by John Whittaker
November 30, 1998
Higbee Caps Successful Racing Season With Harley-Davidson Title
The motorcycle racer continued his ascension up the ranks of the American Motorcycle Association to finish the year with a victory at the Harley-Davidson World Cup Finals.
Higbee has spent the last nine years racing motorcycles on various circuits before putting it all together this year to win the H-D World Cup Finals on one of the world's toughest tracks.
The World Cup Finals are a two-day race series held in Daytona Beach, Florida, in which racers from all over the world are invited. A racer's combined results in the two races determine the champion.
Higbee, after a 1998 season in which he finished second in his circuit, won both races of the Harley-Davidson World Cup Finals to be crowned the best racer in the circuit for the season. For Higbee, it was the culmination of nine years of hard work.
"We had an excellent weekend and swept both races," said Higbee, who now lives in Milwaukee. "We got really lucky with the setup and worked really hard all week."
The wins came on what Higbee thinks is the fastest track in the country.
"To win there twice in a row was a big thrill for me. It is a neat track because it is the fastest track in the country," he said. "You're wide open for a mile and a half and once you get to top speed you stay there."
"Drafting is really important at Daytona and it is difficult to win there because the draft is so important that you could lead on the last lap and finish fifth. These wins were kind of unique because I was able to break away and didn't have to deal with the draft. Going into the final lap, I knew if I held my margin I wouldn't have to worry about the draft."
Higbee turned pro in May of 1989 when he earned his novice license. In the nine years since, he has raced for seven different race teams and competed at tracks all over the world, including the prestigious Macau Grand Prix in Thailand.
Higbee became only the third American to record a top three finish in the race, joining Kevin Swanson and Randy Renfro as the only Americans to accomplish that feat in the race's history.
The Thailand event also showed Higbee how big a sport motorcycle racing has become in other parts of the world.
"It was a neat atmosphere because the support and enthusiasm for racing is higher than it is in the United States," explained Higbee. "Over there you are a hero like a Formula I racer and it was neat to get a lot of attention. Photos end up all over the town and they had a lot of pre-race media coverage and really elaborate dinners that we went to."
Through it all, Higbee has seen the highs and lows of the racing industry.
"I've seen it from the days of showing up in your pickup truck, pitching a tent, sleeping in it at night and racing the next day," said Higbee. "In 1996 I was a factory rider and all you do is show up, ride the bike and go home. Your only function is as a rider."
Now, however, he is able to test the bikes he rides during races and he has a hand in their development.
"After seeing both ends of it, I am most happy right now, where I can work on the bike at the factory and then go out and race them," reflected Higbee. "Whatever changes we make at the shop affect what we do on the track. It is a really neat learning experience."
With a championship under his belt, more sponsorship from Buell and continued work with experienced bike dealer Don Tilly coming this season, the future looks bright for Higbee.
"It (next season) looks really good. Last year was kind of an accident. It wasn't planned out. This year Buell has more involvement. We're going to do more of a factory team, not fully budgeted, but we'll have more support than last year."