In all, Mr. Nieto won 90 Grand Prix races, starting in 1969 at the Sachsenring in what was then East Germany. That year he also won his first championship, in the 50-cubic-centimeter engine class, by one point over Aalt Toersen of the Netherlands. Mr. Nieto won five more titles in that class and seven others in the more powerful 125-cubic-centimeter class — among the smallest classes of motorcycles.
But superstition prevented him from uttering the number 13. He referred to his “12 plus 1” titles. A documentary film about his career, released in 2005, was called “Angel Nieto: 12+1.”
Mr. Nieto “was a master of psychological warfare,” said Dennis Noyes, a writer and former motorcycle racer, who had worked with Mr. Nieto as a TV commentator after Mr. Nieto’s retirement. “You never knew if his machine was working well. He’d hide that speed. And when it wasn’t working well, he gave the impression that he had extra power.”
Mr. Noyes added: “Angel would never pull away. He’d always stay in the pack and make his move late in the race. It was demoralizing.”
Leigh Diffey, a motor sports announcer for NBC, said Mr. Nieto had helped establish the sport as Spain’s second favorite after soccer. “In many ways, Angel Nieto was the forefather of Grand Prix motorcycling in Spain,” Mr. Diffey wrote in an email. “He was revered by any Spanish youngster with any aspirations of doing anything significant on a motorcycle.”
Angel Nieto Roldán was born in Zamora, Spain, on Jan. 25, 1947, but moved to the working-class Vallecas neighborhood of Madrid when he was a baby. The shack his family lived in had no running water. His father, Angel, and his mother, Teresa Roldán, sold eggs; because of that, Angel bore the nickname El Pollero, or the Chicken Man, when he started his racing career.
By age 12, he was a shop boy and apprentice mechanic in a bike shop in Vallecas. He set his sights on becoming a driver and moved to Barcelona, where he got jobs at two factories. For six months in Barcelona, he slept in the basement of a greengrocer.