Motorcycle Classics Blogs > Black Side Down

Motorcycle Hall of Fame Needs to Explain Decision to Remove Nobby Clark

by Richard Backus


Tags: ,

Nobby Clark at work, date unknown 
Nobby Clark , date and place unknown. (Photo: Winnie Schiebe) 

More than a few people have been watching the unfolding drama as the American Motorcyclist Association Motorcycle Hall of Fame announced the impending induction into the Hall of Fame of Derek “Nobby” Clark, race mechanic to stars like Mike Hailwood, Jim Redman and Giacomo Agostini, then inexplicably reversed course weeks later, announcing Clark’s removal from consideration. Among the strong voices demanding an explanation are former AMA president Ed Youngblood and Hall of Fame committee member Charles Falco.

Unfortunately for the AMA, its handling of the so far unexplained decision to remove Nobby Clark from Hall of Fame consideration is casting a dark shadow on the organization, justifiably raising questions concerning the Hall of Fame's selection and vetting process. With no response forthcoming from the AMA, it would appear the officers of the largest, most important motorcycle rights organization in the U.S. feel justified in acting alone and without regard to any sort of open process.

The following is from Dr. Charles Falco, co-curator of the Guggenheim's "The Art of the Motorcycle" and Hall of Fame committee member, who kindly gave permission to repost his email to the AMA, first posted by Ed Youngblood on his excellent Motohistory site. Immediately following Charles Falco’s email is Ed Youngblood’s commentary on the issue, posted here with Ed Youngblood’s kind permission. -- Richard Backus 

Charles Falco’s email as posted on Ed Youngblood’s Motohistory.net: The following email was sent by Hall of Fame committee member Dr. Charles Falco to Motorcycle Heritage Foundation Chairman Jeff Heininger today. It raises the troubling issue of whether the prescribed committee process has been overruled by outside parties in the matter of Nobby Clark's removal from the 2012 list of inductees.” 

From: Falco, Charles M.
Sent: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 12:55 PM
Subject: The Hall of Fame election process

Dear Mr. Heininger,

I just learned that after Nobby Clark having been elected to the HoF and a press release issued to this effect, a subsequent press release issued by you two weeks later stripped him of this honor. Were the people on the HoF selection committees made aware of this latter action before it was taken? Did I miss an email asking for my input? My question isn't about whether or not Nobby Clark deserves the honor, but about the HoF election process that all of us spend time taking part in.

Are the various HoF committees actually selecting (or de-selecting) the people being inducted, or are the actual decisions being made by you alone, without consulting with us? We go through a rather elaborate and time-consuming nomination, winnowing, and final selection process to arrive at the people put forward for induction. If this is all just a façade, and the actual decisions are made by someone else, I'd rather spend my time on other activities.

Again, this isn't about the merits of Nobby Clark, it's about the HoF election process itself. Given that there were two weeks between the 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. Even if not everyone was able to respond in those 24 hours, at least there would have been the semblance of democracy.

I think everyone serving on all of the committees deserves a full explanation from you of what went on, who made the various decisions, and why you felt it necessary to overturn our votes without consulting us in advance. Thank you.
Charles Falco

p.s. I don't have email addresses of everyone on all of the committees, but am cc'ing it to the ones whose email addresses I do have.

Ed Youngblood’s commentary on Motohistory.net:
Just two weeks after sending out a press release that gave Nobby Clark one of the most laudatory introductions any Motorcycle Hall of Fame nominee has ever received, the AMA sent out another release saying, “Oops, sorry, check that, we’re not going to induct him after all.”

This second release claimed Mr. Clark should have never been on the ballot. It raised more questions than it answered, and turned downright ominous when Motorcycle Heritage Foundation Chairman Jeff Heininger said that Clark’s removal was necessary to protect the integrity of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame (see our original story at Motohistory News & Views 7/2/2012).

Did this imply that the process had been so fouled up that Mr. Clark had to be sacrificed so the Hall of Fame could get its integrity back? Or did it suggest that something so awful was discovered about Mr. Clark that the powers at the AMA and the Hall of Fame could not possibly honor him? As I said, more questions than answers.

But something like an answer came shortly (July 2) at Road Racing World under the bold red headline, “Criminal Case Played a Role in AMA Hall of Fame Decision to Rescind Nobby Clark’s Impending Induction.” But wait, this may just be speculation, because in finer type were the words “First Person/Opinion.” This “opinion” was penned by Michael Goughis, not by web site publisher John Ulrich, who is also a member of the AMA Board of Directors.

We’ll take this editorial at face value, as one man’s opinion. Some might conclude that Mr. Ulrich chose to use his site to turn a negative spotlight on Mr. Clark and away from the AMA. I wouldn’t, because I trust there is an impervious firewall between Mr. Ulrich journalist and Mr. Ulrich AMA official, and that he would never use his web site as a junkyard dog on behalf of the AMA. I believe he has too much integrity for that.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s explore the ramifications of zeroing in on Mr. Clark for his “character,” as evidenced by prior legal problems. 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?

Since the Motorcycle Hall of Fame has traditionally focused on an individual’s contribution to the sport and industry, and always been forgiving of “off-track” behavior, surely “character” cannot suddenly be the issue with Mr. Clark. In fact, there are rumors afloat that a third party may have bullied AMA officials into reversing the decision of the Hall of Fame, which, flawed or not, was carried out through due and democratic process.

Surely not. Would the AMA’s CEO Rob Dingman and Chairman Stan Simpson punish an individual or even a group of members because some vindictive guy threatened them? I doubt it. I believe they have too much integrity, not to mention courage.

Some members of the Hall of Fame committees I have spoken to have been very critical of the reversal of the decision involving Mr. Clark, and some have begun to demand answers from Mr. Heininger as to who was involved and why and how (see Motohistory News & Views 7/11/2012). When the very experts entrusted with evaluating nominees and maintaining the integrity of the Hall of Fame don’t know what is going on, something really smells.

One committee member told me that he did not even receive notice of the reversal on Mr. Clark, and that if he had not read it at Motohistory he would not have known about it. Surely Mr. Heininger is not running roughshod over his own team of respected and knowledgeable volunteers, some of which are themselves members of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He places too much value on integrity to do something like that. He's just told us so.

I hope a reasonable explanation is forthcoming, and that Mr. Clark has not been the victim of either outside coercion or a sudden urge by the powers within the AMA to define the moral high ground in protection of their own “integrity.”

One thing I can tell you about people who define moral high ground then stand on it (whether they are moral or not). They are apt to find it a very slippery, lonely, and unpopular place.

My unsolicited advice? Stop this nonsense now. Give Mr. Clark his medal and climb out of this hole before you dig it deeper.  That's the other thing about standing on self-declared moral high ground. You look around and discover you're really standing in a hole, and that everyone else is standing above you.