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Clifford "Corky" Keener


Five AMA Grand National Championship Series wins

Clifford “Corky” Keener is a former flat track racer who persevered through tough times and competed during one of American flat track racing’s golden eras.

Known by his nickname, “Mr. Dirt,” he competed full time in the AMA Grand National Championship Series from 1973 until his retirement in 1980. He has five wins to his credit in AMA Grand National competition.

Keener raced during one of flat track racing’s most competitive eras. He often found himself lining up at AMA Grand National races with future AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers Jay Springsteen, Kenny Roberts, Gary Scott, Hank Scott, Steve Eklund and Rex Beauchamp.

Keener said it was “one hell of an honor” to be inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and be listed alongside the great flat track racers he competed against.

“Those guys were the cream of the crop,” he said.

Keener was born and raised in Flint, Mich., and started riding motorcycles at age 13. His first foray into motorized transportation was a go-kart his father built for him. He eventually crashed the go-kart into a ditch and found a small motorcycle from a junkyard to replace it.

His interest in motorcycling grew, and it was not long until he learned about the competition side of riding. When he was 16, he was riding his Cushman Eagle when he met another rider who told him about motorcycle ice racing.

Keener first went to an ice racing event as a spectator, but soon after bought a two-stroke BSA to compete himself. A motorcycle shop near his home financially supported his racing endeavors. That shop had built a 250cc flat track racer and wanted Keener to race it. He went to his first flat track race as a spectator, and the racing bug bit him even harder.

He had to wait until he was 18 to get his novice flat track racing license. But, once he had his license, he raced for several motorcycle owners in need of a rider, and he performed well enough to obtain an expert license.

Keener’s racing career had to be put on pause, however, when he was drafted into the military in 1965. In 1966, he applied for an early discharge and was able to return home to help his family through some difficult times.

After returning home, he began working and did not have the money to revive his racing career. Once his family’s financial situation stabilized, he saved enough money to buy a Harley-Davidson 250 and got back into racing in 1970.

He raced in Canada in 1970 and 1971, thanks to a local Harley-Davidson dealer who connected him with a motorcycle owner.

Keener got his first taste of racing a 750cc machine in 1971 and scored his first expert win that year at a race in Troy, Ohio. His racing career was put on hold again when the owner died shortly after the 1971 season ended.

Keener sat out the 1972 racing season and considered hanging up his leathers for good.

His fortunes changed, and he got his first taste of professional racing in 1973.

Future AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Bart Markel asked Keener to ride one of his satellite Harley-Davidsons in the AMA Grand National Championship Series. Keener scored two Grand National wins in 1974 on half-mile tracks in Louisville, Ky., and Terre Haute, Ind., and was promoted to the Harley-Davidson factory team for the 1975 season.

In his six years with the factory outfit, Keener scored three more AMA Grand National Championship Series wins.

He said his most memorable win took place at the half-mile track in Toledo, Ohio, in 1975. It was his father’s first time seeing his son compete in a national race.

“My dad had helped finance my early years in racing,” Keener said. “He didn’t realize I was racing in a national championship series.”

Keener continued his professional racing career until the 1980 season.

While he had not suffered a serious injury during his career, Keener said the lesser injuries became more painful. He knew what it was like to have to step away from the sport, and said he realized things weren’t going to get any better at that point.

“Sooner or later, you have to move on,” he said.

After he retired from racing, Keener returned to working an electrician apprenticeship with General Motors he had started before he got back into racing.