PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Oct. 4, 2023) — The American Motorcyclist Association offers its condolences to the family, friends and team of seven-time AMA Grand National Championship event winner and 1999 AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Inductee Sammy Tanner, who passed away on Sept. 21.
Born May 23, 1939, in Houston, Tanner purchased his first motorcycle — a James Villiers — at 14 years old and fell in love with the sport right away. Shortly after purchasing his bike, Tanner started racing in local field meets throughout his home state of Texas, and soon after earned a support ride on a 500cc Triumph. Due to his 5-foot, 100-pound stature, Tanner was lovingly dubbed “The Flying Flea” by fans and fellow racers alike.
In 1958, Tanner made the leap to the professional ranks, finishing sixth in the AMA Grand National Championship during his rookie season, and emerging as the top points earner in Half-Mile races, and duplicated that same feat in his sophomore campaign. In that same season, Tanner captured the first of his four AMA Grand National Championship wins at the legendary Ascot Half-Mile facility in Gardena, Calif.
After his first win at Ascot, Tanner ripped off three-straight victories at the famed half-mile track from 1964-66 while competing aboard both Triumphs and BSAs.
While Tanner’s dominance at Ascot is well-documented, his finest ride came at the 1964 Springfield Mile, in which he outlasted fellow AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers Dick Mann and Ronnie Rall for the victory. His victory aboard the BSA broke a 10-year Harley-Davidson winning streak at the track.
In 1966, Tanner added Half-Mile victories in Elkhorn, Wis. and Heidelberg, Penn., and finished third in the Grand National Championship point standings behind fellow AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers Bart Markel and Gary Nixon.
The Flying Flea retired in 1972, and operated an Arai helmet distributorship in Southern California following his racing career.