POMONA, CALIF., JAN. 25-27–After a weather pattern with bouts of soggy gloom limited attendance during Friday and Saturday, the first two days of the 64th annual Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS), the clouds dissipated for good on Sunday morning. While the clear, brisk conditions encouraged a sizeable group of enthusiasts to turn out, the numbers appeared to be down a bit from last year. Those who did show up would enjoy nonexistent lines at both beer-a-toriums and the food vendors, unfettered access while checking out the hundreds of classics and hot rods that participated in the 8th annual Grand Daddy Drive-In event, and plenty of elbow room while browsing miles of aisles filled with more than 550 combined auto and motorcycle contest entries at the Pomona Fairplex.
And what a collection of entries! It’s not uncommon for exhibitors to work for years on end to prepare their offerings for one of, if not the, largest, most prestigious auto show of its kind in the world. I’m convinced a number of the rare models would even attract a fair degree of attention at the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach.
To give you an idea of the size of the area included within the eight exhibition buildings, seven of the eight halls are 120 yards long and 25 yards wide. Building #4 is 280 yards long and 40 yards wide. (I would know; I paced it off.) Plus there’s a permanent exhibit, the NHRA Museum, in another 120-yard-long by 25-yard-wide building, which is open during the GNRS. That adds up to 289,800 square feet, not counting the 27,000-square-foot NHRA Museum. I don’t know about you, but I have trouble putting such dimensions into perspective. Despite the proliferation of space available to exhibitors, each year the facility seems to bulge at the seams with all the cars and bikes, most of which are entered in the competition for trophies and cash.
The theme for this year’s show was “Aloha.” Building #9 once again housed the show’s theme display, this year comprised of dozens of “Woodies” surrounded by thatched huts and imitation palm trees that served as the backdrop for a stage where hula dancers entertained the crowd.
Event organizers typically assign the motorcycle portion of the show to the west end of Building #6. I like to enter the building from the east and saunter through the muscle car exhibition on that end. Those oh-so-familiar examples of Detroit’s finest hour get my juices flowing with flights of déjà vu back to my late teens and early 20s.
Once again this year, a stretched-out, chrome-encrusted fleet of around a half-dozen Denver’s Choppers, built in the ’70s, greeted me as I approached the bike show. It’s normal to do a double take upon your first encounter with these guys until you realize that for the most part, the motors are from metric manufacturers (Honda and Kawasaki predominantly). At that point my trusty Canon SLR found its way from its perch on my left hip up to eye-level where it began greedily winking away at each photo op presented by the myriad numbers of two-wheel eye candy.
Two specimens from the Boss Hoss lineup, replete with dynamic paint jobs, stopped traffic to the point where I needed to wait a minute before
I could set up for the angle I wanted in order to expose the bike’s best profiles. Of course, Victor Vert, owner of the Boss Hoss franchise in L.A., was awarded the first-place trophy for Best Auto Bike for his 606 c.i., 640 hp model. The category acknowledges the fact that there’s an eight-cylinder Chevy engine mounted in the substantial frame of each of these monsters, which start weighing in at over 1,100 lbs. I know what you’re thinking; with that much horsepower and reasonably comparable torque numbers, though the weight is off the charts, you’d flip the thing over on its back if you racked the throttle. That was my first impression, but when I rode the base model with a short-block Chevy 350 onboard, I realized that the torque converter in the two-speed automatic transmission allowed the drivetrain to apply power to the rear wheel so evenly and smoothly that I never felt the front wheel come off the ground—even though that model will go 0–60 in 3.3 seconds. And they handle surprisingly well.
As I made my way through the bike show display, taking time to get a photo of pretty much every entry, out of the corner of my eye I happened to catch a glimpse of a familiar two-wheeled silhouette. Sure enough, there, parked in the Profile Cycle pavilion, sat “Bella Tuomo” (beautiful thunder), last year’s winner of the coveted America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle award (the GNRS equivalent to best of show). When I saw it last year its provocative lines and absolutely luscious paint job left me in a quandary. I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I wanted to ride it or make love to it. I knew if Bella Tuomo was onsite, the Baldi family, Dawndra the bike’s owner and her husband Sam, would not be far off. What’s more, Jimmy Todorovitch, the visionary who built Bella Tuomo, as well as Sam’s chopper “Unforgiven,” which won the America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle award in 2011, would be holding forth from his Profile Cycle exhibit. I’ve been following Jimmy’s career these past few years. In fact, I included a photo and a description of the Shovelhead chopper he built for Glen Quaid in the article I wrote about the Quaid Loma Linda Open House/Veterans Poker Run, which appeared in the December edition of this esteemed publication. His career has featured best-of-show trophies at the prestigious Easyriders Bike Show on two occasions, the IMBDA Master Builders Show at the Broken Spoke in Sturgis and, as I just mentioned, two consecutive wins at the GNRS.
After a round of hugs and salutations, Jimmy introduced me to Alberto Ahumada of OneXtreme Custom Paint. Alberto created the eye-popping artwork on Bella Tuomo, as well as on Unforgiven. Sam Baldi then pointed to a long, low, champagne-colored pro street-style bike on a turntable display. My heart beat faster as I contemplated the prospect that these guys could be about to win the America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle trophy for the third year in a row. When I turned back to face Sam, Jimmy, Alberto and Dawndra, they returned my gaze with knowing smiles and nods. I pointed my lens at the V-twin vision and began flashing away. Jimmy told me the bike features a 113″ Patrick Racing engine, a Baker tranny with a transmission brake, an Eagle Engineering belt drive, a Paul Cox seat, Rampage wheels and a paint job by OneXtreme. The frame and all of the fabrication was done in house. The official name for the Baldi’s entry this year is “Nemesis,” but I saw an elaborate plaque in the display area that read “Lost Angel.” Earlier in 2012, the Baldi’s daughter, Alysha, lost her baby in the delivery room. Their grief motivated them to dedicate the bike to their deceased grandchild.
Just two booths down the way I found Grant Peterson of Freedom Machinery and Accessories dispensing equal amounts of charm and information about the 5th annual Born Free Show—the event he co-founded with Mike Davis of Born Loser Cycles. The rally takes place at Oak Canyon Park in the O.C. at Irvine Lake on Saturday, June 29. The event attracts motorcycle celebrities like Willie G. Davidson, rocker/builder Gilby Clarke of Guns N’ Roses, motorcycle sculptor Jeff Decker, motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter and a host of cutting-edge custom builders from across North America and around the world. Last year’s crowd estimate placed it somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000. (It’s difficult to get an accurate count because admission is free.) Grant told me that of the 32 invited custom builders, 18 will offer the lottery grand-prize winner the opportunity to choose one of their bikes as the prize.
Though I didn’t run into Mike Davis on that Sunday afternoon, his influence and spirit were in evidence. The 1950 Triumph GT he built for the show garnered him trophies for Outstanding Engine, as well as for Outstanding European Custom. Congrats, Mike! Keep the good stuff comin’.
Legendary automobile customizer George Barris had a booth set up off to the side of the awards stage. I got him to pose with his Harley-enthusiast daughter JoJi. Interaction with this dynamic duo is always uplifting. They seem to be in a perpetual state of good spirits.
It wasn’t that easy to catch up with human projectile/world land-speed record holder Wink Eller. He hacks his wheelchair around like it was a speedway bike. The chair is a temporary necessity while he recuperates from knee replacement surgery. It seems the 1948 Harley-Davidson EL he had restored for Chip Buckley had won a trophy, and Wink was trying to locate his client to congratulate the man. Mr. Buckley also won a trophy for an auto he entered in the car competition.
Oh, and I thought you’d like to know that huzzahs went up from friends, family, associates and supporters of the Baldi’s and Profile Cycle when John Buck, event coordinator, announced Sam Baldi’s “Nemesis” as America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle. They did it! In most competitions I’m aware of, three wins in a row establish the victors as a dynasty.
Americas Most Beautiful Roadster Award: John Mumford, 1927 Ford Roadster
Americas Most Beautiful Motorcycle Award: Sam Baldi, 2012 Custom “Nemesis”
Outstanding Overall Motorcycle: Al Alcom, 1977 Harley-Davidson
Outstanding Engine—Motorcycle: Mike Davis, 1950 Triumph
Outstanding Paint—Motorcycle: Al Alcom, 1977 Harley-Davidson
Outstanding Auto Bike: Victor Vert, Boss Hoss 606 custom
1st: Mike Davis, 1950 Triumph GT
2nd: Todd Asin, 1952 Triumph Custom
3rd: Chico Kodama, 1964 Triumph 650
1st: Jim Davis, 1980 Honda 750 Denver’s Chopper
1st: Al Alcom, 1977 Harley-Davidson Street Chopper
2nd: Stephen Johnson, 1974 Denver’s Chopper Sportster
3rd: Richard Nolan, 1969 Shovelhead Gobler
4th: Joe Devita, 1965 Harley-Davidson Sportster
1st: Robert Steffano, 2003 Ducati Café 9
2nd: Adam Gaspic, 1973 Honda CB 350
1st: Frank Devenport, 2005 Harley-Davidson
1st: Richard Nolan, 1958 Harley-Davidson Custom
2nd: Dick Rundell, 1952 Triumph 650 Custom
Restored Bike (25 years or older)
1st: Lionzo Perez, 1941 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead
2nd: Jim Underwood, 1948 Indian Chief
3rd: Chip Buckley, 1948 Harley-Davidson EL
1st: John Edwards, 1959 Harley-Davidson Panhead
2nd: Matt Luna, 1982 Harley-Davidson FX
3rd: Christopher Staab, 1952 Harley-Davidson