Pioneer motorcycle racer speaks in Minden
IF YOU GO
What: Dick Mann speaking at Shelby’s Book Shoppe
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: 1663 Lucerne St., Minden
A twinkle comes across Dick Mann’s eyes when he talks about his countless memories from a motorcycle racing career.
Now 81, the Carson Valley resident no longer rides motorcyles, although he remains in touch with the sport he loves — and brought him 24 wins in national events from 1958-72. And make no mistake about it, there is no way he would trade any of those old memories for anything.
“All of us that are left who raced in that era and the people who watched it, there is no doubt that was the premium time,” Mann said before his Saturday night speaking engagement at Shelby’s Book Shoppe in Minden. “It’s the same with the car racers. The car racers were just like we were. We rode the same tracks they did at the big state fairs in the Midwest, we usually ran on one day and the big open-wheel cars would run on the next day. Everybody said that era of motor racing throughout the world will never be equaled again because technology didn’t drive the whole sport. You still had to have some talent and other aspects.”
Mann, who moved to Carson Valley in 1993 with his wife, Kay, still keeps busy restoring vintage competition race bikes.
“I don’t do what you would call restoration; I basically make changes to them like we did when they were new,” he said.
Mann marvels at the talent of today’s motorcyle racers. At the same time, technological advances make it unfair to compare the racing of two different eras. The extreme difference in horsepower is just one example, Mann said.
“I couldn’t make it now, if I had to do it again,” he said. “And by the same token, they couldn’t have made it in my era. The young guys doing dirt track now are just brilliant. But they all have tuners, they don’t do it themselves. My way of racing disappeared in the mid-’70s.”
Carson Valley has produced many extraordinary motorcycle competitors, Mann added.
“The amount of kids with motorcycles around here that want to compete is really large,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of really talented young kids trying to work their way up. And that’s where the pros come from. They don’t just automatically become pros. They work their way from high school to college to a smaller series and then (to professional). That’s the system we’ve always had for professional athletes. The system requires a lot of time, effort and dedication.”
Mann grew up in Reno before the outset of World War II, when his mother accepted a job at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond in the Bay Area, where he began riding motorcycles.
“The Richmond Ramblers Motorcycle Club, that clubhouse was right in those hills at Point Richmond,” he said. “In those days, we would get in the hills and ride all the way to Hayward without touching pavement.”
He aspired to become a professional athlete as a youth, however, the sport he envisioned involved wearing another type of helmet and the handling of a ball.
“As a young kid, I was pretty much a dreamer,” he said. “I loved football and our little war housing project had a football team that was pretty successful … so I had dreams of being a professional athlete. But it wasn’t long before I figured out they didn’t need any 130-pound centers, and that was my favorite position.”
What was his best race? Mann took some time to consider the question before he spoke about the 1970 Daytona 200.
“The one that worked out the best was the year I won the Daytona on the Honda,” Mann said. “The bike was coming apart the last half of the event, so I had to run it hard enough to stay in the lead, but not hard enough to blow it up.”
Mann had been a runner-up on three previous occasions at Daytona before a memorable performance on March 15, 1970, when he won with some assistance from Bob Hansen, the team captain and American Honda’s national service manager.
“(Bob Hansen) was an old friend of mine, he was the pit person who let me know where I was and how fast I had to go to stay ahead,” Mann recalled. “Gene Romero was in second-place and catching me — about two seconds a lap near the very end — but I ended up winning the race on three cylinders (on the four-cylinder Honda 750), and I probably still had about six seconds on him.”
A year later, Mann came back to repeat as the Daytona 200 winner on a BSA.