YJ. AFM History, 1965 through 1969.

Posted 3/30/2015

This history has been put together from a relatively small set of materials — letters, programs, photographs — that I had received in 1975. I was not personally involved on the AFM until 1973, so the story is based on these materials and whatever I could find on the internet. If you have better information please comment. I’ve already gotten some from Steve McLaughlin, whose father was one of the founders of the club that became the AFM.

Part three was originally published in the October 1977 issue of the AFM’s newsletter, the Lap Times)

If you haven’t already seen parts one and two, please read the page “YL. The History of the AFM — from Origin through 1964.”

Part Three: 1965 – 1969. The Rebuilding Years.

1965 was a pivotal year for the AFM. The collapse of AFM National when Wes Cooley resigned to start the rival ACA left the club badly disorganized and it could have been the end. Fortunately a group from the S.F. Chapter, led by Dee Davis, Brent Stockwell and Harry Webster, were willing to pick up the ball that Cooley had dropped. By February 1965 the club was re-incorporated with the state, a new set of Articles and By-Laws had been adopted and the chapters were working on their race schedules. The new By-Laws still had the Chairman appointed by the Board of Directors, but members of the Board of Directors were elected from within each chapter. The AFM appears to have started 1965 with three chapters; San Francisco, Sacramento, and the trials-oriented chapter in St. Louis, Missouri.

The new organization must have worked. By July of 1965 two new chapters had been added, Santa Barbara and the Bay Cities Motor Club. The BCMC was based in the San Francisco area but they ran scambles, not road races, so kept separate from the older S.F. Chapter. Later that year the Los Angeles chapter reformed and rejoined the club. The L.A. Chapter president was either John McLaughlin or Gene Wise. It’s not clear from my sources which one. Perhaps they each took a turn. Both men were part of the group of the original founders (Gene Wise is rumored to have been the first person to road race Yamahas in the U.S.). The club ran road races mostly at Cotati and Vacaville, with one race that year at Hanford and one at Santa Barbara. The 1965 Santa Barbara race was held jointly with a sports car club. That was the last AFM race at Santa Barbara as attempts to hold bike-only events at that track never worked out.

The AFM was not just a road race club during this period. The St. Louis chapter ran observed trials events, and the BCMC ran scrambles at Champion Speedway in San Francisco. In November 28th the club ran an enduro and on January 1st, 1966, there was an AFM Motocross!

In 1966 the National part of the AFM moved from San Francisco to Santa Barbara as a sidecar racing British gent named Reg Pridmore became Chairman of the Board. Things had settled down compared to the hectic 1965. The L.A. Chapter began running road races at Orange County International Raceway (OCIR) on a nearly monthly basis, with Jim Manning providing the organizational lead. In NorCal the S.F. Chapter ran road races at Cotati and the Sacramento chapter organized races at Vacaville. Both tracks were old airports and it appears that the Cotati site allowed for different courses by combining different runways and taxiways to form a circuit.

This was the basic pattern for the club during the years 1966-1967: road races at Cotati, OCIR and occasionally Vacaville. There’s no mention of the St. Louis Chapter during this time, so they either left the AFM or just kept doing their trials events. At some point in the early 1970s they did disappear from the AFM.

CotatiRon Grant feels pressure from Eric Dahlstrom in a 1965 race at Cotati. Photo by Mike Freeman.

The BCMC reported trouble finding new members as the AMA was putting pressure on dirt riders not to join “outlaw” clubs. The BCMC dropped out after 1966, at least in part due to this pressure. The suggestion was made that the AFM concentrate on road races since at that time the AMA didn’t care about European-style road racing and would not bother the members.

In 1967 a Las Vegas chapter was formed and the club held a road race at the small Stardust Raceway. The L.V. Chapter seems to have disappeared quickly as the only other race at Stardust was organized by the S.F. Chapter, it seems.

The L.A. Chapter ran a few races at Carlsbad Raceway as well as OCIR during these years. At one point they tried tying in with a motocross group to run motocross in the morning and road races in the afternoon at Carlsbad, but this setup didn’t last. The late Cal Rayborn, who would eventually become one of America’s best road racers, ran in some Carlsbad events, using them for development of the 350cc Harley Sprint racers.

Besides Rayborn, other names familiar to some of you started racing in AFM events, including Ron Grant, Tony Murphy and Don Vesco. Youngsters Art Bauman and Steve McLaughlin were beginning to appear more often near the top of the results sheets. In 1967 Reg Pridmore tried his hand at two-wheel racing with a Honda S90 in the 100cc G.P. class. In 1968 Hurley Wilvert was wining 350cc production events on a Bridgestone (yes, youngsters, Bridgestone made motorcycles back then), while Ron Pierce and Don Emde were racing against each other in the 250cc G.P. class.

By 1969 a new San Diego Chapter joined the AFM as the racing at Carlsbad increased interest in that part of California. The S.D. Chapter added something new to the AFM’s repertoire — speed trials, organized by the chapter in April of 1969 at Laguna Seca in Baja Mexico (not the one near Monterey, CA), although this appears to have been a one-time-only event. The Clerk of the Course was none other than Don Vesco. Vesco set a speed of 147.05 mph on a 350cc Yamaha, and apparently got the speed bug in a big way. He was a Bonneville regular for years after that, setting the absolute motorcycle speed record at over 300 mph. [In 1978 at 318.598 mph, a record that stood for 12 years.] It seems that the San Diego chapter faded away and didn’t renew in 1970.

The machines of the period showed that the dominance of the European and British bikes was fading. By the end of 1969 only the Open G.P. class was still a British stronghold. Elsewhere the winners were more and more often on Japanese machinery. In the lightweight classes there was some fairly exotic stuff. Honda twin cylinder racers were showing up, pukka race bikes not modified production motors. Double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder. Finishing charts show lots of races won by the CR-110 (50cc) and CR-93 (125cc) Hondas. Haruo Koshino had an ex-works Suzuki 50cc bike, with a 9 speed gearbox(!) and a top end of 105 mph. The Yamaha TD series racers were in production and Kawasaki came up with its A-1R for the 250cc class. Hopped up Honda 305cc Super Hawks were scoring well in the 350cc Production class and Suzuki Titans and CB450 Hondas were beginning to push the British bikes out of the 500cc G.P. class as well. The previously top bikes Norton Manx and Matchless G-50s were nearly gone and would soon disappear, only to be seen at shows and vintage races.

AFMhistoryPt3AHarry Webster checks who is following his Honda CR-93, a 125cc twin cylinder, double overhead cam, 4-valves-per-cylinder race bike. Very exotic stuff back then. Photo by Mike Freeman.

Another important trend during this period was the growing popularity of the Production classes. Introduced to the AFM in the early 1960s by the S.F. Chapter, Production class racing was seen as “support” to the G.P. classes, where the real racing took place. By the end of the 1960s Production racing was taken nearly as seriously as the G.P. classes, and the 250 mile Production class at Cotati was somewhat of a classic.

The late sixties was pretty volatile, with several chapters joining then disappearing. Starting with nearly nothing in 1965 the club seemed healthy and active. There were chapters in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and St. Louis, MO. Another measure of the club’s success was the depth of talent it held. The top ten G.P. riders for 1969 were:

1. Don Emde
2. Hurley Wilvert
3. Ron Grant
4. Rudy Galindo
5. Ron Pierce
6. Don Vesco
7. Ralph LeClerk
8. Art Bauman
9. Stan Smith
10. Jack Simmons

Of these ten, six went on to become AMA Expert ranked riders, and five of them were on factory racing teams during their careers. A seventh, Vesco, became the fastest man on two wheels. Not bad for a small racing club.

Part Four – Into the Seventies, 1970-1972, will be published in a later page of this blog.

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7 thoughts on “YJ. AFM History, 1965 through 1969.

  1. When I was about 17 years old (1966) a friend suggested we should go to Vaca Valley Raceway (near the town of Vacaville just off Highway 80) to watch motorcycle racing. My friend loved motorcycles and was riding a Honda S90 at the time. I lived in Walnut Creek and the track was about 45 minutes away.
    Arriving at the track we heard over the PA system that turn workers were needed. We went over to “race control” and were told that volunteer turn workers would have their admission paid, get free lunch and be able to see the races “close up”. Since neither of us had much money that sounded great. We were given brief instructions on what to do and we were paired with an “experienced” turn worker. Transported out to a turn in the back of an old pickup truck we waited for the races to start. As I recall the first race was 350 GP and the sound of British singles and Japanese 2-strokes was intoxicating (not to mention the smell). At lunch we went back to the pits and were provided bologna sandwiches, chips and beer. Beer! Wow! We attended several other races that year and the next always volunteering as turn workers.
    Vaca Valley Raceway was primitive at best. The pits were mostly a gravel area but filled with all sorts of exotic machinery from Europe and Japan. Seeing bikes with clip-ons and full fairings always excited me. There were times that “factory” teams would come for testing and riders like Ron Grant and Art Baumann were in attendance. The track pavement was course and full of potholes and pebbles. The pebbles would collect on the inside and outside of the turns. Even though a sweeper was used the pebbles seemed to always be there. The track was also used as a drag strip so the front straight seemed about ½ mile long. Coming out of the last turn (a slow hairpin) you entered the straight. Turn one was a slightly banked right hand sweeper that led to a short straight followed by a fairly sharp left right combination.
    There were several other turns but my memory is faulty about them. There were some wooden bleachers on the front straight that might hold 100 people, a small “control” building, 4 or 5 port-a-potties and that was about it.
    The summer of 1967 I bought my first motorcycle. A Honda CB77 305 Super Hawk. I put “rear sets” on and turned the handle bars upside down to get that “racer” look. I rode the bike (with borrowed leathers) to Vaca Valley Raceway and entered my first race (I had to duct tape the headlight and tail light). It was thrilling and I finished mid pack making me feel pretty good about my riding. A few months later I rode the Honda to the track again. (The bike was my only means of transportation). On the first lap I had gotten a great start and was running about 6th. I tried to pass two bikes in turn three on the outside. I got into the pebbles and low sided. I was unhurt but the borrowed leathers were scuffed up pretty bad. The Honda had a few dings and scrapes but was otherwise ok. I was a college student (Chico State U) at the time and as mentioned the Honda was my only means of transportation. I came to the realization that racing the bike was not the most prudent thing to do so for the next few years my racing career was put on hold.

  2. Does anyone here have confirmation or a comment about the following statement:
    “Mark Strong and Jim Sadilek were National Champions in the road racing sidecar class of AFM sanctioned road racing, 1966.”

  3. Don Vesco also raced a 350 Bridgestone GTR road racer in the 350 Grand Prix class occasionally . Wonder if there are photos of that machine?

  4. Raced AFM starting in 1961, Reno Road Races, September 23,24 at Stead AFB. Have the SCCA dash plaque from that event. Also the one from the 10th Annual Stockon Road Races, April 14,15, 1962. Rode a 350 Triumph twin. Didn’t have the top speed of the 305 Honda, but won several second places.
    Got off hard in ’63 (?) and quit racing for about a year. AFM announced the beginning of a sidecar class I think ’64. Built up a 1961 Harley 74″ and eventually won the AFM national championship in 1966 along with passenger Mark Strong. Lots of photographs and a few press items from back in the day. Still have the silver plate awarded for having the first road racing sidecar in California.

  5. Hi James, do you remember bill butte( motor builder tuner) and joey butte ( racer)? AFM guys raced td1s, Yamaha Team factory ride 65, friends of Bill Boyd and AL Fergota, built first jet sidecar AMA outlawed(melted face shilds). Factory ride because built first 5 port td1. Do you recall a special version of cb450 only racers could buy? Stock bike with what Honda of Japan called a Daytona head? I still have and 40 years ago I had the chance to take up to 132 MPH. They raced this bike at Cotati and said they took firt place. Can’t find any one or info.
    Thanks
    David Butte

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