Saddlemen

Snapshots from the Trailblazers Awards Banquet

| 9 May 2017 3:09 pm

Trailblazers Awards Banquet
Carson Center

Story and Photos by Howie Zechner
CARSON, CA, APR. 22, 2017

A huge success by any standard, once again the 73rd annual Trailblazers Awards Banquet did not disappoint. Of course, what’s not to like? Well organized and open to all in every two-wheel discipline, this perennial event marks the beginning of spring and the unofficial start of the race season. It’s where yesteryear and today collide. It’s a Twilight Zone of our own making.

(From left to right) Gene Romero and author Howie Zechner with Trailblazers president Don Emde.

(From left to right) Gene Romero and author Howie Zechner with Trailblazers president Don Emde.

As in previous years, the Carson Center in Carson, California, strained to hold the almost 800 attendees who traveled from all over the globe to join in this lifestyle celebration. Old and young regulars include the famous, the almost famous, and the I-gave-up-on-being-famous-years-ago. The crowd was made up of racers, promoters, advertisers, sponsors and enthusiasts, along with newbies getting their first introduction into what could arguably be called one of the best motorcycle shows and banquets in the country.

Preston Petty.

Preston Petty.

Officially, the event begins at 3 p.m., but in reality the huge Carson Center parking lot is full by late morning. Known as tailgate parties in other sports, in our world they call it bench-racing. Greeting old friends and making new ones, the time goes quickly. It is the party before the party, for sure!

Bob Basile.

Bob Basile.

Once the event opens, attendees pick up their credentials. With the tables well laid out under several massive white tents, it’s a simple and quick process – almost too fast, as the volunteers who man these booths are well-known and interesting folks. This is not the place for an extended conversation, but I just couldn’t help myself and had to say hello to Don Emde, Ernie Aragon, Judy Whitson, “Sidecar Susie” Ellsworth and a bunch of others.

Damn, got to move on – time’s a-ticking.

Ernie Aragon.

Ernie Aragon.

“Sidecar Susie” Ellsworth.

“Sidecar Susie” Ellsworth.

Now that I had my credentials, all that was left was to walk the 50 feet into the courtyard. Simple, right? Well, hold on, pilgrim: There were tables and benches filled with people with names like Petty, Romero, Schwartz, Faria, Starr, Mann, Smith, Carruthers, and more. Well, it would just be rude not to say “hello” and start up a conversation from where we left off last time. Double damn, there goes another couple of hours.

(From left to right) Dick Mann, Kel Carruthers, Howie Zechner and Malcolm Smith.

(From left to right) Dick Mann, Kel Carruthers, Howie Zechner and Malcolm Smith.

Okay, I reluctantly moved on and entered the open courtyard. Filled to the brim with motorcycles, it houses the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show.

This year’s edition of the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show.

This year’s edition of the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show.

Organized by The Early Years of Motocross Museum owner Tom White, the machines on display were rich in history and rarity – as were the owners. Each had a story more fascinating than the next. It was almost impossible to vote for a Best in Show. Fortunately, there were three full bars to help narrow down one’s choices. [For more on the show, please see “Snapshots from the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show,” also by Howie Zechner… Editor]

The courtyard was also the last opportunity for one-on-one jaw-jacking before entering the banquet room. Seeing people with names such as Agajanian, Tanner, Hicks, Farrell, Autrey, Brant, York, Nicole, Hamill, Nutter, McConnell, Ferrel and so many more, one just wanted to stay and delay the formal end of the evening’s presentation.

(From left to right) Mike Faria, Chris Agajanian, Doug Nicol, Jeffrey Immediato and Bobby Schwartz were in the house.

(From left to right) Mike Faria, Chris Agajanian, Doug Nicol, Jeffrey Immediato and Bobby Schwartz were in the house.

The giant banquet room opened at 7 p.m., and the masses filled a hundred large, round tables laden with coffee, nut appetizers, and two bottles of wine. The mood was “festive” times 10.

2017 0422 CA TB AB PHOTO I

2017 0422 CA TB AB PHOTO J wine

Masters of Ceremonies Don Emde and Keith Mashburn welcomed guests and made several announcements. Well versed at their craft, they are a joy to watch. They more than get the job done.

Emcees Don Emde and Keith Mashburn.

Emcees Don Emde and Keith Mashburn.

The Trailblazers’ annual toast followed an opening prayer and pledge of allegiance. This year it was for the late J.C. Agajanian. His sons Jay and Chris Agajanian joined Don and Keith on the stage, and stories about the great man were shared.

(From left to right) Don Emde, Chris Agajanian, Keith Mashburn and Jay Agajanian.

(From left to right) Don Emde, Chris Agajanian, Keith Mashburn and Jay Agajanian.

Larry Huffman joined the foursome and related his own tales about the famous promoter. “Come to Ascot, where the 110, the 405 and the 91 collide!” Larry and Jay yelled, and the crowd went wild! This truly special tribute to J.C. was honorable, memorable and deserved.

(From left to right) Don Emde, Chris Agajanian, Keith Mashburn, Jay Agajanian and Larry Huffman.

(From left to right) Don Emde, Chris Agajanian, Keith Mashburn, Jay Agajanian and Larry Huffman.

A video tribute to those who have passed on since the last Trailblazers gathering on April 23, 2016, followed. As always, it was tastefully produced and brought a tear to more than one as each of the fallen was honored.

Next, the dynamic duo announced the three motorcycles that this year’s attendees had voted for in the bike show earlier. The owners were called on stage to receive their awards and give a brief outline of their bikes and the work they had done on them. Like most of the machines on display that day, they were rich in history and had fascinating stories.

2017 0422 CA TB AB PHOTO N

2017 0422 CA TB AB PHOTO O

Dinner was next on the agenda, and there was a mad dash to the food tables. There was chicken, beef, pasta, green beans, salad and rolls, along with a dessert table filled to the brim with different cakes and brownies.

2017 0422 CA TB AB PHOTO P

The lines moved quickly and everyone filled their plates to the top. The downside? Well, just like before, you’d run into people you had missed earlier in the day. Then you spent so much time talking with them that your food was cold by the time you got seated again. Oh, the trials and tribulations of being a Trailblazer…

Next was the presentation of the Lucille Flanders Award, named after the late Lucille Flanders, who, with her husband, Earl, was very involved in the motorcycle industry and passionate Trailblazers supporters.

This year’s Lucille Flanders Award…

This year’s Lucille Flanders Award…

A very prestigious award, this year’s recipient was Judy “Maely” Whitson. Congratulations, Judy, on your well-deserved recognition. Your tireless dedication to the Trailblazers and the sport of motorcycle racing makes you the perfect choice for the 2017 Lucille Flanders Award!

… was presented to Judy “Maely” Whitson.

… was presented to Judy “Maely” Whitson.

Hall of Fame acknowledgements followed. A well-produced video outlining the history of each nominee was played before they were brought on stage. A lengthy verbal exchange followed, as Emde and Mashburn brought to light facts that made that person so special.

Keith Mashburn.

Keith Mashburn.

The 2017 Trailblazers Hall of Fame inductees included motorcycle racer, tuner, frame and wheel innovator Jim Buchanan; World and National Speedway Champion Billy Hamill; racer, sponsor, dealer, and co-founder of K&N Engineering Norm McDonald; world-class road racer and journalist Tony Murphy; product innovator and creator of Van Tech frames Bill Vantichelt; and posthumous inductee Gary Preston, desert-racing and Baja champion.

Jim Buchanan – motorcycle racer, tuner, and frame and wheel innovator.

Jim Buchanan – motorcycle racer, tuner, and frame and wheel innovator.

Billy Hamill, World and National Speedway Champion.

Billy Hamill, World and National Speedway Champion.

Malcolm Smith joins K&N Engineering’s Norm McDonald on stage.

Malcolm Smith joins K&N Engineering’s Norm McDonald on stage.

Road racer and journalist Tony Murphy.

Road racer and journalist Tony Murphy.

Van Tech Frames’ Bill Vantichelt.

Van Tech Frames’ Bill Vantichelt.

The late Gary Preston was also honored.

The late Gary Preston was also honored.

The evening’s final award was the most prestigious. It is named after its first recipient, the late Dick Hammer. Those who have been honored with this award include some of America’s best: Gene Romero (2001), Joe Leonard (2002), Everett Brashear (2003), Tom Cates (2004), Dick Mann (2005), Bud Ekins (2006), Skip Van Leeuwen (2007), Dennis Mahan (2008), Malcolm Smith (2009), Dan Gurney (2010), Ralph White (2011), Sammy Tanner (2012), Ed Kretz Jr. (2013), Kenny Roberts (2014), C.H. Wheat (2015) and Keith Mashburn (2016).

This year’s Dick Hammer Award…

This year’s Dick Hammer Award…

Dave Ekins was the 2017 Dick Hammer Award recipient. Racer, gold-medal winner, motorcycle magazine editor, inventor, business owner, sponsor – Dave Ekins has done it all. Congratulations, Dave Ekins, on an award you richly deserve.

…went to Dave Ekins.

…went to Dave Ekins.

‘Say it isn’t so,’ I thought as the evening’s ceremonies closed. What happened? How had the day slipped away so quickly? The company was excellent, the celebration memorable. ‘It could never get better than this,’ I thought.

Then I remembered: That’s what I said last year.

Thank you, Trailblazers. This night was one for the record books!

Trailblazers Award Winners past and present took to the stage.

Trailblazers Award Winners past and present took to the stage.

I want to give a special shout-out to my friend Billy Hamill. We go to the wayback days together, and I was proud to be at his table with Geoff Arnold, Dave Brant and Malcolm Smith. Special people, special time. Life is good.

Billy Hamill.

Billy Hamill.

Be a Trailblazer – Join the Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/trailblazersmc/

Thanks for listening.
– Howie Zechner, Trailblazer

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