We all have great biker stories of the people we have met and the places we have been. This is what makes this biker lifestyle so exciting. You never know whether the guy in that diner on Route 66 in Vega, Texas is really Elvis or just an impersonator. You never know if the guy in the Broken Spoke Saloon pounding beers is Warren Buffet or an Outlaw. It’s the leveling of the playing field when you’re out on the road that adds to the lure of motorcycling. For good or for bad, you never know who’s on the bar stool next to you, unless you ask!
This particular chance occurrence took place in 1996. The weather just broke here in Atlanta and I headed to Daytona for my 15th consecutive ‘Bike Week’. Thanks to the graces of my good friend Steve Shore of SKS Motorcycles in Gwinnett, I scored some tickets to the MMI (Motorcycle Mechanics Institute) Saturday night shindig across from Daytona International Speedway. This party is an ‘invitation only’ affair reserved for the muckity mucks of the bike industry, which is why I have to get tickets from someone else. The invite list is a who’s who of the motorcycle world. You can generally spy some of the rock stars of the chopper industry, partying and enjoying themselves, like Billy Lane or Ron Perowitz and even the OCC family. The AMA champs like Bostrom, Yates, Mladin and the like, can be seen surrounded by fans and hangers on. One year, my group sat at a table back to back with Willie G. Davidson and the ‘factory crew.’ One thing is for certain, no one really ever recognizes us!
That particular year, I had invited my younger sister Kerry to go along, with me and my two buddies, Jeff and Darren. The four of us trailered down and camped at the ‘cabbage patch’ in its usually disgusting fashion, complete with gunshots, screams, bar fights, 3:00 a.m. burnouts, and weed smoke so thick, we probably broke the law just breathing there. So it was with great pleasure that we partook in the civility of the free Lobster and Steaks at the MMI party, as at our campsite we traditionally dined on Budweiser, hot dogs and Budweiser, and that is for breakfast.
During the ride down, we watched a movie in the truck. I had just bought this DVD of a fascinating black and white film called “Indian Wars.” It chronicled the fabled racing battles between the Harley Davidson Motor Company and The Indian Motorcycle Company. Some of you are aware of the decades long battle between the two bike building rivals, to see whose factory riders could amass more world titles to perch atop their respective brand.
Of particular note, was a rivalry between two national champs named Bobby Hill (Indian) and Billy Huber (Harley). The movie had great footage of their famed races, with interviews and tales of world dirt track titles snatched back and forth in the 1940’s and 1950’s between the two men. The stories of their careers and of their rivalry made the hair on the back of our necks stand up. Back in a time when there was essentially no safety equipment, these guys tossed bikes sideways in the dirt at near 100 mph in packs of twenty men. That’s guts! Of significance to us Atlantans, these two dare devils once raced for a national title on the old Atlanta ‘Dirt Track’ behind Lakewood Amphitheatre. Only those of us with some gray hair even know it existed. The track’s oval dirt remnants can still be seen some 50 years later.
On August 8, 1948, a fabled race between the two men took place on that Atlanta Dirt Track. Neither lapped the other and they traded the lead a dozen times. The final lap was so close, that no clear winner could be proven at the checkered flag. It was the only time in national dirt track racing or AMA history that track officials awarded two men first place!!!! It was that close between Hill and Huber, and therefore, between Indian and Harley.
Well, back to my Daytona story… At the MMI party, we shoveled food onto our plates at the buffet and over ordered at the open bar and headed for the first seats we could find. Like pirates with stolen booty, we made our way to the edge of the party tent where some empty seats called out to us. My group of four sat down and exchanged pleasantries with those around, like when you go to a wedding and they seat you with strangers. That’s when it happened. It immediately hit my sister Kerry like a brick. She, despite several Jack and Cokes, or perhaps because of them, peered across our table and while simultaneously jabbing me in the ribs with a left elbow, pointed two fingers of her right hand, with Marlboro betwixed, straight at the two old guys across the plastic table cloth. “You’re them!” she yelled. “You’re the guys!” You have to have met Kerry just once to know that this gesture was done in the mixed style of Fran Dresher and Tony Soprano’s wife, just louder. It didn’t immediately hit me. I was first concerned the old dudes would fall backwards off their bench. They just smiled and looked at each other.
Then a light bulb went on in my head and I knew exactly who they were. The sun-spotted, wrinkled old heroes of yesteryear nodded their heads, acknowledging her announcement, and immediately drew a small crowd. It was Hill and Huber, fifty years later! They regaled us in racing stories of yesteryear and smiled widely. Their knurled old hands showed their age, which I guessed at the time to be 70’s. Bobby Hill and Billy Huber, a bit hunched, a bit bald, nonetheless champions. They autographed cards and napkins for us and took pictures with everyone around. We didn’t ever want to get up. They shared racing stories and adventures galore: crashes, bloodshed, money struggles, off to war (the big one), factory sponsorship, factory demise (Indian 1952), heated rivalry, then retirement.
Even if Kerry’s story of opening the door to the porta potty and seeing Evel Knievel sitting on the pooper had been true, I still think meeting Hill and Huber was the best part of our week in Daytona. I don’t know who was more excited, us or them. I’m pretty sure it was us!
I once sat next to Neil Armstrong on a flight to New York. First man to set foot on the moon! Nice guy. It goes without saying that you never know who is around the next corner or on the next bar stool.
Well, signing off for now. Ride strong, ride safe and in the end, make sure you ride home.