If you want to stand a chance of achieving what Ángel Nieto achieved, you should consider how to handle your motorcycle better – you can check it out here. So, what can be said about this man? To put it shortly, he had 13 World Championships, 90 Grand Prix wins and 139 podiums. Stick with us till the end of the article to find out his entire story.
Ángel Nieto took the world by storm and showed everyone that Spain was a force to be reckoned with in the motorcycle racing scene. His fascination with motorcycles began when he was just a young boy. He lived with his family in Madrid during that time, but other than that no one knows that much about his childhood.
His career started in 1964 and he would soon become a sensation in his home country. Before Nieto had started winning numerous races in the Grand Prix, the Spanish didn’t even care about the sport at all. In fact, it is said that most people from that country didn’t even know the Grand Prix existed before Nieto. Whether that’s true or not, we can’t really tell, but it’s believable.
After all, Spain had other favorite sports, such as football and bullfighting, among others. Why would they care about something that didn’t represent their country? Numerous sports get barely any attention from most countries, after all. But enough small talk about how nations and sports work, and let’s focus on this legend’s career.
Nieto absolutely dominated the smaller moto classes, such as the 50 cc, 80 cc, and 125 cc classes. Despite his lightweight classes, he was viewed by many of his fellow racers as one of the best in the industry. Up until this day, only two other people have scored more Grand Prix victories than him, and those two are Valentino Rossi and Giacomo Agostini.
The skills and mind games
Nieto had a very special way of handling his competition. Instead of just forcing his way to the first place, he would mostly stick to the pack throughout almost the entirety of a race. He used what people might call “psychological warfare”. He would even go at low speeds to give out the impression that his motorcycle wasn’t working properly.
He would even go as far as racing parallel to the furthest opponent, pretending to barely keep up with him, and once that finish line was close enough, he would speed right past his “equal” contender and finish the race first. It’s a devilish tactic that worked wonders for Ángel throughout his entire career.
He was so good at fooling his opponents this way that throughout the whole 19 years of his career, nobody knew when he was fooling around or when he was being serious. His moves were completely demoralizing to those who were barely able to finish their races in 2nd place. What’s even more fascinating is that no one else managed to replicate this style perfectly.
On Spanish TV
As we mentioned earlier, Spain basically had no idea that the Grand Prix even existed, or at least that’s the conclusion one might have after seeing the TV ratings at that time. It was Nieto’s achievements that got several Spanish televisions competing for the license to broadcast MotoGP in their country.
If it wasn’t for Nieto, Dorna Sports wouldn’t have acquired the rights to commercialize the global TV rights for MotoGP. Back in the 90s, only several years after Nieto’s retirement, they were able to outbid other televisions for the license simply because the sport became so popular in Spain thanks to Nieto.
It literally became the country’s second favorite sport, with only football being in the lead, in the span of a few years, all thanks to this one man.
Bragging rights and superstitions
We’ve already talked about the fact that Nieto managed to win a total of 13 championships throughout his career. If you live in North America or Europe, you probably already know what connotations that number brings. That’s right, Nieto was a very superstitious man. He thought that the number 13 could bring bad luck just by mentioning it.
To counteract this, he simply refused to talk about his 13 championships, instead referring to them as “12 + 1” championships. Well, that’s one way of doing it. The way he talked about his number of victories became somewhat of a meme way before the era of 9gag or 4chan. It wasn’t that people were making fun of him, it’s just that it was catchy.
Marketers could learn a thing or two from this case study because this phrase became so popular just because of its context. In fact, it became so popular that in 2005 director Álvaro Fernández Armero made an entire documentary about Nieto’s career simply titled “Ángel Nieto: 12+1”.
The ‘Ángel Nieto: 12+1’ documentary and accolades
The documentary showcases Nieto’s entire career, many of his competitors and what they had to say about him, as well as wanna-be moto racers who have been inspired by his passion and style. Part of his family is also featured in the documentary and they talk briefly about how Nieto was outside of the circuits and the lens of cameras.
Even several reporters that were present at his races appear in the documentary and talk about how they remember all of the events. The good news: you can find the documentary on Youtube. The bad news: it’s in Spanish, and as far as we know, there’s no official translation. You’ll have to learn the language or rely on the site’s auto-captioning feature.
Speaking of other accolades, in 1982, Nieto received the Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Civil Merit. This order was established by King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1926, and it’s meant to recognize those who bring benefits to the country. As you can guess, he received it for establishing Spain as a force to be reckoned with in the Grand Prix circuit.
In 1993, he received the Knight Grand Cross in the Royal Order of Sports Merit. As the name suggests, this merit is meant to recognize those who have contributed immensely to the country’s sports division. We think that he fully deserves both the King Grand Crosses that he received.
Sadly, Ángel Nieto passed away at the age of 70 because of an accident. He had been living in Ibiza for quite some time and grew accustomed to the lifestyle of that location. He was hit by a car when he was riding his quad bike on July 26th, 2017. He hit his head on the ground and after the doctors picked him up, he was placed in a medically-induced coma.
The doctors did their best to work on poor Nieto to try to recover him. But because of cerebral edema, his condition only worsened when he was woken up barely a week over, on the 3rd of August. That same evening, his family witnessed him dying on the hospital bed. Needless to say, the entire MotoGP community was in mourning for a while after the event.
It’s a shame that such a legendary figure had to go out this way. We would’ve loved to hear a happier story, with him dying peacefully in his sleep or any other scenario that didn’t involve him being in pain or having any part of his body damaged. Nevertheless, what’s done is done, and we can now only remember the legend that he was.
Ángel Nieto’s story is one that not enough people know about. From our experience, even people who don’t care at all about motorcycle racing were still impressed by Nieto’s tale. He’s literally an inspirational figure to anyone that has the time and patience to listen to fans talking about why this apparently simple man became such a huge legend in Spain and worldwide.
If you’ve found out something new within this article, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends. Who knows, maybe you might even convince a few of your friends to start watching MotoGP as well. Why not? Because the best friendships are formed from moments like these: cheering for the racers that entertain our evenings as no one else can.