YG. AFM History 1970-1972

Posted 5/11/2015.

Note: I did not write this part of the AFM’s history. It was written for the Lap Times in 1978 by Dain Gingerelli (as you read the article keep in mind that when Dain says “now” he means back then). At the time I was active (1973-1979) I did not know Dain had been for a time the president of the L.A. Chapter. I knew him as a strong racer in the highly competitive 400 Production class. He has at least two Ontario 6-Hour titles in that class. I was delighted that he wrote this article as part in the AFM History series I was working on. I have slightly edited Dain’s story mostly for brevity. At the end of the 1969 season the AFM had, on paper, four chapters: St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a small chapter in Sacramento.

Into the Seventies, 1970-1972 by Dain Gingerelli

Dain and AlanDain (left) and Alan Gingerelli. They teamed up to win the 410 Production class in the 1977 Ontario 6-hour, taking their Rustan’s sponsored, John Lassik-tuned Yamaha RD350 to 5th overall, beating all other 410cc class bikes and quite a few larger ones as well. Photo by Mike Kauzlarich scanned from a ratty old Lap Times.

At the conclusion of the 1969 season, the AFM nearly folded. The three California chapters were separated both geographically and ideologically. Communications between north and south officers was minimal, and the St. Louis Chapter existed in name only. Most of the racing took place at Orange County International Raceway (OCIR) for L.A. Chapter events, and Vacaville for northern California members. Cotati was in near ruins. Both Cotati and Vacaville were abandoned airfields and had received no maintenance over the last few years.

Sears Point would not talk to the AFM. The track, so the ownership felt, was destined to become a “superdome” for AMA and sports car events. Ditto for Riverside and Ontario. About the only bright spot for 1970 was the formation of the Norton Gang. Three riders, Jack Simmons, Bill Manley, and the late George Kerker rode their Norton Commando 750s with limited sponsorship from Norton-Villiers Distributors at all OCIR events.. The trio put on some vicious displays of road racing and gave the L.A. Chapter president, Jim Manning, something to promote. The Norton Gang dominated racing in the Open Production and Open G.P. classes, rarely losing a race. Later John McGillivary and his Johnnys of Bakersfield BSA Rocket 3 750cc triple, and Rolan Pegan’s Triumph 750cc Trident added more seasoning to the stew.

Jim Manning pretty much took charge of the affairs for the L.A. Chapter, keeping the club meetings as low-profile as possible. His philosophy was to keep racing once a month, and leave politics at home. The less he had to worry about playing political chess with members and track owners, the more time and energy he would have to run AFM races. He was the chapter president and race director, a common policy in those years.

Mannings single-handedness to do things, and general membership apathy meant slow growth for the AFM. One good thing throughout this time was Manning’s ability to group together sponsorship – as limited as it was at the time – into providing free advertising or small support money for race events. Such companies as Gatorade, Castrol Oil, and Norton-Villiers annexed their names to L.A. Chapter events. Castrol Oil was also note-worthy for sponsoring the California Gran Prix, first held at OCIR November of 1968.

Cycle Guide magazine, under Bob Braverman’s editorship, helped the southern chapter promote a two-day event called the “Cycle Guide G.P.” in September 1971. Forty percent of the gate was paid to various classes. The main event was won by Hurley Wilvert on a 350 Yamaha. Howard Lynggard, a top west coast novice that year, was second, also on a Yamaha, with former Daytona 200 winner, Ralph White, riding a new Kawasaki 750cc H2 to third just ahead of Reg Pridmore on his Norton 750. White’s ride on the Kawasaki was the bike’s inaugural race. He won the Open Production class earlier in the day.

While Manning was busy promoting the sport of motorcycle road racing, gathering potential sponsors and pumping the Norton Gang, quite discreetly the Lap Times was created. Initially it was to be the official newsletter of the L.A. Chapter. The first edition appeared April 3, 1971. I was the editor the first year of publication. Manning wanted one issue every thirty days, to appear the week before each chapter meeting. The objective was to inform members – both north and south – of chapter meetings and stimulate interest for race events. As with today’s Lap Times members were encouraged to contribute letters, announcements of sponsors, and stories. Few did.

At the conclusion of the California Gran Prix in November 1970, Manning approached me and said he was resigning as L.A. Chapter President, and would assume responsibilities as amateur race coordinator for the AMA. He was to leave for Ohio by the first part of December.

Since he was calling all the shots for the southern chapter st the time, he asked if I would want to be president. Although I was hesitant at the time, he assured me I would have very little trouble gathering the votes for the office. It made sense as very few people wanted to help out, although there were several small groups, such as the corner marshals and tech crews who carried more than their share of the load.

The next month and a half was a true learning experience. Jim had revealed the financial books to me and things didn’t look too promising. He told me the track owners at OCIR would not allow the AFM to race there unless someone personally signed for all debts of a race day. Also the insurance program appeared a bit shaky, more than I wanted to risk my life and personal funds on. Finally, the checking account showed a credit balance of $90 and some change. It was a mess, and it clinched the presidency for me, although I didn’t really want it. Nobody else wanted to touch the jigsaw puzzle.

During the winter of 1971-72 Bill Cleghorn, the Chairman of the Board of the AFM (the National Chairman), had met with Russ March of the AMA and paved the way for the AFM to become an affiliate club of the AMA. It was a partnership/business package to help both organizations. The AMA would benefit by incorporating one of the largest road racing clubs in the country (and all those membership fees), in the hopes of establishing a means by which new road race stars could emerge, without creating congestion on AMA National tracks. Road racing, the AMA felt, was on the rise. They wanted a grass roots club for their minor league. For the AFM, the AMA provided a rather handsome insurance deal for track coverage. Also AMA riders had many hospital benefits the AFM could not provide. The deal looked good on both ends.

Jim Manning, out from Ohio on business, got me together with Bill Cleghorn and Gavin Trippe, from Trippe-Cox Promotions, at the Long Beach M.I.C. Show. Trippe-Cox, it was decided that evening, would promote all AFM races for 1972. At last I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. First, the insurance matter was settled with the AFM/AMA tie up. Second, since Trippe-Cox would promote the racing they, not I, would sign the bottom line of the track contract.

I called for chapter meetings, via the Lap Times, on February 10th 1972. There were several points I wished to discuss. I first talked about (a) Jim Manning had left and things didn’t look too solid. (b) The AFM had, indeed, hooked up with the AMA. I outlined the benefits and hoped the general membership would agree, because in reality the agreement rested on the votes of everybody in that room and in the northern chapter’s meetings. (c) Cleghorn had stepped down as National Chairman, and Trippe-Cox would promote our races. There was some grumbling about that, and I gave my reasons for why we should go with T-C, emphasizing the financial benefits. (d) The first race was scheduled, if all of the above was approved, for April. (e) General chapter elections must take place, to fill all offices: each chapter needed a president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary. [Other titles, like head turn marshal, chief tech inspector, or race director were not elected. Usually the first guy who volunteered was appointed.]

I was elected L.A. Chapter President with no opposition. Dave Roesch, a sidehack rider, was elected Vice President, Brad Grote served as treasurer, Gretchen Wall became our Secretary. These three, along with Gretchen’s husband Fred, and his friend Bob Crossman and girlfriend (now wife) Ninnette, all pitched in to help me and we began preparing for our first race of the season. [Similar things, I assume, were happening in the northern chapters.]

The chapter kitty was antied up with membership dues. AFM National got a certain portion and the chapters got the rest. We charged as much as we could to Tripp-Cox. The chapter bank account reached about $500 by the time I left office.

T-C didn’t want to promote races up north. Jerry Gordon, who was National Chairman after Cleghorn, kept in close touch with us and tried to keep a mutual relationship going among the chapters. The AFM had to act fast to stimulate north-south relationships. I felt the best thing to do was to promote a money race. I talked it over with T-C, and they didn’t seem too excited about sinking more money into the organization. The AMA rules, which we were governed by, required $2,600 (if I recall correctly) be posted for any professional event for novice and junior riders.

I had a friend, Gregg, who worked for a public relations firm who had several clients looking for something different for their advertising funds. Why not motorcycle racing I suggested. Great idea, Gregg thought, and went to work on several clients, certain that one would support his new idea. One did: Tastee Freeze. This chain of ice cream outlets was in the process of changing their name and logo to just plain “Tastee” and wanted to reach the youth market at the same time. I gave them my price and waited for an answer. They didn’t flinch and said “Let’s go!” The Tastee Grand Prix was set for mid-July of 1972.

This caught T-C off guard and also won the respect of the entire AFM membership. In less than four months we had increased the treasury five-fold and at the same time increased gate receipts at each event throughout the spring. When the July race showed over 125 entries we were ecstatic! As I recall, Ron Pierce won the main event at the Tastee Grand Prix.

GeorgeMillerCroppedGeorge Miller was AFM number 1 in 1972. Riding TR and TD Yamahas George captured both the 250cc and 350cc G.P. class titles to garner more points than any other G.P. class rider. Photo uncredited, scanned from a ratty old edition of the Lap Times.

I was especially pleased with the way things had turned out for us that spring. We reached our goals and managed to win the blessing and support of the San Francisco and Sacramento chapters, plus AFM National. I began making plans to resign as chapter president, at which time Dave Roesch would assume control and a new vice-president elected.

I dropped out of sight for the next two years, and became a starving auto racer, but that’s another story. During this time Brian Duran and Dick Lewis helped carry the chapter into an even more forceful role, while Bill Ralston and others did their share up north. The AFM owes these men quite a lot. They have formulated a standard of rules and procedures for incoming officers of the club, allowing the business of racing to continue without having to waste precious time organizing a program. 1972 was a pivotal year, in which the club began its transformation into a sound unified body. Membership has doubled and we now race on three of the best road courses in America. [Riverside, Ontario and Sears Point all began accepting AFM events in 1972 or 1973.] And what is most important is we do not have to depend on outside aid to support the club. That, more than anything, is the major difference between AFM 1978 and AFM 1972.

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