Lost mentor

This has a been a tough year. Losing friends and motorcycles, motorcycles are friends too actually. I found out yesterday that the man that caused my sickness…riding and racing motorcycles…passed away a while back.

Michael Norton Spence was my step dad. I have mentioned him in posts of late and I find it interesting that because of those posts I learned of his passing.

Michael was born in 1935, took up flat track racing in the early 50’s, and roadracing a little later. The pictures of he and his brother racing back then are great, I wish I had them. Michael took me under his wing in the mid 60’s and created this monster that has lived in me ever since…the love of motorcycles. We raced in the California Desert together for a few years, rode every twisty road in Southern California and destroyed a few motorcycle’s along the way.

I have numerous memories of time with my step dad…some good, some not so good and some just plain memorable. I learned to figure out how to get a motorcycle running again when you’re stranded in the desert or on a Highway in the middle of nowhere, how to tune a motorcycle by ear and why Triumphs are the best motorcycle’s ever made…well, I still own one, so I guess he taught me well??

A favorite memory I have comes from the trip home from a race in the desert. Just your basic ‘Hare and Hound’, 100 miles across the Mojave, but..it was my first trophy..third place in the ‘Open Novice’ class. I was on top of the world. The day got better…we were passing the old ‘395 Cycle Park’ in Adelanto, California where a TT race was going on. We stopped to watch a bit and I ended up getting a chance to ride in the TT on a Bultaco Astro 250, too much fun. I didn’t do all that well, but I followed my basic race philosophy…don’t crash and don’t be last, I succeeded.

It was a really hot day in the desert and what is always great on a hot day?? A cold beer! Two guys covered in dirt, in an old truck with a couple of beat up motorcycles in the back and one of the guys is only 17. Let’s stop at the next roadside bar we see. The Rocket Inn. A dive outside of town, people that have been sitting at the bar since opening time (6AM), a really bad jukebox, really cold beer and no ID required. A great end to a great day. It is a great memory. Oh, and the really, really good part, I beat my step dad in the race…by a long way!!

I moved to New Mexico in 1973. My move to New Mexico was on my motorcycle thank you; at that time a 1972 Kawasaki 750. Unfortunately it was also at that time Michael and my mom parted company. I lost touch with my motorcycle mentor. I tried to find him a couple of times over the years since with no luck and actually thought I saw him once in a restaurant.

The man that got me started on this life long path of motorcycling was killed while walking across a road near his home in Las Vegas. Over thirty years later I found that he was an associate professor at a local college and still riding his old 1952 Triumph Speed Twin.

Thank you Michael for sending me on this path. I owe you much my friend. I hope you are riding your motorcycle in heaven and I know that heaven for you is riding that bike.

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