AMA faces PR debacle after rescinding Hall of Fame honor for mechanic Clark

Publish Date: 
Jul 13, 2012
By Mary Slepicka

NOTABLE MEMBERS, including Grand National Champions, of the AMA Hall of Fame have returned their medals in protest after the organization decided it would not induct famed mechanic Derek "Nobby" Clark into this year’s class after all.

Dick Mann and Dave Despain so far have returned their medals, and Kenny Roberts likely was to follow suit, according to reports.

(UPDATE: The Motorcycle Hall of Fame has just issued the results of an investigative report that puts the blame squarely on procedural error and alleged 'dereliction of duties' by two committee chairmen. Click here for more information.)

“I was one of the original committee members involved in organizing the current Hall of Fame. Lately, I have watched this organization slide into mediocrity, apparently from the lack leadership and knowledge of the history of our sport,” Mann stated in a July 12 letter to the association that was picked up by Ed Youngblood’s Motohistory and Cycle News, among other websites. “Due to Nobby Clark’s contributions to the sport of motorcycles, it is my opinion there is no one more deserving of being inducted in the HOF.  Since that is not going to happen, I no longer want to be considered a part of the Hall of Fame.”

Roberts told Cycle News that if Mann’s resignation will prompt him to do the same. “It’s bad that it has to come to this, but what are you going to do. If Nobby [Clark] doesn’t deserve to be in there, nobody does.”

 “I believe we Hall of Famers have a special stake in the integrity of the institution and its nominating process,” Despain noted in a July 12 letter to the AMA and posted by Motohistory and other sites.  “I have lost all faith in that process and, more importantly, in the individuals who apparently now control it.”

Despain reportedly was returning his Hall of Fame medal to the association this week.

AMA in mid-June announced that Clark would be inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame this year; however, about two weeks later, the AMA issued another press release stating that a balloting mistake was made. Jeffrey Heininger, chairman of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, at the time indicated that Clark’s name should not have been on the ballot.

The June 16 press release issued by the AMA stated that “world championship tuner Derek “Nobby” Clark, whose bikes claimed 17 FIM world titles in multiple displacements from the 1960s through 1980, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2012 AMA Legends Weekend at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., Nov. 16-17.”

In the second press release issued by AMA on July 2, Heininger added that the action to rescind Clark’s award was taken to ensure the Hall of Fame’s integrity, although he did not elaborate.

Speculation in the media was that a past legal issue prevented the AMA from inducting Clark into the Hall of Fame. However, this could not be confirmed. Both press releases on the Clark announcement and eventual retraction were no longer on the AMA Hall of Fame website.

Some members believe that if the action is due to a legal issue, that the AMA is living in a glass house.

“What do we do about multi-time Grand National Champion in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame who spent time in the slammer for drug trafficking?  What about the Hall of Famer who went to jail for beating the hell out of a business associate with a baseball bat?  What about the two guys — one a Grand National Champion — who had their AMA licenses suspended for fraud and forgery?  Or the publisher and entrepreneur who went to Leavenworth for federal mail fraud?  And the high AMA official who was convicted of embezzlement?” Youngblood noted in his blog.

Hall of Fame committee member Charles Falco questioned the decision in a July 11 email. “This isn’t about the merits of Nobby Clark, it’s about the HoF election process itself,” he wrote. “Given that there were two weeks between press releases, it appears there wasn’t so much urgency in this specific matter that, say, 24 hours couldn’t have been found to conduct an email poll of the voting members.”

“Just for the record, this particular problem was created completely by AMA members serving in volunteer positions on the AMA Board of Directors and/or the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation Board of Directors,” Hall of Famer Don Emde stated for the record in mid-July on his Facebook page.  “As I see it, I don't think any AMA employee was involved.”