The Friendships & The Greats
Plus the journey in getting there
In 2014, we created this website, a modern day version of a personal scrapbook to share with others. We believe that everyone has their ‘own story to tell.’ This is our way of telling Del Kuhn’s motorcycle racing story AND the men he competed with. Included are those he admired and the friendships he developed during the early years of pre-motocross in the 1940s & 1950s. Most of those riders are among those that we respectfully call “The Grandfathers of Motocross.”
In this section, you will find…
1. Post WWII The Boys Come Home
2. Finding Their Riding Style
3. Motocross Comes to the U.S.
4. The Motorcycle Clubs of the 1940s & 1950s
5. The Friendships & The Greats
6. Everyone Has An Idol
7. Those that followed the Grandfathers of Motocross Path
We hope to build this website, create other rider’s mini-profiles and share motorcycling racing information using Kuhn’s personal knowledge, experience and memorabilia. We encourage viewers to share their thoughts or memories, photos and such and ask questions by using our e-mail address.
POST WWII: The Boys Come home
Kuhn said that generally the men he rode with in the 1940s-1950s were raised during the Great Depression (1930s) in the U.S. Most didn’t have much but ‘made do’ with what they did have, learning to be resourceful and appreciative. Resourcefulness would be a valuable asset to him and likely the others too. (A good example, the amazing story: 1952 National H&H of McLaughlin, Kuhn & Bud Ekins. See photo of all 3 in one photo below)
Like most young men, Del Kuhn entered the military (Navy) during World War II. Kuhn’s best friend of over 50+ years,*John McLaughlin, was an Air Force P38 pilot who was flying over Germany, shot down, survived and eventually became a German P.O.W. Other motorcycle riders had their own WWII story to tell. Occasionally, they would share their amusing military stories.
Kuhn added that after the war, he just wanted to go out and have competitive fun. Motorcycle racing seemed to be ‘the ticket’ as it was affordable and generally local. Kuhn had known many WWII veterans during his racing years that chose to relocate in sunny Southern California.
For some, like Kuhn, this was just a fun weekend lifestyle and for others, they ‘turned pro’ (professional). Most of the men created careers in all walks of life, married and had children. Some stayed in the world of motorcycles and some moved on to other areas. These were the Post WWII years. Now, having won the war in Europe and in Japan the possibilities seemed endless.
Today, this WWII group of men and women are now referred to as:
‘The Greatest Generation’ (book by Tom Brokaw)
The * indicates military service during WWII from Del’s recollection.
The (d.) indicates deceased as far as Kuhn recalls.
Finding Their Riding Style
In the late 1940s, this group of young eager men yearned for competitive fun and tried the various types of motorcycle racing. They became Off-road H&H and/or Enduro riders, Scramblers, Flat Trackers, TT riders or English Trials competitors. A few tried them all and a few excelled, winning National titles, legendary races, some named ‘Champion of the Year’ for their many wins. Some riders have been inducted into the American Motorcycle Association AMA) Hall of Fame in their lifetime and some sadly, posthumously.
Motocross Comes to the U.S.
The European cycle riders had already developed their own motocross. They came to the U.S. and in good sportsmanship, taught us a thing or two about motocross competition. Naturally, the U.S. competitive spirit was alive and well. Although we were just getting started in ‘motocross’…we would eventually return the favor. This was the beginning of Motocross and some give credit to American promoter Edison Dye for his efforts.
The Motorcycle Clubs of the 1940s & 1950s:
Most of the motorcycle riders joined motorcycle clubs (M/C) and wore their ‘colors’ (club sweaters), ‘leathers’ and Johnny caps. They would wear their ‘colors’ for a club outing, a day ride or cow-trailing. Kuhn remembers that most wore their club colors that had their club’s name embroidered, sewn on letters or with an emblem patch on their sweaters or pull-over shirts. Field Meets is where you’d see most of them from various clubs and possibly at a racing event. Many wore them again if the trophy presentation was held at a later date. They also wore their AMA membership pins and other pins on their caps or clothing. Kuhn had joined the Compton Rough Riders in 1946 and in 1948 he left the R.R. and joined the still existing Long Beach Hilltoppers as they sponsored more racing events.
(Look on HOME PAGE for more on motorcycle clubs)
The Friendships and the Greats
THE FLAT TRACKERS:
Kuhn added that (AMA) * Floyd Emde (1919-1994) and (AMA) *Jimmy Phillips (1926-1958), both he knew casually, were among the greatest flat trackers, gentlemen and well liked. Kuhn said “Flat trackers are their own breed, mostly nice guys though.” Kuhn recalled throughout the years in talking with them, they said they preferred knowing the fixed course ahead of them as opposed to off-road. Kuhn added he never tried flat tracking as he preferred the variety of terrains that off-road racing and scrambles provided. He said it was “The thrill of testing your skills” and NOT knowing what’s ahead.
THE SIDE CAR RACERS:
He also respected the ‘sidecar racers’ as Kuhn had tried that ONCE in the 1953 Cactus Derby on a heavy HD 61 with Bob Akers, a mechanic for Slim Karns. Even one of the ‘masters’ Ed Kretz Sr. had his troubles.
Look in ‘Odds and Ends’ in this website for details about sidecars.
Of that special breed of Sidecar racers, Kuhn said he thinks the best were
*Lance Tidwell Sr. (1914-1998)
(AMA) Ed Kretz Sr. (1911-1996
Swede Belin (d.)
Kuhn commented that the one thing he saw in common of those WWII veterans as motorcycle racing competitors was that he believes they had unwavering integrity. Feeling blessed to have known those fine men, Kuhn added that with a few, he had 50+ years of friendships with.
Among those were Robert ‘Red’ Harrison d. , *George Gunther d., (AMA) Max Bubeck d. and (AMA) *John McLaughlin d.
Many of the ‘other riders’ during his racing years, (1947-1954) he knew casually and some were part of his personal life at various times. To name a few off the top of his head, *Ralph Adams, *Wes Drennan, Russ Good d. and *Lance Tidwell Sr. d.
Kuhn added that with these various group of guys, he was proud to have known them as “They were really a swell group of real friends.” He says forgive him if he failed to mention other friendships but sometimes he can’t remember ‘everything’ that has happened decades ago.
For photos of the following names, please see the collection
on this website titled: Grandfathers of Motocross Yearbook
Or use the search bar and enter a rider’s name.
The AMA initials next to a name, indicates that they have been inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Please visit their website www.motorcyclemuseum.org to see each rider’s achievements.
Another informative link is: the Trailblazers M/C website. www.trailblazersmc.com
Everyone Has An Idol
Kuhn believes that most competitive riders have an idol who they would like to emulate, to learn from directly or indirectly to improve their own skills. For Kuhn, the rider he greatly admired, respected and was a true sportsman was the great, (AMA) *Aub LeBard.
When asked who he (Kuhn) believes were the greatest off-road racers during his racing career, he said:
(AMA) *Aub LeBard (1921-2012) Orange County M/C
(AMA) *John McLaughlin (1924-2006) San Gabriel M/C
(AMA) *Nick Nicholson (1924-1994) LB Hilltoppers M/C
(AMA) Bud Ekins (1930-2007) North L.A. M/C
During our research, it was revealed that these listed riders also had their idols. Kuhn met McLaughlin in the ‘early years’, right after the war and after giving McLaughlin a few racing hints, they just ‘hit it off.’ They remained friends over 50 years.
Kuhn had met Bud Ekins when Ekins was “just a kid sweeping the floors for Cooper Motors.” Frank Cooper was Kuhn’s sponsor from 1948- Jan. 1953. Ekins was also later sponsored by Cooper. Kuhn called the young Ekins, a “crash-bam artist”…but when he didn’t crash, he won, after having grown a few whiskers in experience. “The kid did well”, Kuhn added as Bud Ekins took the sport to popularity levels that had not been seen yet.
As mentioned, the Great LeBard was Kuhn’s idol. Unaware for many years, Kuhn learned that he was idol to McLaughlin (1) and Bud Ekins (2).
Kuhn laughed saying, “There’s always somebody on your heels when you’re leading….then it’s their turn, if they’re good enough.” They were.
1. Hot Rod Magazine 5-1973 pg. 154 McLaughlin interviewed
2. Steve McQueen 40 Summers Ago book by Tanaka & Kelly pg. 170 Bud Ekins interviewed
Kuhn said that these other riders were also good consistent contenders.
Ernie May great H&H rider Rams M/C
Charlie Cripps in H&Hs LB Hilltoppers M/C
Ray Tanner d. in H&Hs. North L.A. M/C
*Ralph Adams (WWII P51 pilot) Enduros & H&Hs
Compton Rough Riders M/C
In English Trials, (the slower skills, which are difficult to master),
Kuhn said he thinks the best were:
(AMA) Bill Brokaw Rams M/C
(AMA) *Nick Nicholson d. LB Hilltoppers M/C
Russ Good d. LB Hilltoppers M/C
*George Gunther. d. LB Hilltoppers M/C
* = WWII veterans.
d. = deceased
Those that followed the Grandfathers of Motocross path
Just about all of Kuhn’s racing peers and friends are deceased now. Del Kuhn, turning 90 in Sept. 2015, says he is blessed to have lived a long, healthy and productive life.
There were ‘other riders’ and ‘great riders’ who came after the 1950s. Many have greatly contributed to the motorcycling racing sport. Among these are the all-stars and all AMA Hall of Fame inductees: Off-road racer Malcolm Smith (1960s and also named by Motorcyclist magazine as ‘Motorcyclist of the Century’ for his continued contributions in the sport), road racer Kenny Roberts (1970s & early 80s) and Motocross & Super Motocross Jeremy McGrath (1990s). There will be many others that follow to hold up their well earned trophy.
Kuhn hopes they all had or have as much fun as he had. Kuhn added one more personal bit of advice to the future riders. “If another rider passes you, he’s either better than you or you’ll find him all stacked up around the next corner.”
Keep Safe! From Del Kuhn
Recollections by Del Kuhn, written by his wife, Vicky Kuhn