All member of the Trailblazers hall of Fame are invited for a group photo at the end of each banquet.
Seventy-five years is a rather long time. In the doggie world that’s 525 years, and in real terms 75 years equates to three-quarters of a century.
Closer to home in the motorcycle community, 2019 marked the 75th annual banquet hosted by the Trailblazers, an organization formed in 1940 that pays homage to longtime and key members of the motorcycle sport. Today the Trailblazers is an affiliate of the Motorcycle Industry Council, the industry’s major trade organization. Current Trailblazers president Don Emde explained the purpose behind the Trailblazers, “Our mission has been, and continues to be, to keep the sport of motorcycling alive by gathering annually to reconnect, remember and honor our fellow motorcycling friends and associates.”
And so it was in 1940 that A.F. Van Order and a core of motorcycle racers within the Los Angeles, California, area gathered for a banquet. The group called themselves the Trailblazers, and table settings were for men only; no women allowed.
Beyond enjoying a good meal and camaraderie with fellow racers, the order of business at that first gathering included electing a club president. The honor fell to Paul “Dare Devil” Derkum, although Van Order remained the driving force for the annual banquets until his passing in 1954.
The Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show not only includes dozens of classic bikes, it’s the perfect mixer that transforms into a classic bench racing session.
Eventually another motorcycle industry icon, Floyd Clymer, assumed the role of banquet organizer, and later club president, until he died in 1970. With Clymer’s passing, the annual banquets fell into limbo until a few stalwarts stepped forward to revive the tradition. Max Bubeck and Earl and Lucile Flanders set the table for future generations, and you can bet that it was Mrs. Flanders who made sure that the revived festive occasion included women!
During the past 40-something years the annual banquet has morphed into its own event, one that includes a pre-dinner vintage bike show (officially known as the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show Presented by Hagerty), an annual wine toast to motorcycle legends that the sport lost during the previous 12 months, and commemorative awards including inductees into the Trailblazers Hall of Fame (for 2019, A.C. Bakken, Mark Blackwell, Ed Burke, John Penton and Rex Staten), The Earl & Lucile Flanders Award (Chris Agajanian, 2019), and the Trailblazers’ most prestigious award, the Dick Hammer Award, presented this year to popular national and world champions Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.
By now you might have figured that the math doesn’t add up — it’s been 79, not 75, years since the Trailblazers’ first banquet. What gives?
Blame it on two factors: The war years prompted suspension of some early-year banquets and Clymer’s passing forced another brief hiatus. This year’s 75th celebration resulted in the banquet’s largest number of attendees, more than 800 people. Motorcycle Classics will help continue the celebration in upcoming issues with bike features of two award-winning entries from the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show. Meanwhile, count on the Trailblazers to continue blazing new trails for future generations of motorcyclists to come.
— Dain Gingerelli