(1996) I tried to call Red Skamser the other day. I picked up the phone and dialed the area code and prefix for Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but as I began dialing the final four numbers, it registered that I can’t call Red. He’s dead—died of a heart attack one morning about oh, four or five years ago.
As a man, Skamser was a damn good mechanic and enthusiast of fast motorcycles. He worked with Team Hansen when they were a farm squad for Kawasaki in 1972. Their riders were Gary Nixon, Paul Smart and Miguel’s dad, Yvon. Red was then a buddy of an unobtrusive Japanese American kid named Erv Kanemoto and of a bearded bear of a man named Steve Whitlock, now the World Superbike tech inspector, while they all toiled away at Team Hansen Kawasaki. Skamser dropped out of the racing scene in the mid-1970’s, went home to Wisconsin, and worked at regular occupations until he died. To the end he was a great enthusiast of racing and had this gift for remembering who won what on which bike, and which version of that bike the winner rode. If you needed to know if Don Emde (the kid) won the Daytona 200 on a 350 and if it was the first 350 Yamaha or the next one, and if that was the one with reed or rotary induction, Red Skamser was the guy you called.
It occurred to me then, as I set down the phone and paged through my battered address book, now bound together largely by racing decals, that I have been accumulating a pretty fair number of dead contacts in my ten year old tome of names and numbers. A not so surprising number of guys die over the years, while racing motorcycles or by being around them. There are entire pages in my address book where phone numbers and addresses of the deceased dominate the entries.
Taking a small brush of whiteout and applying a thin coat of milky paint over the recently departed seems far too cruel. It banishes them to the world of the forgotten. So instead, I just take a pen and write “DEAD” on the final line of their entry. They’re remembered, by me anyway, and kind of enshrined.
That way I never forget Jimmy Adamo, the most fiercely loyal Ducati rider of the modern era. Adamo never raced on anybody’s expense account or a manufacturer’s marketing budget, though he could have. For a time he was one of the top privateers in AMA Superbike racing and could have no doubt gotten a few bikes and a parts account from any number of manufacturers if he’d have just given up on the Ducati machines he always rode. But he loved Ducati and the people who built them. I have a slide in my files somewhere of Jimmy sitting next to his bike on a certain Sunday morning at Daytona. Six hours later, he was dead.
Larry Schwarbach still lives on in my address book, although he’s been dead for years. Killed in a stupid Superbike crash at Mid-Ohio, only hours after winning his first 600 Supersport race for Vance and Hines and Yamaha. What a great kid. I can still picture the befuddled and completely innocent look he had on his face when he asked Jamie James what it meant when Terry Vance told him, on the subject of Vance’s daughter, that there was to be no fishing off the company dock. James put his arm around Larry’s shoulder and said, “Let’s take a little walk.”
Or, too, Donnie Schmidt, the world championship winning motocrosser, dead just a few years ago of a sudden illness. His old address in Bloomington is still legible. Schmidt was a roadracer in the end, buying a Honda CBR600F3 which, for a summer, he raced regionally and in AMA 600 Supersport. His motocross career, it’s always seemed to me, would have been much more successful if he could have shagged the Midwestern code of ethics and become a smiling wrist like one certain manufacturer wanted him to be. ‘I’m not going to be a dancing monkey to your organ grinding,’ he is said to have told a certain Suzuki motocross race team manager, just moments before they made the decision not to work with him again.
In roadracing, Donnie earned the respect of all for taking a bone stock, and I mean bone stock, Honda CBR, and putting it on the front row for the 600 Supersport race at Mid-Ohio in 1995. Half a year later, he was gone. The last time I saw him it was snowing and he was dragracing snowmobiles for ten bucks a pop while astride a RM125 fitted with ice-racing tires.
I scribbled ‘died in a fire’ below Ricky Graham’s Salinas address, after he did just that this spring. Doug Chandler watched the smoke billowing in the sky from his own Salinas mansion and knew it was bad. Graham won more dirt tracks in a season than anyone, and had a clandestine desire to become a world class roadracer, but those same guardian angels that kept him away from the dirt blocked his path to big time roadracing success.
The list goes on: Donald Jacks, Mark McCall, Don Framstead, Yasatumo Nagai, John Britten and many more. Gone but not forgotten.
And in some ways, not gone at all.