October 5, 2022
  • October 5, 2022

Catching Up with Don Emde (+3 Book Reviews)

By on September 29, 2021 0

From Motorcycle Racing Champion to Award-winning Author and Publisher—a Profile plus Review of The Speed Kings, On Cannon Ball’s Trail and The Daytona 200

Don Emde occupies a special place in the pantheon of motorcycle personalities, and not just as motorcycle racing champion, either. He is also an award-winning author, historian, and book publisher.

In 1972, Don Emde rode his 350cc Yamaha road racer to victory in the Daytona 200. It was a remarkable achievement for several reasons.

First, it was accomplished with the smallest displacement engine in event history, a Yamaha two-stroke twin (the first time the event was ever won by a two-stroke) sponsored & tuned by Mel Dinesen.

Second, Emde’s victory marked the first time in the event’s history that a father and son had each claimed the Daytona championship; his father, Floyd won it on an Indian in 1948 when the event was still being run on the beach.

Third, it was the first time the event was won by a Yamaha—and Emde brought it home with an average speed of 103.358 mph. It turns out, Emde’s victory was a harbinger of things to come; Yamaha riders would win the next 12 Daytona titles in a row!

The Daytona win was but one of many for Emde since his start in motorcycle racing as a kid in the sixties, first in motocross and flat track and then in road racing.

Don Emde Daytona
Courtesy Emde’s book about the Daytona 200, these are images from the action at the 1972 event when Emde won the 200. Top: On the way… bottom: to victory lane; Emde in the middle.

In recent years, Don Emde launched his publishing company called Emde Books. His latest release, The Speed Kings: The Rise & Fall of Motordrome Racing, was awarded the Motor Press Guild (MPG) Best Book of the Year honor for 2019. It was the first time in the award’s history that the MPG Best Book of the Year honor was awarded to a book on motorcycling.

When he isn’t writing award-winning books about motorcycle history, he is the editor/publisher of the motorcycle trade publications, Parts Magazine, Drag Specialties Magazine, and Parts Europe Magazine.

The Emde family has deep roots in motorcycling and competition. Don’s grandfather, Joe Emde was a motorcyclist from about 1910 on, he ran a motorcycle repair shop and in the 1920s went on to become a motorcycle-mounted police officer. Don’s father, Floyd had a successful motorcycle racing career that included his Daytona victory in 1948.

In 1970, aboard a Yamaha production racer, Emde beat Gary Nixon and Cal Rayborn at Talledega for a 250cc Grand Prix win. His success in the 1970 race season earned him a spot on the BSA road racing team for 1971.

Indeed, in 1971, he finished on the podium in third place at Daytona behind BSA/Triumph teammates, Gene Romero, who placed second behind winner Dick “Bugsy” Mann. In 1973, in his final appearance at Daytona he finished seventh overall. He finished just out of the top ten in points for the 1971 AMA Grand National Championship.

His position on the BSA road racing team made him one of the riders for the American team in the 1971 BSA/Triumph sponsored Anglo-American Match Race series. By 1972, BSA/Triumph was in a financial struggle to survive and was forced to cut back its racing team and Emde was one of the casualties.

In 1973, Emde retired from racing, but quickly made the move into marketing for Bell Helmets and then into print media as the publisher of the trade magazine, DealerNews.

His depth of knowledge and vast collection of motorcycle photography combined with his personal history with the Daytona 200 led to his 1990 first edition book, The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race. In 2004, the book was updated through the 2003 event in its second printing.

Soon after finishing the book, he joined the Board of Trustees of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, later to be selected as its Chairman. In 1999 he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, joining his father and brother, David, who also was a top racer in the late seventies that included winning the 1977 AMA 250cc National Roadracing Championship.

In 2016, he published Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail, which recounts the journey he and 30 other riders took in 2014 re-tracing Cannon Ball Baker’s 1914 trans-continental motorcycle trip from San Diego to Manhattan. In that odyssey, which was inspired, in part, by the Cannon Ball Run for antique motorcycles in 2010, Emde used his detailed research and preparation to stay as closely to Erwin G. Baker’s actual 1914 route as possible to retrace his route on its centennial.

Emde’s latest book, “The Speed Kings-The Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing,” was released in 2019. It is perhaps the most ambitious and complete history of the earliest days of motorcycle competition in the world. That is perhaps at least part of the reason the book was awarded the Motor Press Guild (MPG) Best Book of the Year honor for 2019.

See our reviews of all three of the books and details of Emde’s special offer on them which follows.

Don Emde The Speed Kings

Don Emde Book Review: The Speed Kings—the Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing

The days of boardtrack motordrome racing are more than a century gone, but thanks to a landmark book by racing great, Don Emde, they will not be forgotten.

The Emde family has a connection to motorcycling that goes back to those days; Don’s grandfather, Joe Emde was a motorcyclist from about 1910 on and he ran a motorcycle repair shop and in the 1920s.

To create The Speed Kings, Emde drew on his massive archive of materials that includes more than 6,000 pages of boardtrack racing-related content. Beyond that, he either acquired or had access to the scrapbooks collections of related material from author Steven Wright, and a number of the people who actually made the history Emde writes about, such as Jack Prince, Hap Alzina, Paul “Dare Devil” Derkum, Ralph Hepburn, Freddie Ludlow, Odin Johnson, and many others.

Much of the content is created using the original period materials with the pages set in 4-color Sepia Tone, giving the book a look of antique authenticity. Emde often uses direct quotes from period reporting and documents and then augments that information with additional detailed information.

The result is a narrative that doesn’t read like a dry history, but rather is a moving, dynamic story of remarkable people in a time of dizzying innovation, intense competition, and over-the-top daring. The term “over-the-top” is literally true; for example, Emde relates the incredible story of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Walter Ferch.

“Ferch was chasing Bert Bruggerman in a heat race when his front tire clipped Bruggerman’s rear tire. That contact was not hard enough to cause an immediate crash by either rider, but enough to alter Ferch’s direction. He immediately angled up the track and made hard contact with the latest style wire ‘safety’ fencing that was supposed to redirect riders and machines back down onto the race track.”

“Instead, the stunned audience watched as, after rocketing along the fence for a short distance, his machine did go up and over, but fortunately did miss hitting any spectators. One woman was slightly injured when she was hit by some displaced fencing.”

“For Walter Ferch, on the other hand, his ride was not yet over. When he and his machine hit the fence, it reportedly looked like he had been shot out of a cannon. He sailed about fifty feet into the air and completely up and over the crowd and out of the stadium. It was estimated later that he traveled 170 feet onto the ground outside the track.”

“Incredibly, Ferch was not badly injured and spent only two days in the hospital. Dubbed the ‘Human Skyrocket,’ he was just recently married and his poor wife, Amanda, was in the grandstands and watched as he literally flew out of the motordrome. She was so shaken that she needed medical attention as well.”

MPG Book of the Year Don Emde
Emde’s book, “The Speed Kings -the Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing won the Motor Press Guild Book of the Year in 2019.

That incident ended Ferch’s racing career and is but one of many incredible stories Emde recalls in vivid detail from one of America’s most colorful, dangerous and not infrequently tragic eras of motorcycle competition. Crazy as it may sound, Ferch was not the only rider to sail up over the top of the grandstand at that motordrome; a few weeks later Wilmer “Tex” Richards had the same kind of crash, sailing out of the motordrome covering an estimated 215 feet through the air and also surviving the incident. Indeed, Richards was back on the race track in only a few weeks!

Emde reveals that his presentation of the story was inspired by the work of master documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns and it shows. The book flows from story to story and never gets bogged down in technical detail even though it is superbly complete in the details necessary to give the reader the whole story.

When you read The Speed Kings—the Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing, it is so well-told and spectacularly-illustrated, you can visualize the action and virtually hear the voices of the people. You can’t help but hope that Ken Burns sees the book and gets in touch with Don Emde—it would make a terrific documentary film.

Book Data:

  • Title: The Speed Kings-the Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing
  • Author: Don Emde
  • Published: 2019 hard cover, 372 pages, 600 images, page size 12.0” x 10.0.” 4-color Sepia Tone Throughout / Printed in the United States of America
  • Publisher: EmdeBooks.com Contact Don Emde at don@emdebooks.com or call 949-215-4780 x206 for more information. https://partsmagazineonline.com/
  • ISBN: 978-0-9972720-1-7
  • MSRP: $75.00 + applicable postage to U.S., Canada or International addresses. Emde Books now has a special offer: get all three books reviewed here in a package for $100 (plus $20 shipping).

Finding the Cannon Ball's Trail Don Emde Book Review

Don Emde Book Review: Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail

Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker was one of the gasoline age’s earliest adventure-rider/record-setters.   Indeed Baker set more than 100 records in his long, wild career.

Perhaps his most noted record was his 1914 transcontinental motorcycle (and overall) speed record. In that event, he left San Diego, CA on May 3, 1914, and covered 3,497 miles to Manhattan, NY in 11 days, 12 hours, 10 minutes (Baker’s own data), with an average of 304 miles per day.

Given the treacherous condition of many roads and early state of development of motorcycle engines, tires, chains, and gear, making the trip at all was a stunning achievement.

In 2010, upon hearing about a latter-day transcontinental antique motorcycle event called the “Motorcycle Cannonball,” Emde began wondering about the possibility of researching the actual route taken by Baker in 1914 and retracing it as completely as possible on the 100th Anniversary of Baker’s achievement.

Emde began an exhaustive search of the Internet, various museums, archival material and libraries for background information on Baker’s epic ride. His background information even included source materials such as Baker’s own journal of the trip and the book begins with Baker’s own description. Indeed, Emde credits the acquisition of a copy of a booklet published by the Indian Motocycle (yes—it’s spelled motocycle) Company in 1914 wherein Baker detailed his day-to-day progress on the trip with encouraging him to do the Cannon Ball Project.

Using the account in that booklet, Emde began detailed research to try to confirm how much of Baker’s actual route might be passable today. Once he had plotted that route, he wanted to do an actual on-site survey so to speak of the route to see if what looked good on paper could be traversed on a motorcycle.

With support from KTM in the form of the loan of two of their 990 Adventure bikes, Emde set out with riding buddy, Joe Colombero to actually ride the route Emde had plotted in order to assess the rideability of it today and to try to verify that it was correct as to Baker’s historical details.

The first 14 chapters recall the 2012 mapping ride and some of the obstacles Baker had to overcome 98 years before—and those encountered in 2012. Overcoming some difficulties on the way, Emde had gathered the data he needed in terms of the right route, what to plan for in the next phase and he would begin making plans for the Centennial Celebration Ride.

Emde’s plan was to re-create Baker’s ride over the route he was able to define, starting on the date and time exactly 100 years to the day and time from when Baker’s original ride began, May 3 at 9:00 AM.

For the 2014 ride, Yamaha offered support as the Presenting Sponsor. Yamaha provided two 2013 Super Tenere models and other support. Emde’s sister, Nancy Emde-Steward, and her husband, Chris Steward, who operate Trail Boss Tours, a motorcycle adventure touring company helped with logistics, reservations, and the like as did Emde’s son-in-law, Ryan Rose. By the time all was set to go in May 2014, thirty riders on various mounts had joined the group for the ride.

Part II of the book chronicles the progress of the 2014 Centennial ride. The desert section of the ride posed some challenges in the deep sand for some of the riders, but with determined effort, the ride proceeded. Through good weather and bad, Emde and his crew of determined riders made the transcontinental crossing, finishing on the same date Baker did—plus 100 years.

The story is told with a great narrative and beautifully chronicled with more than 400 images, including many period images that benefit from Emde’s use of clear, detailed captions. The book tells this remarkable story so well, you’ll feel like you were among the lucky riders who made the trip—and you’ll wish you were.

Book Data:

  • Title: Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail
  • Author: Don Emde
  • Published: 2016 soft cover, 168 pages, 400+ images, page size 8.75” x 10.0.” Color and B/W images, including historic original images. Printed in the United States of America
  • Publisher: EmdeBooks.com Contact Don Emde at don@emdebooks.com or call 949-215-4780 x206 for more information. https://partsmagazineonline.com/
  • ISBN: 978-0-9972720-0-0
  • MSRP: $25.00 + applicable postage to U.S., Canada or International addresses. Emde Books now has a special offer: get all three books reviewed here in a package for $100 (plus $20 shipping).

Review The Daytona 200 Book by Don Emde

Don Emde Book Review: The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race

Don Emde competed in the Daytona 200 three times and came away with finishes in seventh (on a Suzuki), third place (BSA), and the championship (Yamaha) in 1972. That level of on-track experience and his life-long involvement with motorcycles and racing amounts to the resumé for the perfectly qualified person to write a comprehensive history of the event.

“Comprehensive” is the right word for his book, The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race. For example, the book includes a Records Section in the last 110 pages that list the race winners, brand of motorcycle, average speed and time from 1937 to 2003, the fastest qualifiers from 1956 to 2003, listing of winners in their first attempt, back-to-back event winners, most miles ridden in combined events at Daytona, wins by brand, best finishes by foreign riders, riders with top-three finishes, riders with four or more top-10 finishes, top 20 finishers and brand of motorcycle ridden for every year from 1937 to 2003 (that time period excludes WWII years when the event did not occur).

Far from being a dry compendium of data, Emde crafts a colorful and engaging narrative of the event from its earliest days, which surprisingly actually was in Georgia for the 1932 and ’33 events, not Florida. In 1934, the 200-miler moved to Florida near Jacksonville, and finally, in 1937, the event moved to Daytona.

Emde’s research results in a narrative that brings each year’s race to life with detailed accounts that go beyond just who was in the top 20. Perhaps no account is more fascinating than that of the 1972 event that Emde himself won.

The section about that race includes a special section titled, “Don Emde’s 1972 Race Notes.” That section takes you inside the helmet of a Daytona 200 Champion. In it, Emde reveals that despite the huge disadvantage his 350cc Yamaha had in displacement and horsepower against the 750cc bikes in the field, going into the event, he felt he would win. However, on the Saturday before the event, his confidence in the outcome got a jarring gut-check:

“In the early laps of the 250cc Lightweight race, I crashed in turn one when I leaned my bike over too far and my left exhaust pipe hit the ground. I quickly spun 90° and then ‘high-sided’ off the bike at about 80 mph, landing directly on my right shoulder.”

Daytona 200 Don Emde
Proud father, victorious son–1948 Daytona 200 winner, Floyd Emde poses with 1972 Champion, son, Don Emde; the only father & son duo to ever win the Daytona 200.

Emde went to the hospital and X-rays showed no fracture, but he would be very sore for the main event the next day. Then, in the race on lap three, his engine seized; though he was able to pull in the clutch quickly enough to avoid locking the rear wheel, he literally coasted part of the lap. Then he let out the clutch and the engine restarted. Despite riding with a wounded shoulder and bike, he was able to take the lead on lap 48 and beat second-place finisher, Ray Hempstead by about the length of a football field.

It is unlikely that any book takes the reader as deeply and vividly into the dynamic history of America’s greatest motorcycle race than The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race. And it is unlikely that anyone is better qualified to do it than Don Emde.

Book Data:

  • Title: The Daytona 200-The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race
  • Author: Don Emde
  • Published: 2004 hard cover, Second Edition, updating the 1991 original, 270 pages, plus 110 page detailed records section, 450 images, page size 8.5” x 11.0.”
  • Publisher: EmdeBooks.com Contact Don Emde at don@emdebooks.com or call 949-215-4780 x206 for more information. https://partsmagazineonline.com/
  • ISBN: 0-9627434-3-7
  • MSRP: $39.95 + applicable postage to U.S., Canada or International addresses.

Emde Special Offer for All Three Books

Emde Books now has a special offer: get all three books reviewed here in a package for $100 (plus $20 shipping).