The American Federation Of Motorcyclists is the oldest motorcycle roadracing club in the United States and was founded in 1954 by a handful of southern California racers who wanted someplace to ride their bikes fast. (Things don't change much, do they?)
One of those contacts led to the newly-opened Willow Springs Raceway, which was really struggling to stay afloat. The bike riders made a deal with the track owner to allow a weekend of open track time for $10 per person. It seems like a ridiculously low amount now, but was not easy for many in those post-war years.
The AMA wasn't too involved in roadracing at the time--most local clubs were referred to as "outlaws" (really!) and being an AFM member was enough to get riders banned from AMA events. That changed in 1960 when John McLaughlin, one of the AFM founders, sued the AMA in California for anti-trust practices; soon thereafter the AMA stopped banning riders but still didn’t want much to do with roadracing. (Ironically, John was voted into the AMA Hall of Fame some 40 years later.) Even into the 60's, the AFM was meeting with the FIM and nearly became the official United States sanctioning body for FIM events.
In the late 50's and early 60's most of the motorcycle road races took place during lunch or other breaks in car-club races. By the mid-60's there were finally enough motorcycle racers that they could organize their own events. Perhaps not by coincidence, this was also the same time that Honda and Yamaha started providing small race bikes. Up until that time, most race bikes were the now-legendary European brands: Norton, Triumph, Parilla, Bultaco, Benelli, Moto Guzzi and many others. Having over two dozen road races per year just in California was not unusual.
The AFM grew along with the general growth in American motorcycling. Many AFM racers were the first ones provided with Honda and Yamaha race bikes, some of them becoming the first dealers for those bikes. Other racers went on to form related businesses with Lockhart-Phillips and Kerker exhausts just two recognized examples.
By the early 70's, most tracks had closed. The AFM survived by racing at Willow Springs, Ontario Motor Speedway for a few years, Riverside until 1989, and Sears Point which had opened in 1971. The 70's and early 80's were in many ways the glory days of the club, with racers using AFM races to warm-up for Daytona (still a major International event in those years). Riders such as Kenny Roberts, Randy Mamola, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, and Kevin Schwantz all raced with the AFM.
The AFM concentrates on providing an environment that welcomes all types of racers on machines from 160cc Vintage bikes to modern superbikes. We have some of the largest turnouts of any regional club in the country and are one of the few that race at multiple tracks, having events at Buttonwillow Raceway, Thunderhill Raceway and Sonoma Raceway (aka Sears Point).
In many ways, the evolution of AFM racing in California not only reflected the changes in road-going motorcycles but also led those changes. The AFM continues to be an organization that welcomes new riders of all abilities while dealing with the external changes that make it increasingly difficult to conduct races.
History Of The AFM - 1954 through 1978
Written by Dain Gingarelli and published in Lap Times Magazine 1977-78
Archive copy provided by Kevin Smith (AFM #24A)
*Click image above to open PDF copy of full article (14.7mb)
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