Vol. 3, Issue 43
Person of the Week: John Stein
By Keith S. Kizer
By Keith S. Kizer
Photos By: Keith Lee and Martin Windmill
Born December 16, 1950 in St. Louis, Missouri, John Stein first developed his interest in motorcycles around the age of eleven or twelve. Strangely, no one else in his family was interested in anything even remotely mechanical. John thinks his parents often wondered if they had taken the wrong child home from the hospital.
Being raised by a father who was in the investment industry and a mother who was a housewife and very involved in raising her two children and being involved in charitable causes, you have to wonder where John’s interest in motorcycles came from. Blame it on Britannica. John remembers they had a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. As a very young boy he would take the “M” volume and just sit there staring at a photo of a Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide.
One day John came across a local publication called “Midwest Motorcycling” which contained schedules of local events. There he found a listing for a scrambles race in White City, Illinois and begged his father to take him. It was the first and last race his father ever attended but for John, it was the first of many. John’s involvement in motorcycle racing was lived out through the pages of motorcycle magazines more than that of a spectator. All these years later John still vividly remembers the photos of Boris Murray, Russ Collins and others.
While in high school John did some racing on a 100cc Suzuki, and later road raced a 1960 BSA Gold Star. By his own admission he wasn’t very good at either. Although John did not do a lot of racing, he has sponsored a number of riders over the years in vintage road racing through the American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association (AHMRA). One year, John’s Yamaha 250 won the vintage race at Daytona, which he said was pretty exciting.
About 20 years ago, John also started collecting drag bikes. At that point few people were interested in the old ones. That’s no longer the case. Today vintage motorcycles, including race bikes, are highly coveted and fetch handsome prices. Hard to find parts are worth more than the original bikes themselves. The first collector bike John got was the triple-engine Yamaha of Pat Miller out of Houston, Texas. This bike had always been a favorite of John’s and he remembered Pat being sponsored by House of Wheels Yamaha in Houston, Texas. On a side note, that hits close to home. My best friend and my brother, Terry’s, best friend in junior high were two brothers named Danny and John Rich. Their dad owned House of Wheels Yamaha. Needless to say Terry and I spent a lot of time at that shop while Terry and Danny built weird motorcycles out of spare parts in the upstairs bone yard. My favorite was a bike called the Chicken Racer. But that’s a story for another time. John Stein said he didn’t have anything to lose, so he called up House of Wheels and they put him in touch with Pat Miller. John said, “the bike had been butchered by a neighbor but Pat was kind enough to put it back together and sold it to him.” The photo below is Pat at Atco Raceway in New Jersey.
A while later, Sandy Kosman called to tell John where the R.C. Engineering twin-engine Honda gasser was that Terry Vance rode when he and Byron Hines worked for R.C. John had met Sandy in the early 80’s while on a trip to San Francisco. John always thought Kosman sold the coolest products, like Fontana Brakes, Carrillo Rods, Hagon, etc. even before they were known for building chassis and wheels.
This photo is of Terry Vance on the double with Ron Teson standing to the front of the bike. Sandy told John that the R.C. Honda gasser was in Louisville, Kentucky with one of the guys from M&M Racing, who had purchased it. It took a lot of calls but eventually John made a deal to purchase the bike. A few weeks later a big box arrived with the frame, engine mounting plates, crankcases, clutch, transmission, and a few other things. While it was far from complete, John said the tricky stuff was there. He did what he could to restore it as far as he could then enlisted the help of Kevin Murray of MCE Racing and Chris Walrod, a brilliant car racing engineer to help him finish it. Back in those days these bikes usually had names, especially Russ Collins’ bikes, but this one was simply referred to as “R.C. Engineering Double Honda.”
Above is John Stein sitting on the double in his garage prior to restoration.
Then Denis Manning, of Bonneville fame, called with an introduction to Sonny (Scotty) Scott and his twin-engine Triumph “Stagefright”, a bike that Scotty purchased from Max Kelly. He also got a call one day from Ron Teson asking if I would be interested in his Top Fuel Yamaha. John said, “It helps to have friends.”
Back in his college days, John met his wife, Marilyn. Like the rest of his family she also has no interest in the sport. At least she is supportive of John’s interest. So much so, she lets him keep the three of his collector motorcycles in their living room.
John goes to Bonneville every year to see the motorcycles break land speed records. John said Bonneville is actually a lot like the early days of drag racing; guys with little sponsorship but lots of ideas. The atmosphere is very friendly and everyone is very supportive of everyone else. It is a very special place.
This week John is the feature personality of the POTW column because his new book entitled “Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History” has just been released across the country. In this fascinating hardbound coffee table book John chronicles the beginning of the sport from the 50’s into the 70’s bringing to the forefront the pioneers who took drag racing from their birthplace of the streets to the very first drag strips in the country. It is as much a historical document of the birth of organized motorsports as the men who forged ahead with machines not originally designed for speed.
John said, “The goal of the book was more than just defining the sport or even providing a history of it. There were—and still are--so many people for whom we owe a great deal of thanks. The book is an effort to give them the credit they so richly deserve.” Although the book covers much of the success of Pro Stock and Top Fuel racing up to current day, the primary focus is on the legends that got us to this point. The door has been left wide open for more in-depth stories of some of the men who defied the odds and set the cornerstones for our sport. I feel the most important aspect of the book is exposing the roots of the people who were the Larry “Spiderman” McBrides, Kory Hogan’s, Andrew Hines, and Hector Arana, Jr.’s back in the day.
Whether you walked among the immortals like Boris Murray, shook the hand of Elmer Trett or you have just been introduced or got involved in the sport for the first time, you must add this book to your collection. If you don’t have a collection, start one. There have been numerous books written on the sport of motorcycle drag racing but never one that shines a bright light on history of our sport like this book. I thought I was a walking talking historian of the sport. After reading John Stein’s book I realized how little I really knew.
“Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History” is available in limited bookstores or better yet save the drive and order today through Schnitz Racing by clicking this link that will direct you to the page for “Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History”.
The first Wednesday of every month is a gathering of motorcycle and car drag racing and landspeed group at a restaurant in Southern California The photo here taken in 2005 are: left to right, Sam Wheeler (EZ Hook Streamliner), Rober Lamb, John Stein, Denis Manning, Ron How (on motorcycle), Gary Richards, Don Harris, Clem Johnson, and Howard Allen. (Denis, Gary, Don, Clem and Howard are mentioned in the book.)
One behalf of drag race junkies everywhere, I will speak for all when I say, “Thank you John for spending the last four years of your life to bring us Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History.”
Other Areas of Interest
Residence: Pacific Palisades, California, a suburb of Los Angeles
Children: Nick (29), Liz (27) They are wonderful.
Interest outside of racing: Restoring old motorcycles. I’m not great at it or even particularly good but I have friends who are there to help when I need it—which is often.
Favorite foods: Turkey burgers
Favorite movie: “Godfather, Parts 1 and 2”
Daily driver: 2000 BMW 323. When my daughter moved to New York City and didn’t need a car, I “inherited” it.
Classic car: I own a 1993 Porsche with 161,000 miles on it. It is a treat to drive although I feel a bit guilty because I’ve put so many miles on it.
First motorcycle: 1965 Honda C110
Hero: My parents. They were the smartest, kindest, most loving, generous and supportive people I’ve ever known. I am forever grateful.
If you are interested in being featured as person of the week, contact Keith Kizer