It was a night of heroes and legends at the 2009 American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Saturday, Dec. 5, as nine of motorcycling’s brightest lights were honored by fellow riders for their contributions to the motorcycling lifestyle.
Celebrating in high style at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, hundreds of riders from across the country converged to pay tribute not only to the class of 2009, but to all members of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, based at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio. In all, more than three-dozen members of the AMA Hall of Fame, including the nine members of the 2009 class, were among more than 500 enthusiasts in attendance.
"Tonight begins a new era for the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame," noted AMA President and CEO Rob Dingman. "From this point forward, we will shine the light of achievement on each and every member of the AMA Hall of Fame, like we’ve never done before."
Moving the Induction Ceremony to Las Vegas this year is part of that, Dingman noted, as is a new tradition of bestowing special AMA Hall of Fame rings to inductees. "These rings are a fitting symbol of their accomplishments, and a visual tribute that will be recognized by everyone in the motorcycling community — and beyond," he said.
Jack Penton, an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer who also serves as chairman of the board that raises money for the museum, noted that the new focus would extend to the AMA Hall of Fame Museum itself.
"While the Museum has hosted some incredible exhibits over the years, none of them has paid proper tribute to these incredible achievers — and that’s about to change," Penton noted. "Over the next year, we’re redesigning the permanent display for the AMA Hall of Fame by moving it upstairs to the main exhibit hall in the Museum. In addition, each year we will have an exhibit area dedicated to our latest inductees, allowing us to truly spotlight our legends, which is only fitting as a tribute to their contributions to motorcycling."
The ceremony, hosted by motorcyclist and actor Perry King, honored the AMA Hall of Fame class of 2009: industry innovator Robert Bates, off-road champion Randy Hawkins, motorsports giants Bob and Geoff Fox, suspension pioneer Gilles Vaillancourt, off-highway rights activist Mona Ehnes, longtime motorcycle safety proponent David Hough, legendary race team manager Gary Mathers and successful dirt-track racer and tuner Chuck Palmgren. Each took the stage to offer their thoughts.
Robert Bates, who started Bates Manufacturing Inc., in Los Angeles in 1939 to service and overhaul motor scooters and sell accessories. He sold the company in the 1950s to Bob Rudolph, but remained with the company and saw it grow into the manufacturer of the popular Bates colored-racing leathers that most people remember it for today.
Speaking on behalf of Bates, who passed away in 1970, Rudolph noted: "Many of the things Bob started, and which made Bates attractive in 1959, still guide the company today and I believe have contributed to its longevity. It was an established business, it had and manufactured its own products, it had a reputation for quality, it had many customers, not a few large ones, was family owned, with hands on management and personal service. Robert Owen Bates, is a worthy inductee into the AMA Hall of Fame.
A long-time champion of off-highway motorcyclists’ rights, Mona Ehnes charged into the fight for motorcyclists’ rights in 1967, when controversial legislation was introduced that would have restricted off-highway vehicle (OHV) riding opportunities in her home state of Montana. Ehnes has been at the front lines of the OHV rights battle ever since, as a founding member of both the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association and the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association. She remains both an active advocate and off-highway motorcyclist today, and serves as executive assistant to the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
"I became an activist because I love to ride," Ehnes said. "I’m not competitive or fast. I just love motorcycling and having fun. I’m also part of the motorcycle community that the public doesn’t see on TV or in the ads — the family that rides together.
"Receiving this recognition is indescribable and is something I’d never even imagined," she noted. "I hope this encourages all the activists out there to keep working, writing letters and comments, raising legal funds, attending meetings, cutting logs, swinging polaski’s and pulling weeds."
Bob Fox is well known to off-road riders as the creator of the legendary Fox AirShox, sold by his company FOX Racing Shox. Bob’s shocks have won AMA championships, the Indianapolis 500, World Mountain Bike Championships, the Baja 1000 and more.
"When I began 35 years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that some day I might be standing up here — being inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame!" Fox said. "35 years ago I was just a guy who loved engineering and loved motocross — and was lucky enough to find a way to combine them into a career and a business. I was just doing what I loved.
"How did this all begin?" he asked. "Well, it began with a revolution. Back then — in the mid-1970s — it was called ‘The Long-Travel Suspension Revolution’ In just a few years, the suspension travel on motocross bikes increased radically — from 4 or 5 inches to about a foot, front and rear. The good news was that you could go a lot faster over rough ground. The bad news was that shock absorbers were overheating and fading. And all-too-often they were even breaking in two! Lucky me. That was my opportunity."
In 1974, Geoff started a legacy that will remain forever an important part of the foundation for what motocross is today and will be in the future: Fox Racing Inc. From starting the company to Fox’s evolution into the world’s premiere motocross apparel company, the Fox logo has grown to the become the most popular and recognized icon in motocross.
"I would like to answer the question that I am most often asked by interviewers: ‘When you gave up your position as a university professor to go into the motorcycle business, did you ever imagine where that path would lead?’" Geoff said. "The simple answer to that question is ‘No.’"
"Given the chance however, I always add that I was very confident that I could support our growing family, and I knew that I was entering an area that I was passionate about," he said. "That passion, that love of motocross, has endured. Along the way the most important business lesson learned and practiced has been ‘the only constant is change.’ The other constant has been our passion for what we do. Every day has been a challenge, and a thrill. And best of all, being able to work with your family. Believe it or not, we all get along great!"
Randy Hawkins has won multiple AMA National Enduro Championships, 13 ISDE gold medals and 73 AMA National victories. Today, Hawkins is the team manager of AmPro Yamaha, which competes in the AMA National Enduro Championship, the Grand National Cross Country Series, EnduroCross and AMA Regional Hare Scrambles Championships.
"I’m honored and blessed with the career I’ve had racing motorcycles," Hawkins said. "I never even knew anything about a Hall of Fame. I just rode motorcycles for fun on the farm. It took a little while to sink in because it’s such a great honor. I couldn’t have done it by myself. So many other people were involved through support and friendship to get here. It’s a blessing and an honor I will cherish forever."
David Hough is a long-time motorcycle journalist who turned 25 years of experience commuting through city traffic into articles about riding skills and crash avoidance. He is best known for his series, "Proficient Motorcycling," in Motorcycle Consumer News, and books including Street Strategies: A Survival Guide for Motorcyclists, Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well, and More Proficient Motorcycling: Mastering the Ride.
"While I’m blown away by the personal attention, I see myself not as some highfalutin’ riding skills guru, but rather, as this year’s ‘poster child’ for the serious endeavor we call ‘motorcycle safety,’ Hough said. "So, I’d be proud to share the spotlight with everyone who has been involved in educating riders, including those dealers, salespeople and enthusiasts who have simply passed on some advice to a new rider, or loaned them a book on riding skills, or cajoled them into taking a training course."
"I’m amazed to be here," he continued. "That’s because historically the honors have gone to successful racers. Inducting a safety journalist and instructor is a significant and welcome event."
As a racing team manager, Gary Mathers produced dozens of championships in road racing, dirt track, Supercross and motocross for Honda and Kawasaki. His keen eye for talent discovered future Grand Prix roadrace World Champions Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey while Mathers was with Kawasaki. Then, at American Honda, for 16 years he produce a total of 48 championships in dirt-track, motocross, Supercross and roadracing, winning two championships every year except for one.
"Since the day when (AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Nominating Committee Chairman) Don Rosene called me about this event, I wondered what I would say when the day finally came for me to stand here," Mathers said. "Finally, I realized this was more about others than me — all those who worked so hard and for so long. Without those folks, this wouldn’t have happened. When we think about racing, we think about riders. They are the stars, they get the big bucks, and they are the heroes!
"And we’ve been associated with some of the best. Names like Bubba Shobert, David Bailey, Johnny ‘O,’ George Holland, Eddie Lawson, Jeff Ward, Ricky Johnson, Wayne Rainey, Ricky Graham, Randy Renfrow, Tom Kipp, Jeff Stanton, Miguel DuHamel, Eric Bostrom, Ben Bostrom, Fred Merkel, Jeremy McGrath, Steve Lamson, Doug Henry, Nicky Hayden and many more."
Mathers continued: "But for me, there are more heroes, the ones behind the scenes, the administrative people who make it all happen. They are office staff, parts people, shop technicians truck drivers and all the people that make up a successful operation. These people were always the other half of our teams."
Chuck Palmgren is a Grand National dirt-track competitor who won multiple Mile events as a racer and earned a reputation as an innovator of the Yamaha 750cc motor and frame design. Traveling the circuit for many years, Palmgren was well respected by his peers, always ready to help a fellow racer and sign an autograph for a fan.
"I was told I would be blown away, that is an understatement," Palmgren said. "I can tell you this, nobody’s ever won this award by themselves, and I am no different. Except I think I had more help. I had help from Champion Spark Plugs, Goodyear, from manufacturers like Triumph, Yamaha and Harley Davidson. But mostly from some really good people — my brothers Larry, Don and Dennis. Dan Gurney — what can I say? — we’ve been together almost 40 years. Thanks sounds small but this is from the heart. And all the people at All American Racers, Phil Remington, John Miller, Kathy, all the rest. Gary Nixon, Jay Springsteen, Mahoney, Branch, Mayhan, Gene Romero, Skip Van Leewwen, all the friends in Indy and everybody else."
A pioneer in modern motorcycle suspension development, Gilles Vaillancourt in the 1970s developed off-road motorcycle shocks that featured a revolutionary multi-stage damping system. The shocks were a huge success, and his efforts grew into the legendary Works Performance powerhouse in the off-road world. The company also has expanded into other areas and builds suspension for airplane, photographic and military applications, among others.
"I’ve been very fortunate to have some good experiences in the sport and meet some very terrific guys who I count as friends these days," Vaillancourt said. "I’m really honored that somebody would recognize what I’ve done in this industry. I got my start working in a motorcycle shop. In the winter, the shop effectively was shut down, so we spent a lot of time rebuilding the trade-ins, and that’s how I got involved in working on motorcycles. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1960, I worked as a motorcycle mechanic and as a foreman on a printing press. Then, in the early 1970s, I got involved in modifying existing shock absorbers. That’s how it all started — it’s been a long ride."