From his first arrival at Daytona in 1948, Dick Klamfoth was the dominant racer of his time. Second in the Amateur race in 1948 was followed by victory in three of the next four Daytona 200s. Riding his Nortons, he was the American equivalent of Geoff Duk
Forever to be associated with the Daytona 200, Klamfoth’s run to the higher echelons of Americana two-wheels began when he was just 20 and he never really rolled off that throttle.
Born in Sept 1928, Dick Klamfoth grew up on an Ohio farm. His earliest motorcycle adventures were on his 61cc Harley-davidson. After graduating from high school in 1946, he was able to get an opportunity on a decent race bike in 1947. Dick: “This local rider named Frank Barselo had broken his leg. I got to be known a little bit for being pretty good at tearing my Harley apart and fixing it. So I said to Frank, who had married a farm girl who lived close to me, ‘hey you broke your leg, how’s about me fixing it and riding it?’ “He told me that he was okay with it but had a partner in it – they had bought it together. Floyd Nicodemus was his name, and he had to check with Floyd to see it if was okay with him. Anyhow, I told him that I would take the motorcycle and fix it up, paint it, and if I wrecked it that I would fix it up and take care of it. “So, I go to see ‘Nick’ and he said ‘it was alright with me’ so I got to ride their Indian. I started out as a Novice and started winning races so the next season (1948) I moved up to Amateur. There were a lot of races starting to happen down here after the Second World War. That winter I talked with Smitty (Jim ‘Smitty’ Smith) and he had bought five or six Nortons. He didn’t have any money but the guys paid him to get them, distributed out of Hamilton, Ontario by J M Mcgill (the Norton North American distributor). So Smitty sold them to all the Expert riders… they were single-knocker Manx Nortons. Smitty said: ‘You’ve got to ride a Norton down at Daytona for me.’ I said okay… I’d never been down to Daytona.” The closest challenger to the Manx was the Big Base Indian Scout, a special racing engine made in limited numbers (50 or so, although the reported production numbers vary). Ed Fisher was also in his debut race on the beach, riding the Indian. He said: “My first year was in 1948, I was entered in the 100-miler Amateur race. If my Sports Scout that I built had finished I know I could have run with Dick. It had the big base bottom end, truly the difference was that it had scrapers on the flywheels and got the oil out of the bottom end better. I worked for the Indian dealer in Lancaster and they agreed to sell me the big base bottom end. They sold me a magneto drive to put down into the oil pump drive to run the mag instead of where it should have been and the thing broke. They gave me the pin, told me how to drill the hole, where to drill the hole… I did everything exactly the way they said. Dick: “We drew for position and I started way back. There were about 120 bikes in the races and going down the backstretch I’d have to shut off and find a way between the guys.” His description is best described as an understatement. “So I go down to Daytona and finish second,” he said. It was a Norton one-two in the Amateur race, with Dick behind Don Evans of California. In the 200, Floyd Emde was racing a similar Big Base Indian Scout to Ed Fisher’s and won the race flag to flag. But again, the Nortons were highly competitive. Dick: “Billy Mathews got second to Emde in the 1948 200 with his Norton.” Although it was a very narrow victory over the Mathews Norton, they were to trumpet their victory under the heading ‘to finish five miles ahead of the next American-made motorcycle.’ It makes for a better advertisement than ‘to finish with a narrow victory over a Norton’. It was to be Indian’s last hurrah and their final win in the Daytona 200. Dick: “The next year I got onto their factory team for the 200 and I won the race. It was a long-stroke Manx in 1949. The AMA never approved the short-stroker, even though it was out at that time. It was a higher revving thing. The (long-stroke) Norton Manx had a 100mm stroke and it wouldn’t stand more than 6250rpm, so that was the shifting point. That bike was good to me and I won a lot of dirt tracks on the long-stroke Norton Manx too.” For the second year running, Billy Mathews finished second in the 200, part of a Norton sweep of the top three positions. In 1950 the positions were reversed with Billy getting his second win (his first was in 1941, also on a Norton). When the Norton team returned in 1952, the equipment was revised after rulings by the AMA on production bikes vs racing specials. As a result, 1952 brought the garden-gate frame from the production model to replace the rigid-frame Manx. Dick: “The frame broke every year I rode that thing down here, it was an embarrassing story. The plunger frame had a cast-iron thing where the tubes came down and were sweated into this joint… this was probably from where they ran sidecars on the thing. But they broke, as the back straight was so rough… it was like skipping a rock on a lake. You just went pow, pow, pow, pow… it was hard to sit on the motorcycle – there weren’t holes in the track but the track was so rough. But it was alright, as we still won the damn thing.” It didn’t seem to matter to Dick much as he not only won the Daytona 200 beach race, but he also won the Laconia race in New Hampshire, to take the road race double for 1952. At Daytona, he finished ahead of another Ohio racer, Bobby Hill, to make it a Norton onetwo. It would have been hard to believe at the time after winning five of the previous seven Daytona 200s, but 1952 marked the end of Norton’s dominance at Daytona. Ed Fisher was one of Dick’s strongest competitors at the time, primarily riding Triumphs. He said: “Dick had the barrel off and was working on the piston of his Norton. We never talked too much, I knew him and he knew me, but we were competitors. Dick looked up, saw me watching and said: ‘What are you trying to do? Trying to see how I’m going so fast?’ “At Laconia in 1952 I was riding mytriumph. Dick was on a real good road race-prepared Norton (garden-gate frame version). He had a road race gearbox in it and they asked me if they shouldn’t use a wide-ratio gearbox. You didn’t need a wide-ratio gearbox for Laconia, you needed a close ratio one. The year before Bob Fisher had ridden their bike in the 50-miler with a wide-ratio box, but he came from dirt track and motocross and they liked wide-ratio gearboxes, as you didn’t have to shift so many times. So, I led Dick for part of the race but my Triumph transmission wouldn’t stay in third gear anymore and he went bye-bye, so I finished second. But the next year (1953) I won Laconia and Dick got third.”
The garden-gate Norton was to get mods for 1953. Dick: “The next year they put a couple of struts like those that held the front fender on, just to keep the rear end from falling off the motorcycle. It never fell off and was still stuck together, but it was a little squirrelly. You couldn’t broadslide it into the turns because the steering mechanism would only turn a little bit and you couldn’t crank it. A lot of people on the Harleys and stuff would broadslide the turns but I had to just ride it around as fast as I could. “That damn thing… if you knew the mechanism of it, when the suspension went down on the back straight, it didn’t have any damping action in it and it would pitch you up in the air riding across these things. The springs would break and I don’t know why they couldn’t do something about it. You had to run a stock motorcycle like how the Harleys had to run the WR… there weren’t any other frames anyhow. Norton had it, but that was before the swinging arm was out on the Norton street motorcycle, as that motorcycle wasn’t made with the featherbed frame. I was my own mechanic and I worked on the bike day and night, tearing the engines down. Francis Beard was the tuner of the Nortons for the factory over in Europe and he had several winners.” Having Francis’s specs meant that Dick had the best of the best available. However, 1953 wasn’t as successful for him as the previous four years had been, with Paul Goldsmith winning Daytona, Ed Fisher winning Laconia, and Joe Leonard winning at Windber, Pennsylvania. It was the end of the road for Dick racing the Nortons and he was to switch to BSA 500cc twins for 1954. Fellow Ohio racer Bobby Hill bested him for the win that year as BSA took a one to five sweep at the 200. Dick: “We became friends riding against each other. I beat him a lot, and he beat me a lot. I would take the bike home after the races… they came from the factory with Cyril Halliburn, the chief with the BSA mechanics that were there for Daytona. They tore my BSA down, as they had some weak points. I rode a swinging arm, when the rest of them were rigids at Daytona. So mine was 40lbs heavier, but I got second to Bobby, who rode rigid. The swinging arm chassis was the spare motor… the frame came with the motor. So if you needed the back-up motor, you got that frame as well and I rode that spare motor without it even being jetted.” It was intense racing at Daytona in those days with huge fields and you never knew where you would end up starting the race. Dick: “You didn’t qualify down here, so they drew for position… they drew your number
out of a hat. I could never pull up the beach with the gearing and stuff that I had compared with the Harleys and all. I would end up going into the north turn, probably in eighth or 10th in the draft every lap, but then I would get on the backstretch and I could pass them all before we got to the other end of the race track and I’d come out first on to the beach. Then we’d get on the beach and they’d all come back around me – there were about 20 of us racing for the lead. The salt spray was getting onto my goggles and you couldn’t see s**t. You’d put a powder puff on the back of your hand to smear it, but that only made it worse. It took you about half a mile before the smear would dry off, you’d take your knuckle across the aviation glasses. Then you’d be lapping riders, as there were about 150 motorcycles in that race. “One time the pack opened up and a Harley rider was riding slowly down the middle while adjusting his carburettor. I hit him right in the ass, I sailed up into the air and went into the Palmettos and brush 20ft off the road. I was going about 100mph and here I was sailing through about six or eight feet of underbrush. Bill France always graded the road off there, but the pile of dirt and sand he graded off was in the bushes where I was running through. So I hit that sand out of control to start with and went ass over wheels and hit right in the middle of the road. “Now there are 100 motorcycles that I can hear coming. I started to pick the bike up but I couldn’t move it. So I was jumping up into the air waving my arms thinking ‘I’m gonna be dead, I’m gonna cause one hell of an accident because there are 100 motorcycles coming down that backstretch. One batch went by and I’m listening for the next batch as I’m fighting to pick the thing up. “I yelled at a guy who was walking along there to help me. We yanked it off the road, and I just walked back to the pits.” There wasn’t a faster rider in dirt-track racing than Everett Brashear on the factory Harley-davidson (five National wins in 1955). The Norton wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it was still competitive on the dirt-track scene. Everett: “Of course, most of it was rider ability and understanding dirt tracks. Dick Klamfoth rode enough dirt tracks that he understood a lot about them, but he was pretty famous with road racing. The thing about Dick was that he had a lot of practical experience on his Norton and it made him very successful. He was competitive any time there was a race of 100 miles or fewer, but the 200-milers were where the competition was the strongest… in the distance races.” Although those BSA years were not particularly successful by Dick Klamfoth standards, there were some highlights. That second place finish to Bobby Hill at Daytona in 1954 was followed by a win in the half-mile at Richmond, Virginia on his way to fourth place in that first Grand National championship. It was a year that was largely dominated by Joe Leonard on his Harley-davidson, with Paul Goldsmith second in points. Dick finished fourth for the year, just ahead of Hill, Al Gunter, and Bill Tuman. Triumph could be a factor in the races as well. Ed Fisher: “In 1952, when I ran Triumph, I was still an amateur on mile and half-mile dirt. At the first Expert half-mile race that I rode (Richmond 1953), Paul Goldsmith was there. There were weather problems, but they finally got the track ready to run. I finished up there in my heat to get a front row place for the main, the final. We take off with Goldsmith in the lead and halfway through the race I was trying to get into second spot and Goldsmith was now a straight away ahead of me. With a couple of laps to go I pulled up on the inside of him in the third turn. He thought he was out there by himself and he looked over and I think he thought I was going to run into him and turned right. So, I won the race. “The next year (1954), I was second after getting by Tuman and a couple of other guys. Dick and I were talking after the race and I told him that I didn’t try to pass him, as I figured getting second to Dick Klamfoth wasn’t so bad. Dick said: ‘You think you could’ve passed me?’ I told him, ‘Yeah, I think I could have passed you if I’d decided I wanted to go by you.’ Dick: ‘What makes you think that?’ I said,
‘I beat Goldsmith last year and he’s a better half-miler than you are.’ Dick said again: ‘What makes you think that?’ I told him, ‘because he was!” Dick was to trade the 500 twin for the legendary Gold Star the following season. He said: “For 1955 I was riding BSA on the Gold Stars…singles, you know… and we did pretty well. They gave me a bike to make a dirt-tracker out of it. I got the twin frame I had before – a rigid frame – but I didn’t like some of the stuff about the engine, I thought it could be improved. Then I found out that I could get $400 for a Manx Norton engine and I’d had five or six Manx engines that I’d used. “In Europe they wanted to use what were basically Francis Beard engines for their Cooper cars in the 500 class of car racing. So, I got hold of Cyril Halliburn that winter and asked ‘if I come over there, can you pick me up at the airport and can I stay at your house?’ I wanted to use the factory to work on the engine, as I thought there was a possibility that it could be improved for dirt tracking. I took four engines over to Europe, and had two already sold. So I brought them all over on the Queen Mary and took them as baggage. It cost $240 and I had a ball. Cyril came over to get me with a two-seater and a rumble seat and here I’ve got four engines in baggage. He has two kids and a wife with him. So, going home it was very well loaded.” One assumes they must have looked like an English version of the Beverly Hillbillies. Dick: “Cyril was in engine testing where the final bikes came for bike testing, and we’d ride them back to his house and to the factory, where we’d stamp them approved. He made arrangements for me to work in the engine test department, getting cam grinders and others to work with me. They have a club over there and there is a bar, so I drank a little beer… Guinness stout… man I got tired of that s**t.” Daytona brought Dick a DNF in 1955, with another second in 1956 following home Johnny Gibson’s Harley in a race of attrition in which leader Paul Goldsmith’s Harley stopped with two laps to go. From 1949-1956 Dick had three wins, and three seconds, along with two DNFS. There was nobody else with anything like that record of success, which was staggering considering how many entries there were in those early days of beach racing. The results just did not come for Dick on the Gold Star, the 1960 race in particular, in which he was fortunate to be uninjured after a huge crash. He said: “The Harleys could go down the beach and it was the same thing as with the Norton, it just couldn’t pull the beach. One year (1960) I didn’t do anything. I had a big crash in the first turn with a Harley rider from Michigan, Bates Molyneaux. One time I got ahead of him quite a ways and the sand in the corner was getting deep. I thought he must be close by and I went into the turn in my regular pattern, when he came sailing by me on the outside, bent out of shape after going ‘ass over teacups’. I bent up the front end and it took me out of the race.” Another factor might have been that Everett Brashear had teamed with Tom Sifton, the great Bay Area tuner, now working with BSA Gold Star. Everett: “Sifton… he was my teacher. It was his BSA and it was a good one. We were competitive, and very much tied in with Dick Mann.” Dick Klamfoth was having a real fight on his hands as the shared technology between Sifton, Brashear and Dick Mann, circa 1958, made for very tough competition for anyone on the same machinery, as they worked on ever-higher developments for the Gold Star. Added to that level of competition was the ever-improved Harley-davidson team, with champions such as Joe Leonard and Carroll Resweber, who between them, from 1954 to 1961, accounted for seven or eight Grand National championships. Staying with BSA, Dick had a string of retirements or crashes at Daytona from 1957-62 before getting a seventh place finish in the 1962 200, the race having moved from the beach circuit to the Daytona Speedway in 1961. This paved road-racing course excluded the high banks that made
Daytona famous. That was all to change for 1964 when the bikes first ran on the high-banked superspeedway. In 1964 Dick returned to Daytona for the last year of his racing career. It was the one year he ran the Matchless G50. “There’s an interesting story on that one. I was a Honda dealer and they come out with the 250 and 300 (305). I sold a lot of them – I was the biggest Honda dealer in the US two years in a row, in 1964 and 1965. “I had spent all winter tearing the 250 apart and those things were smooth as silk. I’d been to Japan a couple of times as a dealer incentive and saw how things were made there. Honda published a book about all their conquests in racing, and their bikes turned 14,000rpm – it was unusual to have one hold together at that rpm for very long back then. So I worked that 250 engine all over and tested it, and I thought I could win the 250 class. As a pro you were allowed to run that 250 race at Daytona.” Dick, having procured a privately owned Matchless G50 (for the 200), was now running British and Japanese machinery but found himself struggling with the combination. He said: “With the Honda I was running a footshift on the left side. The Matchless footshift was on the right side. One shifted ‘up’ for high, the other shifted ‘down’ for high. Jimmy Hill was an old friend and my old pitman, and he was one of the last guys with Indian before they went under. He had helped me with the Nortons by giving me pit boards. I was running real well in the 250 race, thinking that I’m capable of winning it because at three-quarters of the race there was a lessened interval. I had not been running hard, as I was not taking chances on an engine that revs to 14,000. Right before I came onto the banking I shifted the son-of-a-bitch the wrong way and over-revved it. I was going down the backstretch and then all of a sudden… have you ever had a motorcycle engine explode under you? A valve came off and blew the engine up. It was on the last lap and I pulled the clutch in and coasted across the line, finishing seventh or thereabouts. So, there went the lightweight race.” Next came Dick’s final 200, which happened mostly because he was there with the Honda for the lightweight race. “I thought maybe I can find something halfway good to race in the 200 miles. There was a guy who said: ‘I’ve got one (a Matchless G50) you could ride’. It was a bad deal for me… he brought this bike to a mile stretch of road where I could do a plug chop on it. I loaded the Matchless, the engine was supposed to be ready for racing. I couldn’t get it started. The thing would oil up, the plug was full of oil and the guy said it was ready to go. I called the guy who owned it and told him that I couldn’t keep the thing running and it kept oiling the plug. I asked him if I could tear the engine down and he said: ‘Oh no, you can’t tear my motorcycle down’. I got Jimmy Hill and told him that I didn’t give a s**t and that we were tearing that motorcycle down. Jimmy had been with Matchless and had gotten a G50 for Dick Mann to ride but the G50 wasn’t approved that one year and so they sold it to somebody. When we were tearing it down Jimmy said: ‘This bike is familiar… I’ve torn this down before and this motorcycle is the one we sold to get rid of it since the AMA wouldn’t approve it, and they used it for Endurance runs.’ The Class C rules had been enforced by the AMA upon Dick Mann’s G50 at the 1963 Daytona 200 and, as a result of his racing frame not being allowed, Dick did not get to race that year. Ironically, that motorcycle had returned to Daytona and was deemed acceptable. It was not known whether the illegal racing frame had been swapped out for something more production-based during the previous year. What Dick was soon to find out was that particular G50 was seriously clapped out. “So, the thing had 17 thousandths clearance (piston-cylinder) and they only had one oil ring and one compression ring on a G50 Matchless. The Nortons were more like 12 thousandths clearance. Old man Birch had Triumphs locally and once asked me to come by his shop in Daytona. He showed me this piston expander… I asked him, ‘what is this particular piece of merchandise?’ Well, I called all over the country trying to find the right piston and rings for a G50, as I wanted to run the 200 one
more time. So, I found a new set of rings and I took that piston over to the Triumph shop and he took out the sides of the piston to where it was now the right clearance. I took the bike out to test at an area called ‘the chicken coop’ which was long enough to land B-17s on. So, the first time I got the thing running and warmed up, it got a flat tire. The inner tube was clear full of patches, so I used a piece of black tape to patch the tube so we could get a run. “Keep in mind that we had to qualify that day, so I got to the race track and we pulled off the primary chain to inspect it. Well, the chain didn’t have any rollers on it anymore… that wasn’t going to last. So I go to Dicky Mann, who did not have a new chain but he said he had some pieces of chain. Dick said: ‘Let me give them to you – I don’t think I need them anymore’, so I took those pieces and riveted them together enough so that it would run. I think I got up to 150mph on the back straight and I qualified. The race wasn’t until Sunday, so I could get another chain to put on for the race. “In the race I’m running pretty good, maybe minus 20secs or so. I didn’t have much practice, other than running on the backstretch to qualify. It had a fairing on it and I was running pretty well with people but in the turns – you know how you put your chin on the tank? I couldn’t see over the damn fairing on the banking and the ass end was sliding… that wasn’t good. So anyhow I put my left hand on the tank and my chin on my hand to see over the fairing… it was getting tiresome pulling those Gs on that turn. I was in the first 10 or so, and I was just holding my own on the rusty old bike, when some rider from Canada came by me on a new G50 Matchless going 10mph faster than I was… if I’d been riding that bike I’d have won.” That could well have been a Bob Hansen Matchless, as they won a lot of races in that timeframe. At the end of the day it was the last race for two legends at Daytona… Everett Brashear finished sixth on a Matchless, and Dick finished fifth on his borrowed and less-than-adequately-prepared machine. Across the entire career was there a favourite race bike? Dick: “I had a lot of fun on the Gold Star but they let me down a lot of times, they’d break. It was probably the Norton, learning how to work on the bikes and learning Francis Beard’s secrets.” In recent years, Dick and Bev Klamfoth have directed their considerable energies to the Daytona 200 Monument, located on the Daytona Beach promenade about half a mile north of the pier. It is the site of an annual reunion, held on the Wednesday morning before the Daytona 200 race. There are typically a number of those who raced on the beach between 1937 and 1960, always eager to share their experiences from when the greatest race in America was held on a Florida beach. See the website http://daytona200monument.com/ for more information. Dick was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1998, and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2017.
Words: Norm Dewitt Photographs: Dick Klamfoth, Mortons Archive
Left: Dick Klamfoth, the 1952 winner in the Daytona Beach race on the garden-gate Norton. Above: The BSA twin on the beach in 1954. Inset: Dick’s first cover, the first of many.
There was no relaxing in the motorhome between sessions for the riders of the day. Above: In the victory lane for the third time in 1952. Above: Dick Klamfoth (2) and Bobby Hill (71) in 1951.
Dick made covers around the world for his Daytona achievements.
Left: Dick Klamfoth battles in the pack at Laconia.
Don Emde holds a poster of Mr Daytona (Scott Russell) and the King of Daytona Beach. Bev and Dick Klamfoth at the 2017 Daytona 200 Monument celebration. Ed Fisher was one of Dick’s main rivals on his Triumphs – photo 2017.
The BSA years were not a highlight of Dick Klamfoth’s long career.
Dick Klamfoth in victory lane with Smitty, his mechanic, and a cast of thousands. His first win in the 200 came soon after having turned 20 years old. The 2017 Daytona 200 Monument reunion.