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Indisputably one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern motorcycle racing was Jarno Saarinen's rotate, hang-off and dragging-the-knee style — he was in fact the very first to consistently drag his knees through the turns.  There are several other things about this Finn which will sooner or later elevate him to the all-time Champion — for example, he won the Daytona-200 in Florida on a machine half the size of the competitors... and he even managed to lap them!  He also intimidated the factory riders on the GP circuit by clinching the 1972 championship as a privateer, and in the process broke lap-records practically everywhere he went.  Jarno was also his own mechanic and helped modifying and developing the bikes according to his style of riding — a style which later became the norm for most racers. 

It's just sad how all this was cut short at Monza (Italy) by some stupid officiating mistake (or arrogance) when not black-flagging the race after a bike in the previous race had dumped oil all over the track, (also 350cc champion Renzo Pasolini died in this crash).  That very day, I cried for the first time due to someone's death, (and later I got my tattoo in honor of Jarno's passing on May 20th).  Jarno was also very popular in Italy where his first name was given to many newborn boys in the '70s.  One of them is Jarno Trulli, the present Formula-1 driver, (and if I ever get a kid myself, also I'd like to name him, or her, Jarno..). 

In order for Jarno to ride his "hang-off" style, he lowered the clip-ons (handle bars) and excessively angled them downwards.  Initially he got this from his previous experience as an Ice Racer in Finland before he started road racing.  After Jarno's death, Kenny Roberts adopted this style and perfected it for road racing. 

"I want to live to be a very old man", Jarno Saarinen joked a year before his death.  "If I win a world title I will definitely retire." However, after winning the world title, he neither lived to be old nor retired.  The 1973 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, May 20th, the fourth World Championship round of the season, was a farce with tensions running high from the start: The armco fencing was very unpopular, even with hay bales, and the track had been re-surfaced carelessly.  In addition to this, the race officials decided to run the race without the two chicanes which were built one year earlier, (one placed in the entrance of the so-called Curva Grande).  In the 350cc event, running before the 250cc, Villa's Benelli began losing oil.  His team encouraged him back onto the track since there was only one more lap to complete.  He cruised around to finish fifth dropping oil onto the track in the process.  A journalist, Christian Lacombe, was concerned at the amount of oil visible on the track and approached the track marshals to clean it up.  Instead they called the police and threatened him with ejection from the circuit.  Also the Australian rider John Dodds confronted the track official of the course, pointing out the poor condition of the track — also he was threatened with the police.  Shortly thereafter, John warned as many riders as possible, but never got to speak with Jarno nor Pasolini.  It was inconceivable that anyone would have started this race, but in those days riders didn't have a spokesman and were not used to challenging authority.  Disaster struck almost immediately as Pasolini hit the oil in the first corner, the super fast Curva Grande, and fell fatally.  Saarinen, following closely, could not avoid him and also fell.  Hideo Kanaya missed the fallen riders but hit the straw bales full on.  In all, 14 riders were embroiled in the mayhem that resulted.  When the dust cleared, Jarno and Pasolini laid dead with many other riders seriously injured.  Although the shock was total, the race organizers took another two laps before stopping the event.  Chas Mortimer, the only rider who managed to take to foot; "I went over to help Jarno but wished I hadn't.. it was horrible."  Not only did this incident take the lives of the two top competitors, but after the race the factory-teams of Suzuki, MV Agusta, Harley, and Yamaha all joined together to fight for better race conditions.  Yamaha went even further by pulling out of racing the rest of the year.  However, only forty days later, three riders in a Juniores race were killed in the same turn.  From that day until 1981 all motorcycle racing at Monza were banned.  The tragedy saw the end of a racing regime which had not adjusted to changing times.  [The last paragraph is based on combined stories by Don Emde, Murray Barnard, and Fabbi Studio]

Jarno Saarinen at Silverstone — 1972

Jarno modifying his clip-ons

Jarno and wife Soili Karme

Jarno's fatal crash at Monza — 1973

Jarno and wife Soili Karme — 1970