GREG’S MOTORCYCLE BACKGROUND
I started riding motorcycles at age 10. I recall the day as if it was yesterday. A friend’s dad had a Suzuki Bearcat with low and high range sprockets. My dad let me ride it up and down a dirt road by our house. After a lot of haggling, I convinced my dad to buy me a used Honda 50 if I did all of the yard work for one year. When I was 12 years old, I lived on a dead-end street. I rode up and down that street hundreds of times every Saturday and Sunday. Changing gears, pulling in the clutch, twisting the throttle and hearing the sound of the motor put a smile on my face like nothing else. It really didn’t matter how fast I was riding, I was riding a motorcycle. My life would never be the same.
Little Rock Dam and Collis Canyon were two riding areas where we watched factory racers such as Jim West practice. My brother Kelly and I recall a particular day at Collis. I was on my Rickman Zundapp, and Kelly was on his Penton 100. We were sitting there looking down a hill that seemed so steep to us that there was no doubt in our minds that we couldn’t make it to the bottom alive. Just then, West rode between us and instead of stopping, he upshifted his AJS and leapt off of the edge. He landed three quarters of the way down the hill, nailed the berm at the bottom and wheelied up the canyon. He didn’t do this one time, he did it lap after lap for 45 minutes! This was his practice track. Jim died a few years later at a Trans-Am at Saddleback Park. I saw him crash on the infamous downhill. He sat on the tailgate of his truck, felt faint, and had a little pain in his side. He made it to the ambulance but didn’t make it to the hospital.
During those first years, we would ride anything we could get our hands on. I had a 1967 Yamaha 80 with a bobbed rear fender. I took off the front fender, stripped the lights, drilled holes in the air cleaner, and cut the exhaust. I painted it candy apple red. Later, I had a Honda 150 Dream that I gave the same treatment. Finally, I bought my dream bike, a used Hodaka Ace 90. I made the handle bars, pipe, number plate, fork brace and oversized air cleaner in metal shop.
I had the racing bug. I came over the hill one Sunday and saw an AMA District 37 Scrambles Race. There were two teams with matching Bultaco Black and White El Banditos. They wore Bill Walters leathers and striped football jerseys. It was the closest to professional racers I had ever been. The feeling was electric. I wanted to do this, but I would need a proper race bike.
When I was 16, I started working with a roofing contractor, cleaning scraps and carrying roofing materials during the school year and on Saturday and Sundays in the summertime. York Boulevard was our main street in my home town. Motorcycle dealer Buzzards, was a radiator shop. It was also an Ossa and Bridgestone motorcycle dealer. After saving my money for a year, I went down to Buzzards and bought a 1970 Ossa Stilleto for $600.00. One week later, I was racing my first Desert Hare Scramblers. I actually was leading my class one mile from the finish line when my arms pumped up so badly that I couldn’t hang onto the bars. I crashed, got up, and finished 14th.
I was born at exactly the right time to experience the golden age of motocross.
I read in Cycle News about these European motocross races behind the Iron Curtain that would draw 200,000 spectators. Stars like Joel Robert were so loved by their fans that they were known to lay down on the track in front of his competitors to help him win.
The Europeans invaded America in the late 1960’s. Edison Dye brought over some Europeans like Hallman and Robert to race our best such as Mann, Mulder and Hately. The first track was built on Bob Hope’s movie ranch. I recall my mom driving us out to the middle of nowhere and dropping us off. This was the start of a very special time in American motorcycle racing. I was in the right place at the right time. Motocross gained popularity in the U.S. at an astounding pace.
The premiere racing organization in the US was the Continental Motorsport Club. The fastest riders raced with them. They raced at the best tracks. My brother Kelly had been with me every step of the way. Our family income was modest. Our parents did all they could to pay our entry fees until we could earn our own money. If you were a young motocrosser in Southern California, you were at the epicenter of the sport. The purses were small but, if you rode the circuit and could keep your bike running you could make a living.
A great example is a guy we raced with named John Desoto. He came over from Hawaii without a penny. He went to work at a local bike shop. The owner let him sleep in an old broken down car in the parking lot. Eventually he was sponsored by CZ and Suzuki, among others. Like many of us, he raced on Wednesdays at Ascot, Thursdays at Orange County, Fridays at Lions, and Saturdays at Escape Country, Saturday nights at the dunes, and Sunday at Carlsbad or Saddleback. We all did this week after week.
Kelly and I earned our pro licenses at 15 and 16 years of age. We were journeymen experts. If the fast guys were away at the nationals, we could break into the money. After Kelly rode the first and second Superbowls of Motocross, we slowed down a little to finish our educations and start our families.
I also enjoy building and modifying my bikes. In the late 90’s, I had an airplane hangar filled with about 150 bikes. Every bike was ridden or raced regularly by me or my friends. In fact, during this time I was single, and free to decorate my house as I saw fit. Shortly after meeting my wife and law partner Susy, she came over to the house for the first time. You can imagine her surprise when she noticed that I had my favorite bikes parked in every room. I recall her asking me what was on the white carpet below my beloved Rickman Metisse Pre-unit Triumph 750. I told her that was a puddle of oil; it is a British bike.
In 1985, my friend Mike Berke, called and asked me to go on something called The Love Ride. It was for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a charity I had supported for years. The only bike that I had at the time with a license plate was an old Triumph that I bolted lights on after racing Barstow to Vegas on it years earlier. It was not a pretty bike. It burned and leaked a lot of oil, but I wasn’t trying to impress anybody. Mike rode over to my place early in the morning. Normally a conservative lawyer, he rolled up on this incredible custom Harley Wide Glide. It was loud, it was mean, and he was dressed for the part. His moniker was Wild Eagle. He had a custom black leather jacket with fringe boots made out of some sort of exotic hide. It was a really cold morning. I didn’t have any street gear, so I went to the closet where we kept our ski gear and I dug out my Sorel boots and a really warm fluorescent lime green one-piece ski suit. I think I was the only person not riding a Harley. Even though my outfit was also a little out of place in the sea of leather and denim, I was welcomed by all during that ride. I rode. They rode. That is all that mattered. Shortly thereafter, I bought a beautiful but unreliable 1966 black and chrome Electra Glide. I have built or modified a lot of Harleys since then. Susy and I currently ride a 2011 CVO Street Glide.
During the 1980’s, 1990’s and through today, I continued road racing and motocrossing on the American Historic Racing Association’s national circuit. During this time, I was also having a lot of fun sponsoring an AMA 3-rider road racing team. Part of the deal was I got to ride one of the bikes. I had heard from other riders that the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca was a religious experience, and they were right.
Through the years, Susy and our 6 children have all ridden and have had great fun. My 27-year-old daughter Erika started racing at age 5. After beating all of the boys for a season, she realized softball, and not motocross, was her sport. My best and worst moments in our sport came when my son, Gregory, raced the California circuit for about 10 years. He was deceptively fast and smooth, and he won his share of races. The trips to the emergency room were unpleasant for both of us. I have no doubt he could have turned pro if he hadn’t made the decision to pursue his college degree.
Time has always been a scarce commodity. I love practicing law. Coaching our 9- year-old daughter’s softball team is the highlight of every week. I still find time to get out in the garage and work on my latest build, which is a Dunstall Honda. I keep about 40 bikes running. I have a very close friend named Robert who has similar interests in bikes. We started racing together at Steamboat Springs, Colorado in the 1980’s. We hung up our leathers a few years ago, but every Sunday morning that we can find time, we ride our vintage bikes faster than they were meant to be ridden, up Bouquet Canyon, down into Grass Valley and back home. We ride for an hour, then we stop at a little diner called the Rock Inn. We talk about life, business, politics, and motorcycles. I have had a lifetime of rich motorcycle experiences. But those Sunday mornings riding with Robert are very special. I hope they never end.