In my younger days, I naively imagined myself as more fearless and more talented than racers from generations before me – a flaw in the thinking of many youths, among others.
But our perspective of history evolves the more we learn, putting into focus the immense levels of talent and bravery it once required of previous racers to pilot a rip-snorting and partially reliable motorcycle to the quickest pace ever seen at a particular time.
Riders like Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, Joe Petrali, “Red” Parkhurst, and Burt Munro performed formerly impossible feats behind the handlebars. There have been countless riders who have straddled an engine on two wheels and pushed the limits of what humans and machines are capable of when working in tandem. These heroic riders transformed what were once “limits” into mere stepping stones.
The Emde family is part of that rich legacy. Floyd Emde won the Daytona 200 on an Indian in 1948, and his son Don repeated that feat in 1972, becoming the only father-son victors of that legendary race. Don’s career in roadracing (including on a Harley XR-TT) and on dirt tracks, as well as his subsequent career in publishing, earned him a spot in the AMA’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame.
Don Emde is the current president of the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club, an organization that celebrates those who have enriched our moto culture with their achievements. Founded in 1940, it calls itself “a social organization of pioneer motorcycle enthusiasts.”
The Trailblazers hosts an annual fundraising banquet, inviting former racers and captains of industry for a soiree in which awards are given to outstanding people in the motorcycle industry. It is an event of luminaries I had long wanted to attend but hadn’t due to schedule conflicts. I was happy that I was able to make it this year for the club’s 78th gathering, held April 1 in Carson, California.
The Trailblazers’ highest honor is the Dick Hammer Award, named after the determined former dirt-track racer, with past inductees including icons like Ed Kretz, Joe Leonard, Dick Mann, and Bud Ekins. This year, the recipient was Brad Lackey, who in 1982 won the world motocross championship in the gnarly 500cc class after a decade of trying.
Lackey was a mythical hero to a teenager with motorcycle racing ambitions, as I was back then. He was the first American to win a world MX title, so to rub shoulders with the legend was nearly surreal. Another honoree was Danny LaPorte, the AMA 500cc national champ in 1979 and the 250cc MX world champ in 1982.
Also on the card for awards were Dave Hansen (winner of the 1974 Houston Astrodome TT national event), Baja champ and ISDE medalist Eric Jensen, four-time U.S. Open speedway champ Shawn McConnell, 1979 Daytona Superbike 100 winner Ron Pierce, and Yamaha motocross engineer Ed Scheidler. Hope England received the Earl & Lucile Flanders Lifetime Achievement Award.
These people – even if they’re unfamiliar to you – have contributed to the evolution of motorcycling into what we currently enjoy as a hobby, as a sport, and as a culture. They have each been an essential cog in the machine of motorcycling, shifting our figurative gears into faster speeds and broader horizons.
It’s said that with age comes wisdom. Now that I’m becoming one of the “old guys,” I feel privileged to have sharpened my focus enough to notice when I’ve been in the company of authentic motorcycle heroes. Well done, Mr. Emde and the Trailblazers team!