Friday, April 2, 2010

Marty Dickerson


Getting naked gets you noticed. We’ve all seen the iconic image snapped at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on a Monday Morning, Sept. 13, 1948 where a guy wearing nothing but a Speedo bathing suit and tennis shoes is lying flat out on a Vincent itself going flat out. Rolland “Rollie” Free rode into legend that day on a specially prepared British built 1948 Vincent HRD. His achievement, and perhaps moreover that famous photograph, has left an indelible impression. But looking a bit closer you’ll find a photo also taken at Bonneville of another rider stretched out flat on a Vincent, though not in a bathing suit, himself a motorcycling legend who’s blasted his way to even more records...and is still making them.

We’re speaking of Martin “Marty” Dickerson. Though not prone to wearing Speedos at speed, he’s been inclined to establish and break records for more than half a century. You could say Marty always traveled with a fast crowd, his speed-challenger buddies including both Rollie Free and Burt Munro, the latter now a household name thanks to the 2005 film “World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins. While Burt passed into the history books in 1978 and Rollie in 1984, Marty, born in Inglewood, CA, on Nov. 3, 1926 and now in his 80s, is still twisting the throttle WFO. While men his age are worried about breaking bones climbing off a Barcalounger, Marty’s still climbing aboard a Vincent and blasting across the Salt Flats at over 150 mph.

It all starts back in Los Angeles circa 1948 when Marty traded in his post-War Triumph Tiger 100 for a Series B Vincent Rapide, the new bike having recently made its debut in the U.S. at Mickey Martin’s bike shop in Burbank.
His beefed-up, twin-carbed Triumph had been no slouch, with Marty clocking 98 mph out at the Rosamond Dry Lake near Willow Springs and home to the famous racetrack. We’re talking the late 1940s when the fastest Trumpets were hitting 104. Marty earned himself a name street racing with his race-prepped Triumph, so obviously he could handle a set of handlebars. But getting on his new Vincent in October 1948 was no easy transition. Marty readily admits there was a learning curve and then some. Apparently the bike had a hair-trigger like clutch and “scary” power. But after negotiating the streets of L.A., Marty got the hang of it and tamed the beast. But he didn’t quite get the hang of paying for what was then a very expensive motorcycle at nearly $1200 back in 1948.

In order to earn the scratch he entered into a deal with Mickey Martin to motor around the country showing off the new Vincent in the hopes of acquiring more customers. While the plan didn’t generate too much business, it did provide Marty with some real-world experience as he found himself racing against numerous local hot-rodders and facing off against both bikes and cars as he traveled/drag raced his blue Vincent all over the West.

In March of 1950 Marty opened his own bike shop in Hawthorne, CA. He would remain open until the last day of 1957. From this HQ he would mount his own speed record campaign that in 1951 brought him the Class C record at 129 mph aboard his Rapide, now taken off the street and purpose built for top-speed assaults. His record stood for less than two weeks when taken by his rival Sam Parriott riding an Ariel Square Four. But after pumping up his Vincent V-Twin with special factory cams and exhaust pipes sent from England by Phil Vincent himself, he returned to the Salts in 1952 and ran 141mph to take the Class C Record. Then in 1953 and broke his own Class C record with an average two-way run of 147 mph. Marty also broke the 150-mph barrier during one of his runs.

His speed record held for an astounding two decades until 1973 when a four-cylinder Yoshimura Z-1 Kawasaki clocked 155. (In 1953 Marty was also roadracing and in that year won the 250cc division racing a Jawa 2-stroke at the famous Catalina Grand Prix. Commenting on that win, Marty laughs and says, “My competition wasn’t very stiff. I had to stop three times to screw the top back on the carburetor and still won the race.”

Translating his experience to the classroom, Marty took on a new role in 1969 when he became a vocational school instructor and for 17 years inspired racing mechanics-to-be, many of whom would become top guns in their profession.
Stepping back into his leathers in 1996 at age 70, Marty set a vintage speed record at 130 mph. In 2002 in recognition of his many achievements and contributions, Dickerson was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. In 2007 Marty returned to Bonneville at nearly 81 years of age, climbed on a 1950 Vincent Rapide and clocked runs of 151.685 mph and 154.567 scorching yet another record into the history books. By the way, Marty’s blue Vincent (along with Rollie Free’s bathing suit) is now in a collection in Austin, Texas owned by Herb Harris.

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1 comment:

  1. the blue bike is just the most amazingly beautiful bike....holy crapola!