Flashback Friday with Editor-in-Chief D. Randy Riggs – At Last, Some Respect

At Last, Some Respect by D. Randy Riggs from Vintage Motorsport issue 2009.2 – March/April 2009

D. Randy Riggs in 1973 racing a Speedway Bike at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, CA. Photo: Joe Rusz

When most readers think of Vintage Motorsport, I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is motorsport history, historic race cars or vintage racing. After all, that’s pretty much what we’re all about—vintage racing, a vibrant niche in the collector car hobby. We collect, but we also race. Trailer queens need not apply

The variety of what we collect runs the gamut in the automotive universe, and one can see that easily enough by visiting different public or private collections or simply perusing the pages of our Great Vintage Garage series in every issue.  Not only do many of our readers own some of the most valuable and collectible vehicles on the planet, but also fabulous artwork, photographs, sculptures, automobile and petrolania—anything and everything associated with cars—and I might add—motorcycles.

Yes, motorcycles. While the two-wheel crowd has always rounded up desirable antiques such as Excelsiors or Crockers and British road oilers like Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons, in recent years I’ve noticed that more and more car people are adding valuable motorcycles to their collections. For one thing, they’re special, and for another, they take up a lot less space than a car inside a garage. Heck, you can line up four motorcycles in the space of say, an Austin-Healey, and I’m not talking tiny Honda 50s.

Since I was struck a very long time ago by moto-insanity, any motorcycle in a collection, with perhaps the exception of a Harley, will catch my eye. Harleys have never done it for me, and now, with every gearhead and his cousin riding one, cool is not what comes to mind when I see 20 of them roll through town with straight pipes.

My motorcycle experience began as a teenager begging rides on friends’ motorcycles, since my Dad wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of me riding. Funny how it turned out that about a decade later my first staff job at a magazine was at Cycle World, where I rode every day and tested hundreds of motorcycles during my time there.

That was after off-road riding adventures morphed into racing, my first competition taking place in 1968 at a long-gone crusty clay dirt oval known as Trojan Speedway in South Gate, California, an industrial area of East Los Angeles. Trojan is where I first saw Swede Savage compete on a Speedway bike, before he became famous as a car racer.

For my Trojan debut, a friend loaned me his 100cc Hodaka, which we affectionately called the Slo-daka,” and with a borrowed set of leathers that fit me like a cheap suit, hastily attached number plates and the removal of the kickstand, I was ready to become the next Gary Nixon (the then-current AMA Grand National Champion).

I managed a halfway decent night of racing, coming home with a small trophy, which, of course, meant that I was hooked. Many of my own sponsored motorcycles followed over the next several years as I pursued flat track and TT racing, enduros and road racing too. The excitement of strapping on a steel shoe and lining up with 50 or more revving, race bikes awaiting practice sessions on a track like Ascot was an incomparable thrill I will never forget. Vintage racing is tame in comparison.

Forty-plus motorcycles and decades later, I was pleased when The Legend of the Motorcycle was created in 2006 as the first world-class concours d’elegance for motorcycles. Set on the lawn of the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay and not a mere judging class alongside an automotive event, it brought out an incredible array of rare and valuable examples from the last 100 years—street and dirt bikes, race bikes, motorcrossers—and motorcycle personalities too.

After three events the venue proved difficult for a number of reasons and, with the current economic downturn, the event has been postponed until 2010 at a new location.

Meanwhile, taking up the slack and the date in early May is the Quail Lodge Resort & Golf Club in Carmel, California, to build on the success of its automobile counterpart. The Quail Motorcycle Gathering will offer a spectacular display of classic sports and racing bikes lined up on the pristine lawn of the Driving Range on Saturday, May 9. The inaugural event theme will feature “The History of the Motorcycle,” opening entrants to both pre- and post-war eras of sport and racing motorcycles.

Yes, collectible motorcycles are at last getting the respect they have long deserved. Along with me, I’m sure a good number of “car guys” will turn up at this event, motorcycles in tow.