Merlyn Plumlee, a cornerstone of the American Honda road racing team, has died. He was 55 years old.
Plumlee died today at his home with his wife Marta at his side after battling cancer for two years. Plumlee is widely regarded as one of the greatest tuners in the history of American road racing.
"Always first to shake a competitor's hand in victory or defeat, Merlyn was a gentleman in an often violent sport. His friendly demeanor melted the lines drawn between competitors. Merlyn was respected by all and his friendship was cherished throughout the paddock," an American Honda spokesperson said.
Plumlee began working in the American Honda race shop in 1982, when he attended his first national road race — the Daytona 200 — as part of the Honda factory team. He was known for working his magic with machines and riders alike, and this talent helped nurture some of the greatest riders in the history of the sport: Steve Wise, Freddie Spencer, Fred Merkel, Scott Russell, Doug Chandler, Simon Crafar, Mike Hale, Wayne Rainey, Bubba Shobert, Ben and Eric Bostrom, Jake Zemke and Nicky Hayden.
A native of Colorado, Plumlee was, in his own words, "a moderately successful professional dirt tracker," until he realized his talents lay elsewhere. He then took up road racing, mostly on the local level, with a great deal of success. But his true talents came in spinning wrenches. At the age of 14, he began working in a local motorcycle shop in Colorado. He parlayed that job into a successful career as a professional tuner that carried him to seven Superbike championships.
"American Honda mourns the loss of Merlyn Plumlee. He was a genuinely good person who was a pleasure to be around every day, the nicest guy anyone could hope to run into in the AMA paddock, and a man we could always count on for more than two decades," the company stated. "The paddock will forever be changed by his passing, and our hearts go out to his wife Marta, who had the privilege of knowing him best of all."