As someone interested in motorcycles, you’ve probably heard of Kenny Roberts. Unless you’re a racing fanatic, you probably haven’t heard that, last week, the three-time 500cc World Champion resigned from the AMA Hall of Fame. Spurred by the retraction of Derek “Nobby” Clark’s (second from right) induction, Roberts wasn’t the first and likely won’t be the last to do so. There’s a lot of he said, she said nonsense, conflicting reports, speculation and just general old person rabble rabble surrounding all this. We’ll attempt to make sense of it by gathering all the relevant material in one place.
Update: the AMA plans to vote again on Nobby Clark's induction.
Update 2: Nobby Clark speaks.
Update: American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation (the guys that run all this) chairman Jeffrey V. Heininger stated, "We believe Mr. Clark is worthy of induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. It's important to stress that the balloting errors were not of Mr. Clark's making, and the entire board offers its sincere apologies to Mr. Clark." The HoF nominating board will vote again on Clark's induction, but not for the 2012 round of new honorees.
Update 2: Mark Gardiner interviews Nobby Clark on Bikewriter: "I think it's damned bad organization on their [the AMA's] part," Clark told him. "The left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing. I got a letter telling me that I was going to be inducted, then six weeks later, I got a phone call telling me it's been rescinded. They didn't even write to apologize. I told them, 'No matter what you say, people won't believe you,' since the AMA's already got a bad reputation."
What is the AMA Hall of Fame?
Well, it’s a part of the American Motorcyclist Association, which lobbies for things like helmet law repeal and offers member’s a bitchin’ discount on roadside recovery services. We were surprised to learn, just now, that there’s an actual, physical hall to the Hall of Fame.
The AMA describes the HoF thusly: “Motorcycling’s brightest stars. Most influential designers. Fastest Racers. Tireless freedom fighters. Iconic Ambassadors. You’ll find them all — and more — at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. It is here their stories, their deeds, their legacies live on, and inspire us all.”
“The Motorcycle Hall of Fame was established in 1998 by the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation (AMHF) to honor the legends and heroes of American motorcycling and highlight their achievements and contributions to motorcycling. The first induction in 1998 included a large number of the early pioneers and competitors who built the motorcycling foundation in America. The second year added a significant number of inductees who again represented the most famous and legendary achievers in American motorcycling. This established the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as we know it today.”
Members include big time American racers like Dave Aldana, Wes Cooley and Don Emde, but also international stars like Giacomo Agostini.
How are AMA HoF inductees chosen?
“Motorcyclists are submitted for consideration for election to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and become Applicants.”
“Applicants who meet the minimum criteria for consideration, as determined by the appropriate Hall of Fame committee, become Candidates. The committees include more than 70 industry experts who represent the eight categories in which people can be inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
“Every year, each Hall of Fame Category Committee considers the pool of candidates and chooses which names should be forwarded to the balloting committee. The number of candidates forwarded is up to the Category Committee.”
“Candidates are forwarded to the Balloting Committee (made up of the chairs of each committee, the chairmen of the AMHF and AMA boards and the President/CEO of the AMA).”
“Candidates selected by the Balloting Committee become the year's Nominees, which are announced publicly. The Balloting Committee also determines the number of nominees and the number of slots on the ballot available each year.”
“The final Hall of Fame Inductee Class is determined by ballot voting by current living Hall of Fame members, members of the AMA and AMHF Boards, members of the Category Committees, and selected other invited persons. The total number of voters is more than 250.”
The resignations begin.
Apparently, inductees are issued with an actual medal, which is what they’ve been sending back, along with letters like this one.
“To Whom It May Concern: This letter and the enclosed medal commemorating my induction comprise my immediate resignation from the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. I expect my name and picture to be removed without delay from all Hall of Fame materials and representations. I take this action in response to the Hall of Fame’s unconscionable rescinding of the nomination of Nobby Clark, a motorcycling legend more than worthy of Hall of Fame membership. I believe we Hall of Famers have a special stake in the integrity of the institution and its nominating process. I have lost all faith in that process and, more importantly, in the individuals who apparently now control it. I am deeply suspicious of media speculation that Clark’s “criminal record” is somehow grounds for the withdrawal of his nomination but given the absence of any clear and official explanation from Hall of Fame officials, that apparently is the brush with which Nobby is to be tarred. This raises a couple obvious questions: What changed in the short time between the announcement and the rescinding of Clark's nomination and why would Clark's "criminal record" be grounds for a blackball when that clearly was not an issue for a number of previous inductees who also have criminal records. I suspect the answers to these questions, if they were truly known, would do nothing to restore my faith in the integrity of the institution but in the end my resignation does not turn on those answers. Instead it is based on a simple and inescapable conclusion; given everything Nobby Clark has accomplished in this sport, if he doesn’t belong in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame then I sure as hell shouldn’t be in there. Sincerely, Dave Despain”
Who’s Nobby Clark?
In its press release announcing Clark’s induction, the AMA states:“For 25 years, Clark was one of the world's leading motorcycle race mechanics. In addition to 17 FIM Grand Prix world titles, earned in classes ranging from 50cc to 500cc, he won three Daytona 200s, one Daytona 100, four Imola 200s and eight Italian championships working with some of the greatest motorcycle racers in history.”
In that release, the chairman of the HoF selection committee is quoted as saying, “He was tuning for the Honda factory team and Mike Hailwood and Jim Redmond, a couple of the greatest roadracers of all time. The list of greats Nobby worked with is long, including Kenny Roberts. All great racers need great tuners. Nobby was, and is, the tuner of World Champions. We welcome him into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.”
So what happened?
On June 30, the AMA issued a press release stating that Clark’s induction had been rescinded. At this point, no real reason was given. Motorcycling abhors a vacuum, so speculation ran rampant. Particularly about Clark’s “criminal” past.
We first caught wind of the controversy on Mark Gardiner’s excellent Bikewriter blog, where speculation centered on a legal battle Clark had entered into with Rob Iannucci’s Team Obsolete back in the ‘90s.
Road Racing World reprinted a recounting of Clark’s conviction: “Former Grand Prix crewman Derek "Nobby" Clark pleaded guilty September 28 in a New York State Court to stealing Honda and MV Agusta Grand Prix racebike parts, falsifying business records and improperly attempting to sell a racebike belonging to Rob Ianucci's Team Obsolete. Clark was facing trial for five criminal charges for theft, possession of stolen property, falsifying business records and soliciting a bribe when he elected to take a plea bargain deal and "fully admit his guilt to all charges in return for leniency."
As Gardiner points out, “there are more egregious miscreants in the Hall.”
Lacking clarification from the AMA, outrage was the next natural reaction and the resignations started to be made public.
“I just got wind of it yesterday when somebody sent me something on Dave Despain resigning,” Kenny Roberts told Cycle News. “And now I find out that Dick Mann has resigned. I just emailed Chris Carter and asked him where I send my shit back. I don't get it. If Dick Mann is resigning from the Hall of Fame, I don't need to be in it. It's bad that it has to come to this, but what are you going to do. If Nobby [Clark] doesn't deserve to be in there, nobody does.”
Dean Adams provides clarification.
In an excellent piece of journalism published on Superbike Planet, Dean Adams writes: “This, to me, has been like being the caller at a bingo game held in a Florida senior center where the players are daft seniors who can't recognize a fact if you put a neon sign on it. Numerous old guys have their Depends undergarments in a bunch over this because, they suspect, Nobby, once a successful tuner for Roberts, Ago and Hailwood, was iced for also having a criminal record. The oldsters feel this is a witch hunt and that Nobby is being black-balled. Hey, grandpa, do you want to know the real reason that Nobby Clark was bounced from the Hall of Fame? Do you really want to know? Well, find your really strong bifocals because I'm going to reveal it right here and right now. You might want to sit down. Here it is: Nobby Clark was bounced from the Hall of Fame due to an error in the Hall of Fame balloting process. No, really, read it again, slowly if you need to. Nobby Clark was bounced from the Hall of Fame due to an error in the Hall of Fame balloting process. The voting went like this: Randy Renfrow 6 votes Jarno Saarinen 3 votes Derek "Nobby" Clark 2 votes Rob Muzzy 1 vote John Long 1 vote Lance Weil 1 vote It had been a long-standing pre-determined agreement within the committee that the top two candidates go to the final ballot. In this instance, that meant Renfrow and Saarinen. So, imagine my surprise when the press release comes out and none other than ... Nobby Clark is going to the Hall of Fame as the roadrace inductee. A guy who didn't have the votes to actually go to the final ballot."
Adams concludes that, given a fair ballot, Clark didn’t have the votes to be inducted. The AMA may have botched the way it informed the public about its redaction, but that doesn’t change the facts. Adams goes on to speculate that various HoF members and people on the selection committee became so upset because they consider Clark a friend. It’s worth reading the whole article, if only for the frequent old people jokes.
The AMA investigates.
In response to all this, the AMA conducted an internal investigation.
“Given the egregiousness of the error, it was determined that, to maintain the integrity of the Hall of Fame induction process and the Hall of Fame itself, Mr. Clark would not be inducted with the 2012 class,” explains the investigation’s report. It backed up Adam’s conclusions on the votes being off.
“Given the enormity of the error and the negative impact on both the Hall of Fame and the AMA, not to mention the anguish to which Mr. Clark has been subjected, the staff involved must be subject to disciplinary action,” concludes the report. Clark’s induction will not be reinstated.
The controversy continues
So that’s it, right? Clark still gets shafted, but not because he crossed Rob Iannucci. Some AMA types will lose their honorary positions, there won’t be a King Kenny display in the Hall and we can all go back to not remembering the AMA exists, right? Of course not.
“I’ll give Dean Adams credit for balls. Who else would characterize motorcycle racing legends Dick ‘Bugsy’ Mann and ‘King Kenny’ Roberts as ‘daft seniors who can't recognize a fact if you put a neon sign on it,’” writes Despain on SPEED (the media property, not the drug).
“I grabbed my bifocals, hitched up my Depends and read very carefully the defenses of the Clark action on Adam's website and in a Hall of Fame press release. Boil out the Hall of Fame’s doubletalk and Adams’ efforts to portray himself as a righteous whistle-blower and we’re left with this: The Hall of Fame acknowledges ‘the enormity of the error and the negative impact on both the Hall of Fame and the AMA, not to mention the anguish to which Mr. Clark has been subjected’ and as a result recommends that ‘the staff involved must be subject to disciplinary action.’ That’s right, ‘the staff.’ Much like the military when it screws up, privates pay while their commanders stay. As for the induction process itself, by Adams’ own admission Hall of Fame committees (one of which he serves) have for years functioned as ‘some sort of old boys club.’ He says, ‘People were voted into the Hall who many frankly feel should never have gotten close to it.’ Adams says his reaction to this corruption of the induction process was to shrug his shoulders and shake his head. Bottom line, I believe the Hall of Fame’s problem goes much deeper than corrupt committee members, miscounted ballots and staff ineptitude. I resigned my Hall of Fame membership because I have lost faith in the integrity of the nomination and induction process and in the people who control it. The defenses raised by Adams and the Hall of Fame do nothing to restore my faith. I still smell a rat."
Gardiner sums things up on Bikewriter: "But the larger issue here is, what the fuck?.. If they can turn even something as anodyne as Hall of Fame inductions into an occasion for internecine bickering and recriminations, then layer in bureaucratic incompetence, and develop it into a full-blown public fiasco, maybe it's time to wonder whose interests the AMA is even trying to serve, besides their own...I'm saying, maybe we don't need the AMA."
This is fun, we’ll keep this article updated as the mud slinging continues. Let us know if you spot new material that deserves a place here.