Sometimes it takes a really big village.
This saga has several underlying foundations. The first is that I have been raising funds for Riders for Health with various events for 16 years.
It all began when I went to work for Cycle Barn in the year 2000. Owner Jim Boltz had been introduced to Riders by Bruce Scholten, one-time Lynnwood resident, motorcycle road racer, and early Cycle Barn customer. Bruce moved to England and is now one of the leading experts on sustainable dairy farming in the world. He is a lecturer at Durham University, and also a moto-journalist, music expert, and well – it goes on.
Riders for Health founders Andrea and Barry Coleman had flown from their home in England to Seattle that year on a fund-raising trip, and Jim Boltz invited Susan and me to join his wife and Andrea and Barry Coleman for dinner. Andrea and Barry are two of the most inspiring people you will ever meet, and I was all-in immediately. With Jim Boltz’ encouragement (and funding), I proceeded to put on one to four events a year to do what we could to help. Most of them were not huge productions, nor were they designed to be, but a little money goes a long way for health care infrastructure support in developing African nations.
The second basis for what has occurred recently was the call-in talk radio show I hosted for three years. “The Motorsports Show, with Dave Preston,” was a brainstorm project Boltz and I created. It did make a profit, albeit small, but eventually became too large a load to bear, as I was the “talent scout” who invited the guest each week, the head ad writer, the on-air host, and the guy who kept the books and tried to lure advertisers.
The real benefit to Cycle Barn was that I grew an impressive list of notable contacts in the motorcycle and car worlds, people who would be in town for whatever reason. Some of my favorite guests were Indy and LeMans veteran Dominic Dobson, now one of the significant people at the LeMay Museum, famed Harley tuner Bill Werner, local road racing legend Mike Sullivan, road race training guru Keith Code, racing legend Chris Carr, and many others. I got to know many of the best and brightest, although most of them would probably have a hard time remembering me. People on the guest list often came in handy for other projects at Cycle Barn. Hosting the show also dramatically improved my ability to listen to others carefully and talk less, a life-long weakness of mine.
The 3rd building block came from the details of my job with both Cycle Barn and then Ride West. I wrote the newsletters, answered e-mails, attended all sorts of events, managed charitable donations, talked to thousands of people, and led customers on club rides. From all of this grew an enormous list of several thousand e-mail contacts with riders of virtually any type of motorcycle.
All of that came into play a few weeks ago, when I received an e-mail from Andrea Coleman. She had a problem. The largest fund-raising event Riders for Health does each year is the Day of Champions, which features all sorts of events plus guest appearances from many of the top athletes in MotoGP. World Superbike, Formula One car racing, and other motorsports notables.
This year they had scheduled a special treat. “King Kenny” Roberts, one of the greatest road racers and team owners in history, has taken up painting. He had done a painting of a memorable race battle with British legend Barry Sheene back in the day, and would donate the painting to be auctioned off as a donation to Riders for Health.
The plan was for Kenny to take his art to Bellingham, where American legend Steve Baker lives, and Steve would fly it to England, where he was to be a special guest of honor at the event this year.
Then… Kenny Roberts became ill. In her e-mail, Andrea explained that Kenny would be OK, but wondered if I could use my contacts to find someone to fetch the painting from somewhere in Oregon and get it to Bellingham – in the next five days.
Contacts? Heck, I’d be pleased to do it myself. A chance to meet and speak with Kenny Roberts and Steve Baker – two of my motorcycle heroes? I would leap at the opportunity.
Except. As I received Andrea’s e-mail my mother-in-law, one of my heroes in real life, lay in the hospital, her death approaching inexorably. In addition, I was having problems with my sciatic nerve that first cropped up almost 50 years ago. Walking was difficult, and driving a car 500 miles or more was really not going to happen.
In addition, I did not know where in Oregon Kenny was, or in what sort of a facility, or how big the painting was. Could it be carried on a motorcycle, for example? There would be a big difference in the scope of the task if the painting was in Portland, as compared to Grants Pass.
Because of time delays it is difficult to have e-mail chats with England, and Andrea’s first response to my queries got lost in cyberspace. As a stop gap, I put out a general plea on Facebook with what I knew.
Almost immediately I had several people eager to drop everything and rush in to solve the problem. But details were missing. Several more e-mails flew back and forth when I was home between stays at the hospital, and then the hospice. Eventually I learned that Kenny Roberts was resting in his motorhome in Florence, and that the painting was in a long plastic shipping tube, so motorcycle transport was possible but probably not a good idea.
Then the contacts of years past came to the rescue. I’ve known Jack Lewis for years. There are a few people who write about books in this area, and Jack is by far the best of us. You’ve probably read his columns in “Motorcyclist” magazine. His books are even better, and not all of them deal with motorcycles. Nothing in Reserve details his experiences in war and the aftermath, and it is gripping. To me it compares well with Norman Mailer’s The Naked and The Dead, except that Mailer was writing about the experiences of others, while Jack is dealing with his own triumphs (some) and agonies (many). You need to purchase everything he has written.
In fact, a meeting with Jack and Shasta is what got me into publishing books through Amazon. Eight books later, I owe them for their insight.
By good fortune, Jack and Shasta were heading north through Oregon, and could side-track to Florence to meet Kenny Roberts and pick up the painting to get it to Seattle. They would get here Friday evening. The painting needed to get to Steve Baker by Monday.
Half-way there. Now I had several more possible heroes to take on the second part.
I’ve known Rolf Vitous for many years. He first came to my attention as a motorcycle riding instructor when I was at Cycle Barn. He would go on my club rides when his schedule allowed. He saved the day for me on the occasion of the only serious riding accident I had to deal with on those rides. Three riders crashed in the same corner, one of them suffering a broken arm. As I stood there, the rider group gathered and quickly sorted themselves by levels of first aid training. Traffic was blocked while the downed motorcycles were moved to safety, and Rolf used his high-end AAA membership to summon a tow truck. The injured rider was whisked to a hospital and then Rolf rode with me back to Cycle Barn, where we met the tow truck driver and stashed the motorcycle inside for safety. Rolf and several others saved the day.
Rolf later purchased from Cycle Barn a Kawasaki ZX-14 that set a World Land Speed record at Bonneville, a project I had the pleasure of guiding along. I believe he still owns it, and the little affixed brass plates with “World Land Speed” record holder on them add a lot of cred.
I have a lot of time for Rolf. Always ready to listen to or relate a fine story, over a good cigar if possible.
Several people were willing to journey to Bellingham, but Rolf got the nod, taking the painting to Steve Baker after teaching a motorcycle safety course all day Sunday.
And so, because of the great lengths of rope I was given by Jim Boltz at Cycle Barn to do my job, and to some degree later by Keith Thye at Ride West, I did have the contacts and the wonderful people to rely on to get this done.
Steve Baker flew the painting to England, where was auctioned off for Riders for Health – for $4000.
A fine ending to an improbable story.
Here is a picture of the painting.
On the left is American MotoGP legend Randy Mamola, who started Riders for Health with Andrea and Barry and has been involved ever since. Andrea and Barry are holding the painting, and that is Steve Baker on the right.
The painting is curious to me. It shows a battle between Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene, where Roberts hounded Sheene for the entire race before passing him near the end for the win.
Now Kenny Roberts has never been accused of having a small ego. Few people who excel to the heights he has do. And yet, look at the picture. All you can see of Kenny is his right knee and the last few letters of his name on the shoulder. If you did not know it was him, you would not be able to notice him. Isn’t that curious? I’d love to be able to ask him about that.
Perhaps someday I will.
David Preston Copyright 2016