reed’s Kawasaki in Florida as the part’s manager. In 1973 Bo built the “Green Streaker” using a Kosman chassis and Yoshimira parts and Sam was his crew chief. Not long after that, Sam move to Oklahoma and started his business. The bike that came to be known as the Terminal Van Lines bike was originally Sam’s bike. Mike Grey wanted to buy the bike as long as Sam would bring it to Bradenton and make three passes with its usual times. Sam packed up the bike and headed to Tampa. On the way down he stopped in Jacksonville and picked up Bo. That is where the friendship between Mike Grey and Bo started. Mike Murdoch was the guy who was to ride the top fuel bike until Mike crashed his 2-stoke bike while testing the first air shifter. Mike tagged Bo to ride the bike and the rest is history.

In all Bo raced professionally from 1974 to 1987. When asked, “After looking back, would you do anything differently?” Bo said, “Stay away from drugs. That cost me a bunch.” Dwight asked, “What don’t you miss about racing?” Bo said, “I miss it all. The worst times were still good.”

A year or so before Bo passed away, he traveled to Newport News, Virginia to hang out with the McBride brothers for a week. Larry’s first race on a Top Fuel bike was at Indy in 1980 on Danny Johnson’s bike. Larry ran Bo in the finals. There were lots of memories between these two and Bo trip to Virginia was to reminisce, one last time. Larry recalls before Bo left, he said, “This will be the last time you ever see me.” Bo told Larry that he had leukemia. Larry asked how they could keep up with him. Bo said, “When you call and I no longer answer the phone, you will know I’m too sick to answer it.” Larry kept up with him on a regular basis. The last time they talked he said Bo sounded really bad. He did not answer the phone after that.

Bo’s home was packed with racing memorabilia. The sport is what he was best known for and he never let it out of his sight. Even though Bo physically died alone, in a way, he was surrounded by all the people and memories that defined who he was. Among his personal effects was a Sunoco poster from Dave Schultz, which was signed, “To the Original Pro.”
In the words of Bo’s brother, Rick, “Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you.”

Other areas of interest:

Competitors: T.C. Christianson, John Gregory, Sonny Routt, Marion Owens, Joe Thronson, Larry Welch, Danny Johnson, Jim Bernard, Terry Vance, Russ Collins and many other greats.

What sanctioning bodies did nominee race with? AMDRA, IDBA, NMRA, DRAGBIKE, NHRA.

Children’s Names: Sheri Goodwin and P.J. Havilland

Team Name: Terminal Van Lines

Crew Members: Mike Grey, Mike Murdoch

If you are interested in being featured as person of the week, contact Dave Schnitz


  1. Mike
    Mike 1 April, 2016, 18:01

    I worked for Competition Products and Terminal van Lines in 1980’s. The team was owned by Mike Grey and consisted of Bo O’brochta, Bob Hamilton, David Moberly, Dick Wade and Danny Childs. I was a 19 year old fabricator working for Danny Childs at Competition Products. I constructed the thru the seat exhaust system and the Kevlar / fiberglass body work. Childs was the creative monster. Mike Grey was the master mind and tuner. Bo was the guy that brought it all together when he got on the bike. The bike is at the Garlits museum. A lot of great memories. Mike Moench

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*