Memories of My Career in Motorsports – Part IX
The Fast and the Famous Along the Way
One of the pleasant side bars to my motorsports career has been the need or opportunity to work well known people. This was particularly welcome, as someone who reads every motorcycle or car magazine I can get my hands on. Many of these folks I’d been reading about for decades. With apologies for notables I have lapsed and left out, here’s an annotated list in no particular order of some of these folks and my adventures with them.
Bill Werner: Long time head of the Harley Davidson racing team and a legendary tuner. I was at work one day in August 2000, and pretty excited. I’d just agreed to purchase a new Ford Focus and the salesman was coming down to pick me up to sign the paperwork. My office at that time was in a little cubbyhole at the top of the building, and just as he drove into the lot my phone rang.
“Dave – this is Bill Werner from Harley-Davidson.”
Wow – now I’m trying to tap on the window so the salesperson three floors down outside can see me, as I do not want to hang up on Bill Werner!
He was calling to set up a meet and greet session with Chris Carr, the legendary racer for Harley. There was to be a mile flat track race at Emerald Downs raceway in the fall, and Chris would be signing autographs at the dealership the day before. My job was to take care of all the details and make sure Mr. Carr was treated royally, which he was.
Chris Carr: The day of the race I’d arranged for a charter bus for any staff who wanted to go, and plied various favors with suppliers so that I had free tickets for any staff who wanted to go, and their dates. That was a neat trick, I must say. I also obtained a banquet permit for the bus so staff could drink beer on the way, which may have been a bad idea. Fortunately, while the techs were chugging beers at the back of the bus they discovered that the door latch to the bathroom on the bus was broken, so on the way to the race they completely dismantled the door, lock, and latch and rebuilt them to full function. The bus driver was most pleased.
At the track I strolled in to see that Chris and other racers were conducting an autograph session. I wormed around the line because I thought it would be polite to thank him for the previous day. I stood behind him as he signed hats and posters for the last few people before it was time to go race.
The last person in line was a young woman of extreme beauty, quite tall and wearing a tight white t-shirt stretched taut over her quite ample upper body charms. Most of these racers were young men who did not have a lot of experience with women, and they nervously signed her sleeves, her shoulder, her upper back…. And last was Chris. He looked around, grinned, clamped his left hand on her right breast (as if it were not firm enough), and signed. He turned around, gave me a high five, and vaulted over the track rail to go to work racing motorcycles at 120mph sideways in the dirt. Now THAT is a pro!
Fortunately, I ran into him at the AIMExpo in Orlando last week and had the chance to remind him of the story, which he greatly enjoyed. I rather imagine he has more than a few others in the same vein… oh for the radio show again!
Jennifer Snyder: Harley sponsored flat track racer who came to the 2nd (and last) iteration of the Emerald Downs race. She appeared on my radio show with Bill Werner a couple of nights before the race, and I found her to be a quiet and shy young woman who was not comfortable talking about pretty much anything but racing.
During the race I got irritated with the loud and obnoxious announcers who were hyping all sorts of ancillary crap and not really paying attention to the actual racing, plus some of what they were saying was factually incorrect. I left the massed crowd along the front straight and walked all the way down to the exit of corner four, where I could focus on the racers and also not hear the nonsense.
In one race Jennifer came around and ran wide, and then wider, and then lost control and hit the fence where a supporting post stopped her progress violently. More frightening thing I have ever seen. The race was stopped and she was helicopter-ed off to Harborview. I visited her in the hospital with some flowers a few days later and then went down there at 0 dark thirty one morning to drive her father to Boeing field while she did the same journey in an ambulance. Harley had flown their corporate jet out to fly her home to Texas. The accident cost her a little finger on one hand and a few broken bones, but it was amazing she was not killed. I never got a thank you from Jennifer or her family, which is too bad, and I don’t think she ever raced again.
Chip Hanauer: legendary unlimited hydroplane racer detailed in a previous entry to this series.
Dave Despain: long time announcer and the host of “Wind Tunnel” on Speed TV for years. I met him at a motorcycle display put on at a museum. This was just two weeks before the debut of my radio show, so I told him what we were about and invited him to be a guest. He would not be in town, but impressed me mightily by calling in from somewhere in California during the first show. About 6 months later “Wind Tunnel,” debuted, and was essentially identical to my show if you added TV, lots of talent, and a huge budget. Hmmmm….
Dominic Dobson: Pro road racer from this area. Dominic raced at the Indy 500 for 11 years as a driver for PacWest, drove for the Porsche factory at LeMans, and was a national road racing champion. As a guest on my radio show he was soft spoken and very open, and had terrific stories. One involved high school shop class, where he spent his time designing and welding up an expansion chamber for his racing kart while his friends were mostly working on bongs of various designs. He also described his first experience at LeMans in a factory Porsche – in the rain. He’d been told he could make it through the “kink” in the Mulsanne straight flat out, and as he did so, barely able to see through the rain and the fog at well over 200mph, he thought to himself, “What am I doing?” With candor, he related that he quit racing after he got married and had a family because he could not force himself to drive a car on the ragged edge all the time, which was required in his profession.
A year later, I assisted him with the filming of a TV show based in Australia that was covering a heads-up display device for helmets Dominic was involved in. I had helped with the design a bit by testing a prototype and discovering a glitch in the programming that only appeared over 7,000 rpm. The bike used in development was not revved that high. I gathered a few customer friends and we went off on a rainy and cloudy day with Dominic on a Suzuki SV 650 and the Aussie TV crew in a couple of rental cars.
Up on Jordan road, Dominic and I parked the group and rode ahead to scout out the camera locations I’d previously selected. As we came to a corner, I remembered that Dominic had told me he’d not ridden motorcycles very much. It occurred to me that I could be late on the brakes and pass him on the inside going into the corner. My only chance ever to pass a Dominic Dobson! Thankfully, my wiser head prevailed.
Later, there was a long pause for whatever reason (there are always long pauses on video shoots), and I mentioned to Dominic that I had a dark visor on my helmet, even though it was a dark and rainy day, because I was vain and thought it looked cooler. He told me he’d always used a dark visor for his entire career for the same reason. Good enough for a Dominic Dobson is good enough for me!
The last shoot of the day involved me on my Triumph Sprint ST with a 6’2” cameraman behind me, sitting backwards and holding a large and heavy video camera. His only contacts with the bike were the foot pegs, the seat, and his spine pressed against mine, as both hands were occupied with the camera. The concept was that I was to accelerate up to about 50mph while he waved the 6 bikes behind us as close as possible to get a good shot. When a corner approached I had to brake gently enough that the bikes behind did not ram us, arc around the turn with 250 pounds of unsecured human cargo on the back, and then accelerate without casting him off the back.
This is the sort of thing where you wake up the next morning in a cold sweat as the magnitude of what could have gone wrong sinks in.
And of course, none of the footage shot that day was ever used.
Dominic did burst one small bubble for me. I’d driven a Hummer during the parade laps at a vintage sports car race at Pacific Raceway. Sure nobody had ever done that, I figured I held the lap record for a Hummer. Dominic shared that he had once driven a friend’s Hummer for a few laps to show him what it could do, so my time was probably off by a minute or more. Boo.
Dominic is now one of the important people at the LeMay museum in Tacoma.
Greg White: TV host and racer. Greg came to one of the “Seattle 500” charity rides at Pacific Raceways put on by 2Fast for a segment for his TV show. Representing the Cycle Barn Sport Bike Club, which had dues and a budget, I presented 2Fast with a check for $1000 as a donation. That got me an interview with Greg for national TV where I managed to mention Cycle Barn several times. Afterward he complimented me on my TV skills (it was not my first time doing this) and it all went over very well at Cycle Barn. The event had been sponsored by a competing dealer, who was never mentioned!
David Alan Grier: Award winning Broadway actor, film actor, TV host, etc. David was a friend of Greg White’s and an avid motorcyclist. He strolled by while Greg and I were chatting, resplendent in head to toe custom Honda red white and blue leathers, boots, and matching helmet. I said “The trouble with gear like that is that you have to be fast everywhere, and all the time. Greg countered with “Well, David is slow everywhere and all the time,” which got a good laugh from all three of us.
Matt Mladin: Many time AMA Superbike champ. Famous for his stern approach to his job, I was surprised that Matt appeared one year as one of the pro guests at the Seattle 500. He seemed to stay in his trailer most of the time, coming out only for the lunch time show, where pros did laps to show what could be done. He went out on a brand new and bone stock Suzuki 1000 GSXR. A dealership owner who was sponsoring the race was also allowed to do laps on his Ducati Desmosedici, a $72,000 motorcycle which had been race prepped. Each lap Mladin would come around and sit up and coast on the main straight for ten seconds or more to allow the much faster Desmosidici to catch up, and then gap him again by ten seconds or more in the remainder of the lap!
Josh Hayes: Current multi-time AMA superbike champ who was also a pro guest at a Seattle 500. Very open and friendly. On that day I was also introduced to a young woman by the name of Arpana, newly arrived in our area after getting her Masters degree in computer science. I signed her up for my riding group and she plunged into riding with her whole heart and considerable intelligence. She purchased a Suzuki 500 as her only vehicle. Josh met her, and when he discovered that she was volunteering and had never seen a race track, he gave her three laps of the track on the back of the Yamaha R1 he was riding! Later that evening she purchased his boots at an auction. It was a memory to last a lifetime. Sadly, that became literally true a year later when she was murdered in her own condo after a Halloween party. Many of us attended her funeral, and that was, by a long shot, the saddest day of my motorsports career. She was a remarkable young woman.
Jake Zemke: Honda (and other) pro road racer. Another pro guest at a Seattle 100, and I was so impressed with him. He strolled around all morning in shorts and flip flops. He was totally relaxed and happy to chat with anyone. Then he suited up and went out at the lunch break and reeled off a string of laps at a pace mere mortals could only dream of.
Grizzly Adams: Star of “Grizzly Adams!” Met him at a charity ride in 2000. He really blended in and seemed to enjoy being himself a great deal. I would think the hugs and pictures and autographs would get old very quickly, but he was very good at it. As Cycle Barn was one of the sponsors, I was to ride next to him on the actual ride portion. As we pulled away I remembered that the Harley I was riding had a choke (remember them?) and as I adjusted it I almost swerved over and hit the man. Wouldn’t that have been an awkward moment?
Helge Pedersen: Most famous adventure bike rider in the world among people who actually do world-crossing journeys, as opposed to the millions who watch “Long Way ‘Round” and variants. Lives in Seattle (when he’s home) as the principal of Globe Riders, and has done several superb seminars at Ride West. Wonderfully dry sense of humor and a media master. If you get to listen to him some time, look carefully at how he moves. He is an incredible athlete.
Lyle Lovett: Of “Lyle Lovett and His Large Band” fame, but also a life-long motorcycle enthusiast. Susan and I were invited by good friend Scott Younggren to attend one of Lyle’s concerts at the Chateau St. Michelle winery. We’d never been to one, which is ironic since the venue is only a mile from our house. In addition to free tickets, we were also to attend a meet and greet afterward with Lyle. We showed up with Scott and his date and were shocked to see that we had seats 10 yards from the stage! It’d been raining all day, and as we were shown to our chairs we could look out at the vast expanse of lawn and the 95% of the people sitting on blankets on the wet grass. I put my arm around Susan and said “Look, honey – poor people!” and sat down with a sharp pain in my ribs from her elbow.
The co-star of the concert was K.D. Lang, Susan’s favorite, and the evening was a rare chance to see a lot of people with unimaginable musical talent doing their thing up close and personal.
After the concert we were ushered to a lower room of the winery with huge wall shelving units of gradually aging casks of wine. There was a long line of people waiting for their chance to speak with Lyle, and he talked to all of them first so he could have more time with Scott, as they’ve been close friends for decades. As the line got shorter, Susan suddenly punched me in the arm – hard! “What was that for?”
“It’s Lyle Lovett!” Somehow his small stature and quiet persona had not quite penetrated her consciousness. We had a great 20 or 30 minutes with Lyle and his lovely wife.
Mark DeGross: Unsung motorcycle hero. Through his 2Fast company, Mark puts on the best organized and run track days in this area. He has also raised thousands of dollars for charity with the Seattle 500 events. A WMMRA #1 plate holder for 2012, his racing credentials speak for themselves. I’ve worked several events with Mark, and had a grand time at every one of them.
Mike Sullivan: Possibly the greatest road racer from the Northwest ever. #1 plate holder for WMRRA and ORRA (Oregon) too many times to be recalled. He was a guest on my radio show, and like Dominic and Mark and VERY few other racers I’ve met, open and polite and seems almost shy. On a track, probably a different story. Mike has gone out of his way to come by and say hello at any event where we’re both appearing, which means a great deal to me. Mike is a class act.
Phil Smart: Seattle Mercedes Benz dealer. Opened his store in 1949, if I recall, when representing a German car manufacturer was hardly politically correct. In later years, as he had a lot of success, he had dinner in Germany quite often Mercedes Benz top management. A few of them had been in the Luftwaffe, and they discovered over dinner that at times during the war in France he had been on the ground shooting up at them while they were in the air shooting down at him!
Phil played “Santa” at Children’s Hospital every year for over two decades. I met him on one of my radio shows touting the annual Children’s Vintage Sports car races at Pacific Raceways – always sponsored by Phil Smart.
At one of those I was asked to drive a new Phil Smart Mercedes SL 500 AMG or something or other convertible to lead the pace laps. The guy next to me was a race instructor, so after a couple of laps to spread people out he told me to go faster. Um – OK. Then he ordered me to hit the apex of each corner so that I could feel the inside rounded curb with the front tire. OK. After a few laps of thrashing the car we pitted. Later I saw Phil in the pits and thanked him for the use of the car – which now probably needed new tires!
Rick Stark: Local and successful Corvette racer who rose to an entrant in the SCCA Trans Am series in the mid-80’s with a purpose built race car. I met him through a motorsports club I was running at a junior high. He gave the kids a terrific and informative tour of his repair shop and especially his race car. I hooked up with him later and did three laps of Pacific Raceways belted into the non-existent passenger seat space of the race car. To get in I climbed up on the roll cage and then levered myself into place. The crew then bolted on the roof and – I could not get out. It made for a nice article for “Corvette Fever” magazine. I did some promo work for Rick, or tried to, but he was a hard man to work for, given to bouts of rage that had pretty much every Corvette tech in the area work for him – for awhile.
While I was enthralled with my entrée into big time motorsports I would go down to the shop one evening a week to help. That usually involved my spending hours cleaning brake dust from the huge BBS wheels, but on one occasion I spend all evening on a grinder shaping a piece of metal about 2 inches long by a half-inch wide. It became part of a custom set of headers being created by head wrench Marty Phillips. When I was done, I asked that the car not be crashed on the left side, where “my” part was!
Marty eventually had enough of Rick and left to start his own business. He’s been my go to mechanic for over twenty years, and I highly recommend Phillips Motors (in TotemLake) to you. Marty and his wife Monica are wonderful people.
Troy Corser: Never met the Aussie WSBK champion, but like me, he’s a supporter of Riders for Health. I wanted to have a quote from him to use in promoting a Riders for Health charity event. To save time, I wrote the quote for him (!) and sent it off. He approved it, so I could quote Troy Corser, sort of!
And that, my friends, is it. For now… Until I think of more stories…
Copyright 2013 David Preston