Friday, May 18, 2018

Action Figures Friday: U.S. Champion Harley Race

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Photograph by Mike Simmerman

Harley Race wasn't recognized as U.S. Champion very long and only wore that classic red-strap U.S. title belt for one night - - July 3, 1975.

Race was chosen by booker George Scott to be the first recognized U.S. champion to establish that title in our area. He would enter the territory recognized as champion and defend it against the top contender Johnny Valentine.

Race had name credibility with fans. He was a former NWA World champion and was well known from the various wrestling magazines, despite having never worked the territory before. Valentine defeated Race that night in Greensboro, and the win over Race gave the new title instant credibility.

It was a brilliant way to introduce the belt to the area. Throughout the month of June 1975, TV hosts Bob Caudle and Les Thatcher starting talking up Race as U.S. champion on their respective programs, letting fans know Race would be in the area soon to defend the title.
But because Race only wore that belt that one night, there are no known photographs of him with it. He came to the ring with the belt under his ring jacket. According to Dave Routh, who was at ringside that night, he removed the belt from under the jacket and handed it to the referee before the introductions. It was a real missed opportunity, and seems crazy to me now that a posed photo of him with the belt wasn't taken before the match, even in the back, if not in the ring.

When writing the book "United States Championship" several years ago, I commissioned artist John Pagan to render an image of what Race might have looked like holding that belt. The pencil sketch is featured in the book. It was the only way I knew to create an image as a throwback to that one night with Race and the famous belt.

That is, until now, with Mike Simmerman's very cool photo of his Harley Race figure holding a tiny replica of the title belt in the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling TV studio. The only thing missing is Harley's bleached blond hair, which he had at that time.

Thanks as always for Mike's great action figure photos for "Action Figures Friday" on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

For more on the origin and history of Jim Crockett's United States championship, as well as a look at the five different belts that represented it from 1975-1988, check out our book with every little detail and over 100 photographs. It's available in the Gateway Bookstore or on