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.
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.
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.