The AMA’s Annual Hall of Fame Induction: 2003

As a motorcycle enthusiast, what would constitute your perfect day? For me it would be to have breakfast with several notable riders, tour a great little motorcycle museum for the rest of the morning, then take in a nice bike show around noon. Talk to some famous riders over lunch, get some autographs, then see these same people inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in the afternoon. Afterward, go to a race. What could be better?

If you happened to be in Pickerington, Ohio (near Columbus), last October, such a day occurred at the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) headquarters grounds. You probably know that the AMA is the largest motorcyclist rights organization in the United States, and sanctions many races and other events.

Saturday night at the reception dinner, the Motorcycle Hall of Fame induction ceremonies began as, for the first time, the AMA inducted an entire racing team, the 1981 Motocross and Trophee des Nations team of Donnie Hansen, Dan LaPorte, Chuck Sun and Johnny O’Mara. This was handled on Saturday, as the next afternoon Sun and Jeremy McGrath would be preparing for the following day’s race.

When the American off-roaders went over to Europe that year to contest these prestigious races, they were not even considered the country’s first team; Bob Hannah and other top riders had declined to participate. As a result, the Europeans refused to give them full start money. The team responded, as host Larry Maiers colorfully described, by “kicking European ass!”

Jeremy McGrath, just recently retired from motocross competition, compiled a record-shattering 72 career AMA Supercross victories and seven AMA Supercross Championships, and his radical riding style helped spawn the freestyle motocross movement. His parents, Jack and Ann McGrath, were also introduced. Dad brought down the house when he told the crowd, “I wish he’d chase his wife around the bedroom and give us a grandbaby!”

After dinner, the attendees toured the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. Its exhibits rotate over time, and it’s currently showing “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” as part of The Motor Company’s 100th Anniversary celebration. H-D officially celebrated its anniversary in 2003, but the exhibit will remain at the museum for much of 2004. In addition to many historic Harleys on display are info and photos of such stalwarts as Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson, racer Jim Davis, and Hazel Kolb, for whom the AMA’s Brighter Image Award is named.

I ran into Mark Mendell over breakfast, the gentleman responsible for planning the next AMA Museum, which will be built on the Association’s 23-acre grounds. According to Mendell it will be three to four times larger than the current facility, and will encompass 60,000 to 80,000 square feet. In order to do this, the AMA must raise $25 million. Fortunately, says Mendell, the AMA has many passionate and well-heeled members in addition to all us little guys, and he thinks construction could begin as soon as 2006.

On the grounds that Sunday was also the 2nd Annual Concourse d’Elegance, which consisted of about 75 bikes that were invited to participate. This eclectic collection included many Harleys, of course, with a diverse group that also included among many others a Dunstall Triumph, an original Honda Gold Wing GL1000, an American Eagle Laverda, a Kawasaki KZ900 and a pristine Honda CB175 twin. Introducing the other 11 inductees during the Sunday ceremonies was motorcyclist and actor Perry King. From the world of AMA Grand National dirt-track racing was nine-time champion Scott Parker, who holds the all-time record of 94 Grand National Championship race wins. With him was fellow competitor and inductee Jay “Springer” Springsteen, three-time Grand National Champion with more than 40 flat-track wins. He elicited a chuckle from the crowd when he thanked Willie G. Davidson, who was in the crowd, for naming the H-D Springer model after him.

From another era was racer Fred Toscani, who won nine AMA National titles from 1933 to 1938. Duke Pennell worked for nearly five decades as a racetrack official starter, and was AMA “Flagman of the Year” five times. Bruce Walters was honored as a dealer and event promoter, and was largely responsible for the success of the Peoria TT.

Debbie Evans was the first woman to compete in FIM World Championship Trials, and was dubbed the “Queen of Trials” by the motorcycling press. She was also the first woman to successfully compete in the U.S. Trials during the late 1970s, and is generally considered to be the best female trials rider in the history of the sport. Evans became even better known as a Hollywood stunt woman, and has appeared in more than 200 movies and television shows. She performs some memorable motorcycle stunts in The Matrix Reloaded.

Theresa Wallach crossed Africa by motorcycle in 1935, served as a courier with the British Armed Forces in World War II, owned a motorcycle shop in the United States and also founded Easy Motorcycle Riding Schools Inc. The book about her travels is entitled The Rugged Road.

Other inductees included dirt-track promoter and AMA Supercross pioneer C.E. Altman; Tom Heininger, co-founder of Webco; two-time AMA Executive Secretary Linton Kuchler; and 1950 AMA National Enduro Champion and three-time winner of the Greenhorn Enduro, Del Kuhn. After the ceremonies attendees headed on over to downtown Columbus to enjoy the AMA Red Bull Supermoto Championship race.

According to Greg Harrison of the AMA, the organization would like this Hall of Fame weekend to become its largest annual event, even greater than Vintage Motorcycle Days. Based upon my experience with this well-rounded and complete motorcycle experience, I truly hope this happens. Well done, AMA!

(This article The Perfect Day: The AMA’s Annual Hall of Fame Induction was published in the February 2004 issue of Rider magazine.)


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