The Untold Story of an American Motocross Hero
-MR interviews David White, 1977 German 500cc National champ-
by Giles Nelson #665
D: David White
G: Giles Nelson
W: David’s wife
G: Hello this is Giles Nelson. I’m sitting with David White in his home here in Auburn, Washington. David came up to me a while back when he saw my CZ in the trailer. I was at the hardware store, coming out from buying bolts for it. We started chatting and he mentioned that he’s got a history racing CZ’s and motocross in Europe. Well, it sparked my attention right away and after BS’ing for a few minutes I get this idea to ask if I can interview him and record it to make a short story. He invited me to come over to his home and record him and maybe do a little writing about his history in Europe Motocrossing.
So, with that said, let’s get to talking to David.
(At that point David takes out his racing license from Germany and shows it to me.)
D: This is a national license for racing over in Germany.
G: Cool. David, I found out when he introduced himself to me, was an American and the 1977 German National 500 cc Champion, riding a Maico for a private individual. So we’re going to just talk a little bit about his history. He’s got some pictures here to show me, which I’m very excited to see.
D: Well, I’ll back up. I went over to Germany in ’73. My dad was military. I was an Army brat. I graduated from high school in ’73 and I had just started riding Motocross then.
G: ’73. That’s the year I graduated high school.
D: I went out and I bought a TM 125 Suzuki.
G: How old were you?
G: OK, so you must be 49 then? (this was recorded in 2004)
D: Yes; 49 next month.
G: I’m 49 already; just turned in January.
D: And I went out and I bought a TM 125 Suzuki.
G: It was a decent, very decent bike.
D: Yeah, and I started riding in Colorado. That’s where we lived, and my dad got orders for Germany. I had a choice of staying in the states with some relatives in Connecticut or going to Europe, and Europe was the Mecca. That was where Motocross is all about.
G: Oh, absolutely.
D: And I was hooked.
G: In ’73, the Europeans dominated everything.
D: So I took the Suzuki all apart, put it in our whole baggage, shipped it over. The Army shipped it over for us. I got there and I assembled it on the fourth floor of our apartment building in an open common area, and I wheeled the thing down the stairwell using the front brake. I used to go riding in a tank training area in Mannheim, Germany. There was a big training area there that actually connected several different towns. It was all sand and big whoops and several other guys would ride out there, too, but I just started riding out there and practicing. One day a German came up to me that was riding and he said, “Follow me.”
G: Did you speak much German at that point?
D: No. I didn’t speak any German at all. He indicated, “Follow me.” He was on a bike, so I followed him.
G: What kind of bike was he riding? Do you remember?
D: He was on a Zundapp. It was an enduro-type bike, a six days-type rider.
D: But we went through this little town called Viernheim to a Motocross track, and there were some other guys there riding the Motocross track, so I started motoring around there.
G: Oh, and you hadn’t seen the track before?
D: I hadn’t seen the track before. I started motoring around the track, and when I finished, they indicated they were going to be there the next week. So I came the next week and we actually drove. We stuck the bike in a Volkswagen van and drove over to where the track was. And then they indicated that they wanted me to follow them to the shop. Well, the shop was the basement of this millionaire’s house, and it was completely set up for Motocross. Everything was brand new. It had all new shelves. It had all the power tools, everything. Stacks of parts. All this other stuff, and he had just become a CZ dealer. He indicated, asked me if I wanted to ride a CZ, and I basically said I already have a bike. And he goes, “No, no, no, no.” And got across that he wanted me to ride one of his CZs, so I said, “Yeah. OK.”
G: Do you remember his name?
D: Horst Shultz. This guy jumped the Berlin Wall. He was an East German, jumped the Berlin Wall, started from scratch a business. It was called Roladin Business, which are the windows or the covers for the windows that they use in Europe. Houses are all along the streets in the towns, and people can just look in your windows if youy want, so they have these covers. They’re called Roladin.
G: Are those metal, that you can roll down and lock the house up?
D: Yes. That was his business.
G: Oh, I’ve seen those in Germany. I have family in Germany. I’d like to see them here.
D: That’s what he made his millions on, so anyway, I accepted. It was set up that I got a practice bike and that the race bikes were coming. They weren’t there yet. Now, I’m a beginner. I mean, I’ve raced a couple races in Colorado and I’m just learning, but so it just started out really well.
G: And then to get on a quality bike right away.
D: Right, and when I started, I had this friend of mine, he was a captain in the military, who lived across the street from us and had a Bultaco. I used to ride with him a little bit. You know, this is a span of about four or five months that this was happening, about five months after I’d gotten there. We went to the Bultaco dealership and he was getting some parts. The Bultaco dealer said there’s another guy in Manheim, an American G.I. that just bought a Bultaco from here. I got his name and his phone number and everything from the dealer, and it turned out to be Tim Sullivan, my friend who now lives in the Northwest also. So I looked him up and we became, like, brothers.
We’ve been friends for 28 years. Anyway, I looked him up, and it turns out that he was a Pro rider. He had ridden some Trans Ams from the Northwest. He knew Pomeroy well, all those guys, and he joined the military so he could go to Europe, all expenses paid, and race Motocross. That’s why he did it. So he had this Bultaco and I just got this CZ. It would have been like almost cutting your throat, he was so much better than I was, telling Horst, the dealer, that Tim was there and he was a good rider, because Horst snatched him right up to ride with him, too. But this guy had enough money that he said, “OK. Both of you. I’ve got two Americans that are going to ride for me.”
G: It’s like he probably had a stable of Germans who could have ridden.
D: Yeah. This was in ’74, so we rode with them through ’75 on the CZ’s. I had a real steep learning curve.
G: So what were you riding? What were the specific models?
D: We were riding 250’s.
G: OK, so 980’s. All right. So ’73 and radial fin heads then?
D: Yeah. I’ve got a bunch of pictures here of them. So, anyway, I started learning from Tim. We would ride together. I mean, what would happen is during the week, I’d get off work. I was working for Raytheon Corporation, just working on Hawk missile radar stuff so I could make enough money to go racing, and Tim was in the Army. We’d get off work and we’d start riding, and we’d just ride until it got dark, load the bikes up. We would go over to Horst’s shop. We would take the bikes all apart and clean everything up and get everything right. We had it all, any nuts and bolts and stuff that we needed for replacing and everything, and just put everything back together. He also had a Czechoslovakian mechanic, whose name was George in English. It’s spelled George, but you pronounce it Garag
G: What’s his last name? Not sure? That’s all right. Go on.
D: Anyway, George didn’t speak a word of English, and we did a lot of picture drawing and everything else, but the guy could make those CZ’s just run. So, anyway, we’d go over and if we had any problems with ignitions or anything like that, George would work on that. He’d get off from his work and he’d come over and this was his hobby, and he would work on the CZ’s with us at night. We’d hop in the van. I’d take Tim back, usually it was around 10, 11 o’clock at night, drop him off at the base, the bikes were in the van, and we’d do the same thing for the next day. And then, like, on Thursday, we’d get set up to go to the races.
Racing in Europe at that time was so different than what we have here. You raced only once a year on each track. The tracks that were officially assigned for racing by the FIM and the ADAC – the ADAC was the German organization that raced. What they did was there was no novice; there was no intermediate, no junior. There was national class or international class. You had to be 16 and have a driver’s license to get a license to race. Now, there were some organizations around Germany that allowed kids to ride, but they were bootleg. It was like something other than the AMA organization having a little . . .
G: Like a local thing, like, in the Northwest.
D: Yeah and they were very politically territorial. If you had an ADAC license, which is what this is, and then you rode one of those bootleg races and they found out, they would pull your license and they wouldn’t let you race for the nationals.
G: Pretty serious stuff.
D: So occasionally we would have to race with the ADAC on a weekend and we’d want to go to one of these bootleg races, so I would race as Malcolm Smith and Tim would race as somebody else. You know, we’d just put these weird motorcycle names in there, and Steve McQueen was at a lot of these races and stuff like that. And then we’d go race to get practice and we’d do our ADAC thing.
G: But it was always you two?
D: Yeah, we would just use some names, because a lot of the, and I’ll show you the picture of all the other Americans that were out there riding, because they knew we were racing in the ADAC, but they didn’t care.
G: I brought something to show you. Have you seen this movie? Remember Bruce Brown in On Any Sunday?
G: You, no doubt, have seen it. This is one of his newest ones. It’s On Any Sunday, Malcolm, Motocross and More. Have you seen that yet?
D: I’ve seen, like, the documentary on how they made it and all that stuff.
G: Yeah. This is a new one, and it’s got Jeff Ward in there.
D: Oh, really?
G: When I was racing Saddleback, Jeff Ward was a little guy, very good form, XR-75 rider, so I’ve seen him race tons of times. I was a junior.
D: I haven’t seen this.
G: Southern California had beginner, novice, junior, intermediate, and expert.
D: Well, what was difficult for me when I first started was, I mean, it was like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, because here’s a guy that’s raced a couple of novice races in the U.S. I was starting to get faster and better, but, I mean, these guys were really good, so I didn’t qualify . . .
G: They probably played for keeps.
D: Yeah. The first year, I didn’t qualify for races. I just wasn’t fast enough, and when I tell – I’ll get back to the way they do things. You have to be a member of a club, and there’s a series of paperwork that you go through to race. You have to fill out an entry. You get a list of the entries. You request an entry form. The race promoter sends it to you. You fill it out and then they send you back with a start, number and that you’ve been accepted. They allow a hundred riders in each class to be accepted. You’ll race either 250 and 500 in a weekend, or 125 and side car. So they separated those two, and what they had was like 12 races a year, and they had 24 tracks. This year, these 12 races were on these tracks. The following year, you wouldn’t race that track. You would race the races that the 125’s and the side cars rode.
G: So it was once a month, then?
D: Well, no. You never rode the same track two years in a row.
G: But you were racing once a month at that level, then?
G: So 12 good, serious events a year?
D: Right. Correct. So, anyway, you show up. There are a hundred of you. Saturday you get to practice. You get the bike dialed in. You learn the track, and you’d show up and it would look like my yard with ropes and everything else, laid out on – even the Grand Prix tracks. They’re all grass. Everything was leveled out and just left from the year before.
G: And not maintained and not plowed?
D: No bulldozers, no. And it was rough. I mean, I would see Grand Prix’s; Sittendorf Austria was the one that just amazed me, the 500 Grand Prix’s. Those guys coming up this one hill, and this hill must have been 300 yards long. That was where the 500 and 250 Grand Prix’s were run. DeCoster, all those guys were in first gear, picking their way up this hill. It was so nasty. I mean, it was just, I couldn’t make it on 500’s. I couldn’t make it up that hill that time. So, anyway, these tracks weren’t maintained, but they were just absolutely gorgeous settings. You get there and you see these rolling hills with this track laid out and it’s all grassy and you’re just like, “Yeah!” You know.
G: Do they let you walk it before you ride it?
D: Oh, yeah. You can walk it. We usually got there on Friday, and we would walk the track Friday night, then Saturday morning you show up at about 8:00, 8:30, we usually stayed in a guesthouse.
G: Oh. You seriously have got to come to Chehalis, ‘cuz that’s just what they do.
G: And all the big names, Dick Mann, usually helps lay out the track, and they just rope it off and you start riding and that sets the track.
D: Yeah. That’s the way it was there.
G: I went last year. I didn’t race it. I went to it and got seriously hooked on the vintage scene, having ridden a lot as a kid.
D: But anyways, so you have practice on Saturday and that lasted about three or four hours, and then finish up and you’re working on the bikes and getting everything set. Then everybody, you know, a bunch of friends would go down and they’d have dinner at this restaurant or whatever and we’d stay at the guesthouse.
G: So were you getting pretty good at German then by this time?
D: I was starting to learn. By the time I ended, I could understand everything that they were talking about and I could speak enough German that I could get whatever I wanted to get across, so it worked out really well. And the Germans always – it’s kind of funny: the Germans always wanted to practice their English on you, because they just wanted to keep it up. The Belgians, if you were in Belgium, they didn’t speak a word of English to you because they thought, “You’re in my country. You’ve got to speak my language.” And they’ll come to Germany and they’ll talk English all day long, but if you’re in Belgium, they won’t talk to you in English. It’s just the way they are.
G: That’s funny. National pride.
D: So, anyway, you show up Sunday morning. You have another hour after you’ve got everything dialed in. You have another hour to practice. They send you off in groups of 20 or 30, and then you have time trials, and they would take 33 guys and they would line you up and they would send you off in 10-second intervals. They would time you for three laps, and you had to go four laps . . .
G: Say that one more time? How many guys lined up?
D: Thirty-three. Ten seconds apart, and they would time you. You had to go four laps. They only timed the first three, but the fourth lap was to show you could make it four laps around the track. Now, the Moto’s were 30 minutes. Each year it changed a little bit; usually 30 minutes. We had one year that we did forty minutes motos.
G: I’ve done one at Saddleback park in Southern California when I raced as a kid.
D: And I was in the last laps and it was, like, holy smokes. You know? It’s like, is this race ever gonna end?
G: We did 30-minute Moto's regularly in Southern California, and then they did a 40-minute one at least once or twice. And it’s, you get off, and your hands are like claws.
D: Oh, yeah.
G: I mean, physically, I couldn’t open my fingers. You know, you’re just locked to the bike.
D: It’s grueling. So, anyway, they would do the time trials, and you’ve got a hundred riders in each class, and the top, usually it was the top 40, made the grid.
G: Wow. So that’s the cut to qualify?
D: Yeah. Everybody else goes home. You don’t get to race.
G: But they get to watch?
D: Yeah. They can watch, and you never paid an entry fee.
G: Oh, really?
D: You got paid start money. If you made the grade, they paid you. They paid you per kilometer how far you had to come to get to the race. There was a rate, and it usually paid for your gas. That was it. And then the top 10 would get win money.
G: How did they fund that pool of money?
G: OK. Corporations and . . .
D: It’s not like SIR or Washougal where an entity owns that track and that’s their business. This was a volunteer thing that they did all around every year, and they only raced once a year in each track and they weren’t practice tracks or anything like that.
G: And no one got to get an upper hand by practicing a certain track a lot?
D: No. No one got to get an upper hand by practicing, so it was basically a volunteer organization of that community that put on the race every year.
G: And I’ll bet every country had a similar structure?
D: Yeah. They all did.
G: So their own nationals.
D: Grand Prix’s, it was a little more organized, and the crowds were amazing. I wish I could find, and I’m gonna find them, those pictures of that Grand Prix we talked about Falta. Because I’ve got a picture standing at the top of the track looking down over the layout on Saturday morning when there’s hardly anybody. They were on a practice day, and then Sunday it’s shoulder-to-shoulder people; the whole countryside. It’s just amazing to see how many people were there.
So, anyway, you do your time trials and the top 40 get to race, and the way you pick your start position is by where you stand after the time trials. First place gets to pick where he wants to be, and most of the gates were fall away, you know, the long rail fall away gates.
G: Jumpable gates?
G: I jumped one once at Saddleback.
D: I always got to where I could see the guy that was stepping on the lever.
G: Oh, that was my trick. I was a good starter, and I would anticipate like, all right if his hand is just about at that lever, I could go, and I’d be the one to knock the gate down. I had a 250 Elsinore I raced mostly. I raced a number of different bikes, but if there was something I was good at it was starting, but I was never a real winning rider. All my friends would finally get by on their Maico's and high quality bikes.
D: So, anyway, to back up, I went from not being able to qualify, just not being fast enough to qualify, and Tim was qualifying for the races and I was the fastest qualifier after one experience. After one experience!
G: Do you mean going to a race and not making the cut?
D: No. The experience was going to that Grand Prix in Switzerland and watching Falta, and I just studied Falta. I studied everything he was doing. I stuck to him like glue. I watched everything he was doing.
G: So did you move around the track as the race was going, then?
G: So you were just fighting your way through crowds?
D: Oh, yeah. I was all over the place, and Tim went with me. We were driving down there. My folks had a Volkswagen station wagon. We were going to camp in the back, and there were three of us going, and Tim forgot his passport, so he couldn’t go to the race. At the border, he had to hop on a train and go home. He didn’t make it to the race, and the other two of us made it to the race. We just camped out in the back of the Volkswagen.
So, anyway, I came back after watching Falta, and I learned so much just by watching. We went out to practice, and all of a sudden I went from squid to fast guy. And Tim was, like, “What the heck got into you?” So then we go to a race and we took off and it didn’t equate to me – I was number 61 and Tim was number 60, and he took off 10 seconds in front of me in the time trials and then I took off. Well, by the second lap I was on his tail, and we had passed three or four guys, both of us, and we just freight trained for the rest of the time trials. It didn’t click to me that I was that much faster. I was 10 seconds faster than he was now, or 9 seconds.
G: Because you got right up on his tail?
D: Because I got right up on his tail, and we just freight trained.
D: So, anyway, we get done, and I’m walking around, and I’ve got the start number on. I was talking to some friends and all these Germans were looking at me and pointing and everything else, and I’m, like, what’s this about?
G: Where did this American come from?
D: You know, and I had the number on there. Well, Tim and the sponsor, Horst Shultz, come walking up to me and they go, and Horst is saying something in German. I have no idea what he’s talking about, and Tim says, “Yeah. You’re quite something today, huh?” And I’m, like, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “You haven’t seen the results of the time trials?” I said, “No.” He says, “You’re fast guy by nine seconds. I was second and the guy that won the national championship that year was third.” I go, “You’re kidding me.” He goes, “No. Go take a look.” So we went up and they post it on this big board, and I’m like, “Holy smokes.”
Well, push came to shove, and after the first three laps of the race, I’m moving up and I lunched my transmission. So I ended up with two gears. I think I had third and fourth gear for laps 4, 5 and 6, and then it just gave up the ghost, and I was on fire. I was just hauling, so I ended up riding in the 500 class on a Maico that I hadn’t ever ridden before. It just wasn’t happening.
G: So your normal bike was a 250 CZ, then?
D: Right, it was a 250 CZ.
G: Let me establish a year. That was ’74, then?
D: That was ’75, actually.
G: What year CZ was it?
D: Well, I have some pictures. You were talking about a bike with a BSA tank?
D: Mine had a BSA tank and Maico forks. In fact, I’ve got some pictures.
G: Now you’re referring to the BAS tank. My friend CJ up here in the Northwest has one on a mostly CZ with Maico forks.
D: My bike had Maico forks, and Tim’s bike had Ceriani’s.
G: Wow. These are awesome shots. So was this that same first race?
D: Yeah. This is the first race.
G: I’m on this CZ discussion group, Cousin Weedy’s. It’s basically a bunch of CZ addicts, and we discuss Motocross and every aspect of vintage, and there was just a discussion about people changing parts and stuff. CJ’s bike is Maico front end, Yamaha hub, and it’s an aftermarket frame. CMS, I thought he said, or maybe somebody else, 400 CZ motor, and it’s a very nice bike. Very good components.
D: There’s a better picture of the CZ’s. Mine is the red fender. Tim’s is the white fender.
G: Wow. Red frames. These are both 250’s?
D: Both 250’s.
G: Radial heads. Awesome! They look just like mine. As I mentioned, mine’s a ’74 bottom end, ’73 top end, ’73 frame.
D: So this track was in a quarry, and I mentioned the side cars. They had side cars going up this race.
G: I’ve seen numerous sidehacks at the Saddleback and Carlsbad races. The hacks are always part of it.
D: But those other pictures I showed you were at the top of this hill, and this is at the far end of the track. This is looking down from the top of the hill, and it just drops off, so just this big sandy hill that just drops off into that valley.
G: Yeah. That sand looks neat to ride in.
D: But I’ve got some pictures to show the hill going up on the other side, and it is just incredible.
G: This looks like a Yamaha. It looks like a YZ, the yellow one?
D: No. Oh, that’s a bike I want to tell you about. That’s a Kramer Maico. It was a custom-made Maico that this guy named Kramer used to custom build.
(wife comes in and is introduced)
He made a cantilever rear swing arm, and there were two shocks that were up underneath the seat. They were, you know, Maico’s at that time were like $1400-$1500 bucks. These bikes cost about $3500. They were handmade and really fast, and this guy, he won the national championship that year. He only had one eye.
G: Really? So he didn’t have good depth perception?
D: No, and he would ride like this. We used to crack up, because he would just motor along with one eye. I got beat by a one-eyed German.
So, anyway, had a really good race, that one, and then I finished out qualifying the rest of the year, but I really didn’t have any standings, and Tim ended up second to Manfred in the overall for that year.
G: OK. National champs.
D: Yeah. 250, and Tim wanted to race international the next year, and our sponsor didn’t want him to race international. What they did was, they had a group north and a group south, and they had, it’s called N-loff or N-race, and they would take the top 15 from the north and the top 15 from the south and you’d all race with each other. That determined who was the overall champion for the year.
G: Wow. That race.
D: Yeah. Tim wanted to race that race. I didn’t qualify for it. I wasn’t in the top 15 in ’75, and our sponsor said no. He didn’t want him to race that race, because he wanted him to race nationals again the following year. He was like, “No. I want to race that race.” He says, “Well, I’m not giving you a bike.” So another friend of ours that had a Maico said, “Ride my Maico.”
So Tim went and he got second overall in the 250 for ’75, but he was riding a Maico in the N-loff rather than the CZ that he had all set up. So I think if he would have had a CZ, he would have beat the guy.
So, anyway, that ended and the guy was so pissed he didn’t want to sponsor us anymore, so Tim bought a Maico and I actually got sponsored by the Bultaco importer.
G: Oh, no kidding? But you had to switch sides shifting?
D: Actually, no. In ’76, the Bultaco shifted on the left side. They made that a standard, but it wasn’t a very good bike, so I rode Bultaco’s for a while. Tim was riding the Maico and he crashed and he broke his collarbone and he just got disenchanted and he came back to the states. He had gotten out of the Army and decided that he wanted to come back to the states. He’s kicking himself for not staying. I’m kicking myself for leaving when I did. If he stayed there, I would have stayed there.
D: Then he goes with Malcolm Smith to Baja, to New Zealand, to Chile every year, and every year he gets flown back in a cast.
W: The tire went flat, so therefore he had to be Medivac’d because he was so broken.
D: He broke his tib/fib in Chile and had to get operated on. He came back, was shipped back to Malcolm’s house, and the guy that does McGrath and all the pros did his leg. He was desert racing five, six years ago out in Eastern Oregon and bailed off in the middle of the race and broke his hip, got airlifted. His blood pressure was down to 60. He went to New Zealand two years ago and was on the first day of the ride, just coming back in the parking lot and bumped this rock. Fell off and broke his femur. Now his leg on one side is an inch shorter than the other one. It’s like this black cloud is over his head, and he’s three years older than I am.
W: He’s a walking mess.
D: But he’s a happy mess.
D: There are a couple of key things that happened with me with KTM. I was getting to be one of the fast guys, and the first race of the year I qualified in the top five. There was a double jump. Double jumps back then, this was in ’76, were few and far between. I was jumping it in practice. Well, came the start of the race, I was in about 4th or 5th place, and I was the only one that was double jumping it. I had some friends that were watching. They said nobody else was doing this, so I came around and there was a corner and a guy in front of me and it looked like he was going to take my line, so I started to back off, and then he cut over to take it someplace else. I thought, “Oh, hell. I can make this.” So I gassed it and I didn’t make it. I cased the second one and I stuck my foot out to balance me and boom, I got a compression fracture in my knee. It hurt right then. I come off it and I was like, oh, man. I picked up my leg and I just stuck it on the foot peg, and I motored back. I had a mechanic then who was American, and I motored back into the pits.
G: This was during the race it happened, though, or practice still?
D: Yeah. It was like the first lap of the race, and I motored back into the pits and this race was way up in northern Germany. I mean, we traveled four or five hours to get to it. I come back in the pits and my mechanic comes in and, “What are you doing?” I said, “I busted my knee.” He’s looking at me. I’d already parked the bike and I’m sitting down drinking some Hawaiian Punch or something, and he’s like, “Nah.” I went, “No. I busted my knee. I’ve got a problem.” So he said, “OK. What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, we need to load up and I need to go to the hospital back in Manheim.” Actually, it was in Heidelberg.
So, anyway, we loaded up and I got in the back of the van, we had a bed behind the seat. I had a Chevy van, and by the time we got back to Heidelberg, my leg had just seized up in a bent position. I could not straighten it out. So I went in and they were gonna . . .
G: You didn’t ice it or anything?
D: No. So we got back. It was a four-hour drive, and I go into the hospital, and they wanted to take x-rays and they tried to straighten it out and they couldn’t straighten it out, so they put me in traction. They put the traction way down and boom, it straightened out. Well, they never took x-rays again, and there were three pieces of bone that were motoring around in there that had flaked off the surface of the joint, so six weeks later I started racing again. KTM I wasn’t real happy with. I got an opportunity to race Maico, so I jumped at the Maico.
G: Who was sponsoring?
D: Actually, it was kind of funny. It was an Italian motorcycle shop owner in the town that I lived in that I had known the whole time I was there. I would always hang out there and do little odd jobs for him and stuff. This guy built world class 24-hour road racers. What happened was, he got the mechanic that worked for R&D for Maico to come to work for him to work on some road bikes for Maico. A lot of people didn’t know that Maico had street bikes. They were building a race bike, a 250 cc race bike, and he said, “This guy has got an idea for a Maico dual carburetor bike that he’ll build the engine; I’ll pay for it, and we’ll just go from there.” And I’m like, sure, I’ll ride it. I’ll ride anything . . .
G: The Italian was going to pay for it? I mean, not your money?
D: Right, and the deal was, I bought a stock Maico, a stock 250, and they would build the engine, their cost, out of that, and if I decided that I didn’t want to ride that and wanted to be done with it, we’d put the stock – he would get me a new motor, either a 250 or a 400. The frame was the same.
G: So what year Maico are we talking about?
D: ’77. So this guy built, he took the 250 bottom end and he cut above the transmission down into the cylinder out and built a handmade reed valve. I told you about this the other day?
D: He took the ignition cover off and behind the ignition he built a rotary valve, handmade, and I’ve got (his wife hands him the photo album). I need those glasses, dear. This was the Maico.
D: This picture here is at the top of this hill that these people are all standing. It goes up here and it was a series of ledges that you jump up and then you motored off and you did some stuff over here. It came all the way down the back, and then you did a lot of this.
G: Look how wide it is!
D: Yeah. That’s a big track, and this is, they just spread the manure on that and none of the spectators are standing on it.
G: Oh, my gosh. I bet that thing screamed.
D: It was so fast.
G: Was it pipey?
D: No, not at all.
D: That’s me on a Bultaco, and those pictures were taken by David Maltey, who is the Grand Prix photographer for Motocross Action. He was a good friend over there. He took a lot of these pictures.
G: Wow! He’s a great photographer. Gee.
D: This is the Maico, and you can see the carburetor and the tube going into the rotary valve.
G: Yeah. Wow.
D: I think if you took like a magnifying glass, you could see the other carburetor, but it was a 32-millimeter Mikuni.
G: Where was the second carburetor?
D: It was right next to it.
G: And they both fed the same tubes?
D: Yes. It went into a reed valve. And what they did was it had two induction systems, and this came from Puch. This wasn’t a new idea. Harry Everts before he rode for Suzuki, rode for Puch, and they had a 250 and a 500 machine that were handmade, and they had two carburetors, and they would run a rotary valve and a reed valve. There were only a handful of these bikes in the world, and there was a German guy, and I think it was Herbert Schmitz . . .
G: So the reed valve is going into the cylinder as normal and the rotary valve on the side into the bottom end?
D: Right, and it was metered and all thought out and figured out and everything and it put out, they put it on a Dyno, and you could universally switch from open bike to 250 without changing the carburetor, without changing anything. In fact, they used the same exhaust pipe. It was a 76, 250 down pipe that we used for it. I tried using a Wheelsmith. You can see I’ve got a Wheelsmith pipe on there.
G: Right. I had one on my 250.
D: And I seized it. That pipe was up by the cylinder, and we had, like a lot of people did, shaved the back fins off to make it look cool. Well, what happened was, you didn’t have the cooling, and during practice, this was the last championship race that I was in. That’s where these pictures are from. During practice, I seized it, so we took the Wheelsmith pipe off and we put the down pipe on and put a new piston in it and it was fine. And what was funny was, I was in a race with Adolph Weil’s shop rider for the championship, and I blew a crank seal, which was a common thing for the Maico’s. The seals on the left side for the crank shaft would blow out, and you would, you know, it would race and do all kind of stuff. Well, I needed a crank seal. I’m at the race track. It’s Sunday. There isn’t a motorcycle shop that’s open and I don’t have a spare one.
G: You didn’t carry a spare at all?
D: Yeah, and here’s a guy that if I lose this race, he wins the championship, and he comes over and he gives me – he heard I needed it – and he gives me a crank seal. So I put that in and I won the race, so it was pretty cool.
G: That’s noble.
D: Yeah. I got Fox shocks from Lackey, because he was racing Honda for the World Championship this year, and he and his wife Laurie had just had Leah, their daughter, and they needed baby food and diapers, American stuff. They were in Frankfurt, right up the street from where my club meeting was, so Tuesday night he would give me a call, tell me what he needed. I would go to the commissary because I had commissary privileges working for Raytheon. He liked Hawaiian Punch. I would get a case of Hawaiian Punch or two and I would get them baby food and I would get them diapers, and I would bring that stuff up to the Honda importer in Offenbach, Germany, and drop it off with him and he’d say, “OK. What do you need?” At one time, I said, “You know, I’d really like to get some Fox shocks for the Maico,” and he said, “Done.” He was going back to do some testing in the U.S., and he comes back and hands me Fox shocks. So I had the Fox shocks on there.
G: And they were sprung good relative to the angle of the shocks?
D: You know, they were better than what was out there. What I had to do, we didn’t have a compressor that went high enough for the high compression chamber. There were two different chambers, so I had to go to Offenbach, because they were running Fox shocks on the factory Honda, and have them charge the shocks for me. But the funny part was, Honda was, you know, the factories were all real secretive about looking inside their motorcycles. I was hanging around with Brad at the Grand Prix’s and stuff, but when they worked on the head or whatever, the Honda, they would pull it into a tent, close the doors, “Sorry. You can’t come in.” And that’s fine.
G: It’s their thing.
D: But the first time I had to get these shocks charged, I bring this dual carburetor Maico up to the Honda importer, and those Japanese guys went nuts – “what is that?” And Maroso, the Italian guy that owned the motorcycle shop, and the German mechanic, said, “You’re going to Honda to get these shocks charged. You do not show them the inside of this engine.” You know, they wanted to take it apart right there, and I said, “Sorry. You can’t. I need the shocks charged, but you guys can’t look at the motor.”
G: Yeah. That’s reverse engineering. But you can just see in externals, they could work it back from there.
D: But what the deal was is, it was a 250 bottom end which meant it was the 250 stroke. We got a 440 top end, and they milled down that cylinder to the 250 stroke so that we could put the 440 cylinder on it, and it made it a 370 with the bore and stroke. Or we could just take the 250 top end and put it on there and I could run it in either class just changing the piston and the cylinder. I ran the same exhaust pipe, and they took it to Maico, stuck it on a Dyno. It had five more horsepower on the 250 than Hans Maisch’s Grand Prix bike.
G: The best the Maico factory could do?
D: Right. It had four more horsepower than Adolph Weil’s Grand Prix 400.
G: Wow. That’s a significant percentage, too.
D: It was. It was so fast.
G: But what kind of power band?
D: Beautiful. Smooth.
G: Good from the bottom end, I guess, because of the reed valve?
D: Good from the bottom up. It was as smooth as glass. It just would go. There was one race that I got off last, I was racing another 250 and then racing this bike. Actually, I was racing an open bike.
G: It must have just been a slaughter. You must have just pulled everybody . . .
D: Well, I was racing. I was laughing at Brad, because we were at a Grand Prix in Belgium, and a friend of his came from the states. It was the last Grand Prix of the season. This guy’s name was Whimpy. That was his nickname. He had Whimpy’s Janitorial Service, and he and Brad had been friends for years. Whimpy is telling me this story about Brad when he first got on Kawasaki down in California. He said he’s got a picture of Brad at the start of this race in Carlsbad or Saddleback or some place, but coming around the top of the first corner, on the pegs and the slide, just looking back with this big shit-eating grin on his face, because he was so far out in front of everybody else.
G: There’s a really good story about Brad Lackey online, and he goes into that bike about how dominant it was; power and handling.
D: Well, I had the same thing here. I could take off last and be first to the first turn, and those guys were just shocked but I had a KTM that was just as awesome. That guy, Maroso, the Italian guy, before I got the Maico going and I still had the 250 KTM, and I said, “You know, it’s good. I’d like to be a little bit faster.” He says, “Take it apart. Give me the cases and the cylinder and the piston and we’ll make it way fast.”
OK, so I give it to him and I get it back in a week, and I put it back together and I head for this race, and it was like an open bike.
G: And it was a 250?
D: It was a 250. In fact, Horst Mueller, our club president, was at the race, and he’s an international rider. I told him, “Horst, ride this bike and tell me what you think it is,” because he knew I was in the 250 class. He takes off. He was just in a field along the track, and he takes off and he comes back and he goes, “You can’t ride that.” He says, “It’s a 250 class. You’ll get disqualified. They’ll take your license away. You can’t.” I said, “It’s a 250, Horst.” “No!” I said, “It’s a 250.” And it was so screaming fast, it was just unreal.
With that bike at that race, what I remember about that race is I ran over one of those $3,500 Kramer Maico’s, because this guy wouldn’t get out of the way. I’m leading the race, I’m motoring around and I’m coming up to lap this guy, and they’re holding out the flag to pull over, and he’s not pulling over. All of a sudden he decides he wants to race with me. He’s in front and I tap his rear tire. It freaks him out, he falls down and I run over the bike, rip the tank and the seat off, I run over him, and off I go. And we get done with the race and he’s like, “What the hell did you do that for with my brand new bike? You ruined it.” I said, “You saw the flag. I saw you look at him, and you didn’t pull over.” So I was just gone. They thought I was just the crazy American boy.
G: Oh, God. This accounting I’m referring to about Lackey. It’s the year before he won the World Championship, and he was leading going into one of the final races, and there was, I forget the guy’s name, but I think another Belgian rider on a Honda.
G: And DeCoster was riding Honda, too, and wouldn’t pass the guy, and the guy was center punching Brad because Brad was ahead, and he was trying to take him out. Oh! What a story. I’ll send you the link.
D: Yeah. It was rough. You don’t back off over it.
G: You’ll love this story. It’s really good.
D: Does he usually come up to the Chehalis?
G: Yeah. He goes to everything.
D: I’m going to have to go to that, then.
G: Oh, you definitely should. He and Pomeroy go to almost everything. Every big event I’ve been to, they’ve been there.
D: That was kind of funny when I came back to the states after the ’77 season. The TransAm was going, and I’d met these two guys at a Grand Prix from Connecticut, which is originally where I’m from, and they were motocross nuts, and they were just over. They went to the Grand Prix to see it, and I started talking with them, and I told them I’m coming back to Connecticut. They’re like, “Here’s our number! Look us up.” I brought this bike with a stock 400 motor back with me.
G: Did they keep that motor? They wouldn’t let you take it?
D: No. They wouldn’t let me take it. That was an RD motor. I wouldn’t want it. I mean, if something went wrong with it, there was no way I could fix it. Everything was handmade. They even hand-ground the crank. It was blubbering when we first got it put together.
G: Way too much gas coming in?
D: . . . and it was loading up and everything and I’m like what the heck’s going on and everything. We changed the jetting. It was too lean, wouldn’t run, and everything else, and then the mechanic goes, “Huh! I know what it is.” And he takes the carburetors off, and he knows I had another bike there that I could ride, and I’m riding. He comes back and I go, “What did you do?” He unscrews the carburetor and he takes the needle out and he machined the needle.
G: Really? Wow!
D: He showed it. This is stock one and he said, “Look at this one.” It was thinner. It was a different taper, and he put it in there and the thing ran like a raped ape. It would just go.
G: Wow. That’s good mechanics.
D: Yeah. Well, there was an article in Motocross Action that Jody wrote years ago.
G: Jody who?
D: Jody Weisel that, you know, he used to do these comedic articles about things, and this article happened to be the difference between the Japanese and some Germans who were given the task of making this stock motor fast, and he went through the scenario of how they did this. He says, well, the Germans, “OK. Get another case of beer and I need a chisel and a hammer.” And the Japanese were like, “OK, Our computer technicians put this into the big computer,” and all this other stuff, and it’s so true.
The Germans, if you needed something done, suspension work done or an engine or something, they had this underground of fanatics that worked on this stuff. You would show up at his house, and you’d go down in the basement. There was one guy I remember. He was a Montesa nut. And it was just Montesa engines and parts and it was as far as you could see, and anything you needed done. A friend of mine rode Montesa. Anything you needed done got done. Well, it was the same thing with this stuff. You know, you’d show up, you needed something done, like the wheels. We had wheels that were turned. They just took the wheels apart and to save weight, turned the cooling ribs on the hubs for the Maico's, turned them down, smooth them out, polish them and put them back on. But we broke a couple so we decided that’s probably not a good idea.
So, anyway, this was the last race that I did. This was on a KTM. David took a picture of that. That’s on the 250. This was in practice. I had a lot of these CZ jerseys, so in practice I used the CZ jerseys and then I used the other race ones for when I needed to. You’d definitely go through some of these, but that’s basically the synopsis. I went over on the Suzuki, got picked up by this German on the CZ. From the CZ I went to Bultaco, then to KTM and then I ended up on Maico. The guys in my club kept saying, “You know, you get on a Maico, you’re going to beat everybody. You’re going to win.”
To be Continued in the next issue of McCookRacing!
Click here for Part 2