California Cool

For over seven decades, the TrailBlazers Motorcycle Club has connected veteran So-Cal riders with the best biker banquet on the planet.

Five years before Pearl Harbor, a pair of former board-track racers, A.F. Van Order and Paul Derkum, got to talking. “You know what,” Van Order might have mused, “we should start a social club guys for like us who have ridden 20 years or longer.” And that’s exactly what they did, forming the Old Timers in 1936. Eventually the name changed to the TrailBlazers Motorcycle Club to include more than just “old timers,” but the club’s mission held firm. Now in its 72nd year, the TrailBlazers still owns its original simplicity of purpose – meaningfully connecting true Southern California motorcycle riders.

Lest you assume the club is nothing more than quaint two-wheeled antiquity, you might think again. Among the nearly 1,000 members are racing icons Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey, all Californians and winners of 10 Grand Prix world championships. Members also include pioneering female racers like Mary McGee and Sue Fish. Numerous dirt-track racers. And Dan Gurney, 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and the only American to have won an F1 race in a car of his own design.

The club spends all year planning its sole event – the springtime Hall of Fame banquet. “In 1940 Van Order and Derkum got the idea to host an annual dinner for their former racing buddies,” says TrailBlazers president Don Emde, the 1972 Daytona 200 winner. “Initially the guests were all old board trackers, and Cannonball Baker would even come out from Indy. From there it kept going. Today we don’t try to artificially do anything to promote it – we just flow along and people come.” An annual membership costs only $10, and actually doesn’t require any particular riding experience. “We just say it’s for people who have ridden ‘long enough,’” Emde says. Membership includes a club card, regular email updates and an all-important early shot at buying coveted $75 banquet tickets.

Held in Carson on April 23, this year’s banquet hosted a record 750 people. As it has annually for 16 years, the event began with a three-hour afternoon show, now presented by Hagerty. Forty-five bikes were entered, from a 1914 Flanders to a 1964 Kawasaki Pet 50 (possibly the oldest Kawasaki in America) and a 2015 Gurney Alligator – over 100 years of history in all. Four prestigious trophies were awarded:

  • “People’s Choice” award – 1971 Triumph T120R Bonneville special built by Sonny Nutter.
  • “Best Race Bike” award – 1971 Trackmaster Norton survivor owned by Clyde Williams.
  • “Best in Show” award –1954 Harley-Davidson KHR TT owned by Kerry Brethorst.
  • Hagerty’s “Going the Distance” award – 1970 Penton 100 Berkshire owned by the late Kelly Owen.

Early Years of Motocross Museum founder Tom White, who is also a TrailBlazers director, has organized the bike show for the last dozen years. “The range of bikes was all over the place this year, and their condition ranged from basically ‘neglected for 50 years’ to 99-point restorations,” he says. “More and more though, we are falling in love with absolutely original machines, and the value of those machines is rising quicker than bikes that are restored.”

The highlight of the banquet, as always, was the presentation of a new group of TrailBlazers honorees. Nine TrailBlazers Hall of Fame Inductees were recognized this year, including Rainey, speedway racer Mike Bast, flat-track racer Dan Haaby, and Harley-Davidson factory tuner Steve Storz. “There is not a gathering of significant motorcyclists in the world that begins to compare to this,” White notes.

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