MR Interviews VMX Race Promoter Curtis Harper
by Randy Smith #24
First of all, how about a brief introduction? We all know you as Curtis Harper race promoter of the highly successful Missouri Vintage Moto Cross Series (MOVMX). Please tell us a little more about your self such as age, wife kids and stuff like that.
Just an average white guy. 41 married to Sherri Lynn for pert near 14 years. She brought Logan with her and then later gave me the greatest gift of all with Kala. Three dogs, one cat and a fish named Thud. Live in suburbia, doin the grind.
What was your first memorable moment that involves a motorcycle or mini bike?
I guess it would be fair to say that my first memorable moment is really only memorable for my parents as I don’t remember back that far. Legend has it that some time in 1964 when I was barely walking and could not yet speak, (A time in itself that my parents cherish), my father came home from work on his 1962 Greeves Scottish. As my mother had me out on the front porch when he pulled up, I just pointed at the motorcycle and screamed to the top of my lungs. Stomping my feet, screaming and pointing, my father reached down, picked me up, put me on the gas tank and I immediately shut up. Looking up at my father I pointed forward and started jumping up and down. The rest is history.
Curtis's first set of wheels
Who was the biggest enabler that helped you get your first machine?
In 1965 my father and grandfather built me a mini bike out of a Schwinn bicycle frame and a Sears two cycle lawnmower engine. I still have that bike to this day, plus the helmet I wore back then. My father sold it once a long time ago and immediately regretted it. Bought it back as soon as he found it again. I guess he started me in both riding and having the sickness that barely allows me to ever sell a motorcycle from my collection.
Did you race in your younger years? If so, how old were you, what did you ride and how did you do that first time?
Not really until I was sixteen. Raced once way back when at KCIR on a JT1 Yamaha some where in the early seventies. My dad wasn’t really much into the racing thing. Just liked to ride. He really was more of a road-riding guy, but always made sure my brother and I had dirt bikes to ride. We got a 78 YZ 125 in on trade for something when I was sixteen, had a guy working for us that raced, he said take that thing and lets go. So I went. Agency was my first race that I really remember. I sucked.
Ready to race his KX Rocket
We understand that you have Road Raced on a Vintage Hodaka and participate in Hare Scrambles and of course Vintage MX (when you have time). What type of racing do you like the best if time and money were no object? What bike would be your choice for that event?
If I was to say that I had to choose a certain discipline, I couldn’t do it. My favorite type of racing is just like anybody else I guess. Put me on any track with my friends and a full tank of gas, and I am a happy guy.
However I am lucky to have been able to race almost every type of motorcycle race you can imagine. Besides Motocross, I have Road raced a bit, Hare scrambles, some Flat track, Trials and an enduro or two. Throw in some hill climbs and all I can say is it is all fun. I can’t pick one. That would be the good side to having a dad in the business who just liked to ride for fun and not much into the racing part. As far as a bike of choice, just give me one that’s running, I’ll make the best of it from there. I must say I have never been a true brand loyalist to anything.
Have you participated in other forms of motorized competition like racing Cars, Boats, and ATV’s? If so what, and if not would you like to?
Most automotive racing involved flashing lights so that career was pretty short. Don’t much care for water and four wheels are made for hauling Dirt Bikes to the racetrack.
Besides motorcycles, what is your other interest? What would you be doing if not for motorcycle related activities?
I have no clue what I would be doing if it weren’t for motorcycles. Probably starring repeatedly on the hit Fox series “Cops”
Harper Family on race day
We understand that your Mother and Father own and operate Harpers Moto Guzzi in Greenwood Missouri and you work there. Has this always been the case, you growing up in the cycle business? Tell us about some of the bikes you were dealers for and how that has changed over the years. Tell us the funny stuff along with the tough side of the business. Most people think that would be a job to dream of but what would be the truth of the business?
I was in second grade when my father had just plain had enough of working for “The Man”. He was already doing tons of motorcycle repair in the garage every night after work, so my grandfather helped him build a new building in Raytown back in 1969 and he opened the shop in 1970 starting with Hodaka’s, shortly there after picked up Norton, Triumph, BSA, Moto Guzzi, Ducati, GRM and Speedway Mini Bikes. Picked up Yamaha in 1978. Most of those brands died a slow and painful death except Yamaha and Moto Guzzi. Yamaha was a huge pain in the keester, so my father told them to take a hike in 1983. Since then it’s been only Moto Guzzi.
The funny stuff: Man there are tons of things. I can remember when Armor All was brand new and they didn’t tell people not to put it on seats. Every one was setting around having a cool one after work and using the Armor All on the bikes. Some one decided to make a beer run with a passenger to hold the beer. Well let’s just say a smoky burnout, a wheelie and a drunken passenger on a slick seat made for quite the acrobatic show.
There was the mechanic who was told not to be doing wheelies up the driveway towards the shop. When he decided to do one on a flat tracker with no brakes and took out the garage door, he was sent along his way. However the owner of the bike ended up buying a new bike anyway so we parted out the smashed up one.
The moped races around the shop were always fun until the day I had to bermshot off the lathe, that one hurt.
As far as the though stuff, the same as any family working together for 30+ years.
Truth is if you truly love riding motorcycles; don’t get in the motorcycle business, at the end of the day you don’t even want to look at them anymore. That is why you won’t see me selling vintage MX parts, accessories or apparel or anything related unless it’s a special deal that I can pass along. I love the sport of vintage MX and I don’t want to destroy my hobby by being a vintage MX dealer.
Curtis flying on his CZ
Do you do your own repair work on your race bikes and what do you farm out to others?
I do most all of my own work. Machine shop services like boring and aluminum welding, I send out. But most of it I do myself, or at least it is done in house. If time is short I ask one of my mechanics to prep a bike or two. But I don’t like doing that too much. I find that I am more comfortable knowing that if it comes apart, it’s on me.
What year did you first attend a Vintage Motorcycle Race and how did you hear about it? What was the attendance at that race?
I was in the US Air Force at Peterson AFB, CO in 1985. We were snowed in with no riding to be done as I only had a street bike at the time. The only reading material I had at the time was a motorcycle magazine of some sort. In that magazine was and ad for Daytona Bike Week in March. The next morning I put in for leave, got on my bike and rode to Florida. Most of the week was the party as expected, but I went to the Daytona International Speedway, watched a few vintage road races, and was immediately hooked. That was back before there was a vintage organization. The vintage bikes had a few classes of their own thrown in with the mix of moderns. As far as attendance? It was Daytona. I guess it was actually 10 years after that before I actually got on a track on a vintage bike and that was Daytona. What a blast. One thing everyone should do if they like road racing is do Daytona at least once. That first race was on a Bultaco 250 Metralla took 16th out of 32. Did the road race thing for a couple years. First Vintage MX was an AHRMA Midwest regional at Collins, MO back in 1998. Had just bought out about 20 bikes from a Suzuki dealer who was moving and selling his collection, in that mess was a TS 250 with an MX conversion. Changed all the metal body parts for plastic, threw on a tire and had $76 in that bike when I went. I think there were about 75 entries at that one. The very first MOVMX event was two or three weeks later at that same venue. I missed the very first one, but have not missed a single MOVMX event since. Guess now I pretty much have to be there.
On the Road.....Race
What made you decide to take over the Missouri Vintage MX Series? What year was that?
A very good man named Jim Thompson actually started MOVMX. After a couple of years Jim’s interests changed from the promoter side back to the racer side. He started the series to play with his vintage bikes and ended up spending more time watching than riding. Well I am a bit more hyper than Jim and when he mentioned to me he was thinking about shutting it down because of the work involved and his desire for family time, the decision was not really one to make, it just seemed natural. I could not let this series and all of his efforts go down the drain. I took over after Jim’s two years in 2000.
Nationally the MOVMX Series has been watched by many eyes for its success’s and growth. With many of your events pulling in more entries than most regional and some National events why do you think your State series is so successful?
I am an egotistical jackass in my own rite. Also I never want to do anything that is anything less than an absolute blast. Put those together with a desire to be in the entertainment business since I was a kid. I can’t sing, can’t dance, my only birth given talent is the ability to destroy motorcycles at an inhumane rate. X+Y-Z= Wahoo. Pretty much if you come to a MOVMX event you are guaranteed a good time. Good times feed on their surroundings and it doesn’t get any better than here.
On the serious side of that question, I understand that if you are going to drive 200+ miles for ten laps of racing on a motocross track at $2.00 a gallon for gas plus food, lodging, gate, and then entry, the last thing you want is a rule book thumper telling you how to tighten your axle. You have come to an MOVMX event to relax and enjoy your playtime. I am going to make sure that happens if at all possible. However, if you’re the guy who revels in irritating others, you will be on your way rather quickly.
Also, the one luxury I have over all the other regional promoters involved with the national organization is I do not answer to a board. I am the responsible party. That gives me the ability to make changes on the fly. To add or subtract for the good of the whole. Anyone reading this that has a local series connected to a national organization, go thank the guy running it because I guarantee you he does a big bucket load of work you will never know about. And chances are he will never tell you.
One last thing is that I do actually work with the national vintage organization to keep things scheduled as to where they do not overlap. The fact that we are not part of a national organization does not mean we don’t recognize them.
In the beginning of MOVMX there were two support classes. One was called the Bomber Bikes, which is now known as Post Vintage, and the second class was a Vintage School Boy, which allowed the children of racers to participate on the same day as Dad. Then you added the 100cc Nationals on Memorial Day weekend over the last several years that allowed the adults to race the popular bikes of their youth. Currently there are growing numbers in all of these classes not only in Missouri but nationwide. Were you Missouri guys able to look into the crystal ball and see the future of motorcycle racing was or did you just do what came natural?
No magic ball, no palm readers, no magic potion, (well maybe some potion). The ability to change as change dictates without putting it to a vote is the key. If you have to wait for the debate, you can never seize the moment.
The factories and racers of these machines determined the future of vintage motorcycle racing many years ago. If you look at the numbers of entries and the types of machines in just the past 7 years of MOVMX it has pretty much mirrored the progression of the sport from 1968 to 1978 only done it a little quicker. People were having a blast back then but they wanted more power, better brakes, and longer suspension. In 1998, most all of the bikes were pre 74. Now even though we still have strong vintage numbers, many of the same guys from 1998 are riding Post Vintage bikes because we are old and like softer suspension. History is repeating itself right in front of us. All we have to do is roll with it and have fun. My main stopping point is that all bikes must be pre 1985 and no disc brakes.
Leading the MOVMX Banquet
Where do you see the future of Vintage and Post Vintage MX heading and do you see a slow down or end in sight?
I do not make predictions. Before sitting down to write the answers to this interview, I had to write an obituary for one of our riders and then send a sympathy card to another who lost his wife.
Motocross racing will always be here as long as there are people willing to take the risk to promote the events for the love of the sport. As far as the meaning of vintage and the machines involved, look at your local states laws on Vintage and Antique motor vehicles. They change all the time. If promoters aren’t willing to make changes, the sport will be doomed at their discretion.
What would you recommend to any other promoters that want to start up their own race series or make their series better?
Go to your local bike shops and explain to the parts guys what you are doing. Most motorcycle parts people work on commission. Explain to that guy that the weird looking old freak who comes in wanting a chain for something that kid has never heard of, has money. He doesn’t want a racer’s discount; he just wants his parts so he can go ride. Also explain to that parts person if he gives that fellow info on a place to tear up his bike, he will come back and spend more money. This means that the parts guy makes more money. (Yes you have to explain it to some of them) Then hand him your series flyer and say thanks for your time.
I have noticed that many districts or regions actually are trying to fight over the riders from one region to another. DO NOT enter into this. To grow your series, you want the guy who still has his bike in the basement. The guy who used to race but now only trail rides because he doesn’t like triple or doubles. You want that weird guy with a bike the parts guy hasn’t heard of. The guy who doesn’t know about how easy it is to get into vintage racing. Why? Because he is going to have a blast at your event, then go home and get his buddy and bring him next time.
Now for the fun stuff. What kind of music do you listen to and what CD or Tape is in your player right now?
Stevie Ray Vaughn, Three Doors Down, Fleetwood Mac, Velvet Revolver you never know. But nothing that makes me want to buy a pick up truck and a double wide.
How did the saying “Keep it Loud” that we see in the MOVMX Newsletter come about? (I have the feeling that it has nothing to do with motorcycle exhaust).
Just be around me when it’s party time!
Finally, who would you like to thank for anything what so ever? (family, friends, sponsors?)
Wow, that’s a long list. I guess the first one everyone involved with MOVMX should thank would be Jim Thompson for getting everything started. Then Probably Sherri Lynn (wife) for putting up with all that it entails to do this and then setting out there in the heat, dust, rain, mud and so on scoring the races. All of our series volunteers, Ron and Shelly Wells fopr always helping with scoring and sign up, Tom Fox for keeping up the website, Allen Sharp for always helping with starting duties, Gene “Metalhead” Haynes for general support and assistance in “Keeping it Loud”. Kim Truitt for many hours of Bobcat work. My parents for giving us a great place to hold events and many hours of groundwork on the track. I am sure there are many others as well that I should. As far as sponsors, every one of them needs thanks. Over the years, Dodge Trucks, Tucker/Rocky, Vanleuween Distributing, Michelin Tires, Wiseco, UNI filters, Motorcycle Stuff. The list is endless. But most importantly I guess would be to thank the participants of MOVMX. The attitudes they bring to the track, the sportsmanship, the responsibility for themselves, and the general desire for a relaxed race with fun times make it do-able for me. If things were like I have seen in many other types of competitive sport, I’d be trail riding.
Many thanks Curtis for your time and thoughts!