Born in Martinez, California, in May of 1947, Gene Romero was basically raised in the racing world, starting with carts before graduating to mini motorcycles at a very young age.
Even going so far as forging a fake birth certificate to participate in his first professional competition in 1964, just before he was 18, Romero proved to have no limits to doing what needed to be done in order to give everything he had to his craft and the sport.
Even after hanging up his helmet as a racer, Romero continued to contribute to the sport as a manager and eventually a promoter who was known to have stepped into the role at a time when the sport was dying. He was known to have worked to keep it alive.
Passing away from natural causes in 2019 at the age of 72, it is safe to say that Romero left a lasting impact on the world of motorcycle racing and will continue to be an influence on participants in the sport, whether they are currently racing or will begin their careers decades from now.
The Making of “The Burritto:” Romero’s Early Years
Being known for his ability to be proficient on both paved and dirt roads, Romero was someone who participated in the heyday of professional motorcycle racing, and he excelled at what he did. Though he did not win every race, it was evident to everyone who knew him personally and professionally that his heart was in the game, and he wanted to improve his craft with every lap.
His official rookie year with the AMA was ‘67. However, that first season wasn’t all fun and games. After a crash, Romero’s leg was broken so severely that the doctors actually considered amputating it rather than letting it heal. Yet, Romero would not let this accident stop him.
Within three years of his official debut, he finished the fastest lap at Daytona that will never be defeated because that particular track was retired, completing it at over 153 mph, and was named the national champion when it was all said and done. At the ripe ole age of 22, Gene Romero would become the youngest person to win the AMA in the sport’s history.
Having raced for Triumph since his official time as a professional, Romero finally jumped ship and left the company in ‘73. This decision was partly due to Triumph’s inability to adequately support Romero financially by providing him with the correct parts and materials necessary to stay on at the top of the pack, never finishing with top honors as a Triumph rider for the remainder of the time he rode for them.
The Next Step: Team Yamaha
Romero did well as a rider for the Yamaha team, becoming teammates with racking great Kenny Roberts. By’74, he was the winner of the sport’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 200.
Though it would seem like a “no brainer” to continue with Romero as a prominent part of their team, Yamaha released him, deciding to put their backing behind teammate Roberts.
Last Years on the Road: The Final Years of Driving for the Burritto
Once dismissed by Yamaha, the always resilient Romero found sponsorship in an unexpected way. He was picked up by stunt man extraordinaire Evel Knievel.
Romero is also credited for being a trailblazer in the sport as the first professional racer to seek and retain sponsorship from corporations other than motorcycle companies. He was able to bring in money to support his career from sponsors like Bush Beer and Ocean Pacific.
His final few years of racing brought about a few more wins for Romero, but none to equal his past victories.
Changing up the Flavor: From Racing Bikes to Cars to Other Career Changes
In 1981, Romero traded in his motorcycle for a car and became a race car driver for a little while before returning to the bike racing world as a manager. He managed a dirt bike racing team for Honda from ‘84 to ‘87. Then it was time for another career change for the Burritto.
Gene Romero is credited for helping to save the AMA, which at the time appeared to be on its last lap, coming back to the game as a promoter. In this position, he created the West Coast Flat Track Series. This gave newbies to the sport and semi-pros over 30 different places to show their stuff and have the opportunity to race. This helped to turn the sport around and bring more interest to the game and keep it going, and going, and going.
After his final retirement from the sport, Romero was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in ‘89.
The History of Gene Romero: The Burritto Reigns Supreme
Though Gene Romero might not have been the winningest racer in the sport's history, he left his mark on it forever and remained one of the most famous participants.
Whether as a racer, manager, or promotor, Romero made a difference in the sport of motorcycle racing, leaving it better than he found it. In 2019, the world of motorcycle racing lost a true treasure when The Burrito passed away from natural causes. His work ethic and attitude toward excellence will be hard-pressed to be parallelled.