Every self-respecting, old school motorcycle devotee has a short list of idols indelibly etched onto their recollections, two-wheel pioneers that cleared a trail so the rest of us could see where and how to follow. With their injections of pure cool and expertise, these intrepid individuals stared down the shortsighted conventions of their time and forever changed the nature of motorcycling's approval rating. Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and Norm McDonald sit atop that cerebral list for many.
K&N Co-founder Norm McDonald will be officially inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame this October in Las Vegas.
Norm McDonald has been an ambassador for motorcycling his entire life, as a racer, promoter, teacher, sponsor and advocate for motorcyclists' rights and safety. Norm is also the "N" in the internationally recognized K&N logo. And, on Friday October 18, during the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Legends Weekend, in a star-studded celebration at Las Vegas' Green Valley Resort & Casino - Norm will be a member of the elite Class of 2013 officially being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"Being inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame was a surprise and a shock and I'm extremely honored," remarked Norm. "I learned of the nomination from a long time friend, John Ulrich of Roadracing World, but I didn't think it would go any further."
What Norm didn't know at the time was that two of his sons, Phil and Pat and Phil's wife, Cindy, had compiled a thick, comprehensive book about Norm and his accomplishments and sent it to the AMA for consideration. "I was numb and speechless when I first got the news," he added.
Were it not for a fortuitous twist of fate K&N would have flourished in an entirely different direction.
The king of air filters and the icon for motorsport legends the world round, K&N Engineering as it's known today, flourished from Norm and his humble roots, aided by a simple twist of fate.
"When we first met I was racing a BSA Gold Star and Kenny was the head mechanic at the shop I rode out of. Kenny started helping me on my bike in the evenings, and at the races, and we became very good friends," recalls Norm. "I worked for a surveyor at the time, and I had designed a carrier for the crews."
Simplicity is the root of all genius, believed Albert Einstein, and Norm was doing his part to validate that assertion. What Norm had invented was a stake and hatchet carrier for the chainman to carry when they were laying out a road or subdivision. "The K&N lath and stake carrier will save up to 45 minutes per day. Per survey crew," read the advertisement.
"Kenny said let's build and market them, so we started building them in my garage every night. The carriers sold well until we went to patent it and the attorney wiped out what little money we had. So we decided to open our own motorcycle shop with about $200 and three used motorcycles. Kenny and I opened K&N Motorcycles in 1957 in Loma Linda, California."
"Kenny ran the shop and I kept my surveyor job for three years, by then we had moved to downtown Riverside. We were Royal Enfield, BSA dealers and took on Yamaha in 1958. Frank Cooper was the distributor. In the 1960's we also made high fenders and brackets for Yamaha street enduros and Honda models, and fork braces, handle bars and fairings for roadracers. Then in the late 1960's and early 1970's we built SouthWind 21 ft. ski boats with 454 GM motors too, because I had started into racing SouthWind boats. Jim Youngblood owned the company and we bought into it after I started racing for him."
Do it right and keep it simple has been Norm McDonald path to success since the beginning.
Ken and Norm moved the shop from Riverside, California to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1971 and after 55 years they're still going gangbusters. K&N Motorcycles is today the world's oldest Yamaha dealership in the country. Norm continued to race motorcycles all through the 1970's, competing in desert Hare and Hounds, endurance events, scrambles, TT and some flat track.
"I raced modified midgets and mini sprint cars from 1985 until 1995, that's when I flipped end-over-end and broke both of my hip replacements. That ended my racing," recounts Norm. "Bob Frazier and I built and sold over 50 race cars during that time, but like I said, all this never seemed like a big deal, it was just my life. But my kids say it is."
Norm and his wife Lucy have been married for 58 years; they have three sons, one daughter and 22 grand and great grand kids.
Norm McDonald was inducted into the Hall of Fame during AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Legends Weekend
"I am very happy and proud to have been able to help my three sons, Phil (AMA National Number Flat Track, Roadracing and three-time winner of the AMA Gold Wrench Roadracing award), Pat (cross country and motocross) and Sam (AMA 250 National Champion in 1982, and second place 250 and Superbike finisher in 1984). My grandson Tyler is also a CMRA Roadracing Champion."
Norm's inspiration and influence spread far beyond his family however, over the years he has sponsored hundreds of racers through his shop, with more than 30 of them going on to the national level.
"I'm also very happy and proud to have helped Malcolm Smith, both with racing and getting started in the business. Malcolm came to work for us while he was still in school and when we first bought the shop in 1971. Others were Swede Savage, who rode for us from the time he was 12-years-old, up until Dan Gurney got him in to Indy cars. Mike Kidd rode for us three years and Gary Scott for one year, both went on to become AMA No 1."
Norm's list of protégés reads like a who's who of motorsports stars, he worked with World Champion Barry Briggs for one year on the AMA National short track circuit, and Walker Evans, who went from motorcycle racing to pickups. "Ralph White rode our flat track bikes and roadracers and Freddy Edwards won many races for us throughout the US," Norm adds. "Donnie Castro rode our flat trackers and TT bikes for one year, and then Yamaha signed him the next year. Randy Cleek was Phil's team mate for three years, roadracing and flat track racing. We counted up as many as we could remember and it was over 250. Plus, trials rider, motocross, ATV and some car racers."
"I also worked with other bike builders, back when you had to design and build your equipment, instead of being able to buy everything. Don Vesco, Floyd Emdy, Mel Denison and Red Daily and others. What great times those were."
Norm McDonald continued to race motorcycles all through the 1970's, competing in desert Hare and Hounds, endurance events, scrambles, TT and some flat track.
In 1992 Norm and his son Phil started the Motorcycle Training Safety Center (MTSC) and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and over 8500 riders have graduated from those programs to date.
"I am still very involved in the CMRA," says Norm. "I have been on the BOD since 1992, president four times, and I'm still the treasurer. We have over 700 roadracers. My son Pat and I have also put on the Oklahoma Gold Rush for 17 years and last year we had over 800 riders." That event happens annually on November 1-3 and K&N Engineering has been a sponsor for the last four years.
The man is indefatigable, he's also the most sincerely genuine and unassuming person imaginable. Legends live in rarefied air, and far too often they become victims of their own myth. Norm is not that guy. Not by a long shot. Which is why when he's asked to speak publicly at schools and clubs, people continue to listen.
"I rode until three years ago and I have to have another hip replacement this year, so I hope I will be able to ride again. I think it is wonderful, and I am very proud K&N Engineering is so very successful," he reflects, "And that I was part of it ,and they continued to carry the name that me and Kenny started with."