When Don Emde received his first motorcycle for Christmas in,1962, his family already had almost 50 years motorcycling experience. Grandpa Joe opened a motorcycle repair business in California. Don’s father, Floyd, took motorcycling to a higher level through racing.
Don was born in 1951. He got his first motorcycle at 12 and soon spent many afternoons riding near their house. Soon, he began competing in amateur events in the San Diego area and found success.
In 1969 Don began racing in AMA, racing dirt track on Friday nights and road racing on the weekend. He won the AFM racing association’s overall national championship.
In 1970, he tested his experience on the AMA racing circuit, winning Flat Track, TT, and Roadrace events, including the Junior Final at the Oklahoma City National races. In 1971, Don moved up the expert level to compete in the AMA Grand National Championship series. He was on the BSA factory team and was the 11th ranked rider in the United States at year end.
BSA suffered financial difficulties, which caused Don to find a new racing team. He returned to his sponsor, Mel Dinesen, Yamaha dealer from Southern California.
Their first major race was the 1972 Daytona 200. Don rode a 350cc Yamaha against larger bikes. When Don won the 1972 race, he set several milestones. The first Daytona 200 victory for a Yamaha motorcycle, the first two-stroke and smallest engine size to win the challenging race.
Don raced professionally a few more years, then decided to retire, focusing on his family and career. He met his future wife, Tracy, in 1972.
He worked motorcycle retail stores and was an ad sales rep for Motorcycle Dealernews. He worked for Bell Helmets rising to vice president of sales and marketing. In 1985, Don returned to Motorcycle Dealernews magazine as publisher.
Don served on the Motorcycle Industry Council’s Aftermarket Committee. He spearheaded The “Discover Today’s Motorcycling” PR campaign, now known as Motorcycles.org, to reinvigorate the sport.
In 1990, Don started his own business. His first publication was a monthly dealer newsletter called The Emde Report, followed by writing and publishing, The Daytona 200, The History of America’s Premier Motorcycle Race.
Seeing the growing interest with antique and vintage motorcycles, Don launched Motorcycle Collector Magazine. A year later, Emde and Hall of Famer, Fred Fox, agreed that Don Emde Productions to produce a dealer publication for Parts Unlimited. The bimonthly Parts Magazine an immediate success, and Fox’s other distributing company, Drag Specialties, wanted the same for the V-Twin industry. Parts Magazine and Drag Specialties Magazine are still published bi-monthly. Parts Europe Magazine is published quarterly and distributed through LeMans’ European warehouse.
In 2012, Don acquired an original Indian Motorcycle Company booklet detailed Cannon Ball Baker’s historic ride from San Diego to New York City. The booklet was Baker’s diary and inspired Don to begin a project to retrace Baker’s route. He has since written numerous books about motorcycling.
When the AMA opened its Motorcycle Heritage Museum in 1990, Don joined the board of directors. In 1995, he became chairman and served until 2005. Don helped to created By-Laws and election procedures for an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Don has been involved with the Trailblazers for over 25 years, and its president for the past 10.
On receiving the Arlen Ness Lifetime Achievement Award, Don credited his Rally hosts, Bill and Sherry Gikling, 2018 award recipient Fred Fox, and the award’s namesake, Arlen Ness, whose custom Drag-Ness graced the premier issue’s cover.
Saying “Without the Gikling’s hospitality, and Fred Fox’s support, I can’t image I would ever have been considered for any award at the Sturgis Rally, especially one named for Arlen Ness…the King of Choppers. I am very honored.”