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
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
“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
On 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
Residence: Pacific Palisades, California, a suburb of Los
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