What: An amazing collection of iconic race bikes at Red Rock Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas, Nevada.
How to Get There: The dealership sits about 7 miles west of the Strip at 2260 South Rainbow Blvd., Las Vegas, NV, 89146.
Best Kept Secrets: The collection itself is really the best kept secret here. However, this elite, Platinum-awarded dealership’s west-side location is a great starting point for rides to Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston.
Avoid: Resist the temptation to limit your Vegas stay to the Strip. This collection will be a highlight of any motorcyclist’s visit to Sin City.
If I asked readers where they’d look for one of the finest collections of historically significant race bikes in the nation, answers would certainly vary. The list would likely include museums, various highbrow Concours d’Elegance, or maybe the collection at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. However, I will make the case that I happened upon arguably one of the nation’s most impressive collections of famous race bikes at a Harley-Davidson dealership.
I was told that Red Rock Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas, Nevada, housed a nice display of rare race bikes, so I made the stop on a recent ride through southern Nevada. “Nice display” was a profound understatement. What I found was a treasure trove of motorcycles that were ridden in some of the most storied races by some of the sport’s most iconic racers. From dirt trackers still wearing the patina and scars of the dusty oval to exotic, fully faired street machines, the collection is a must-see for any motorcycle race fan.
The Las Vegas collector, who is a close friend of the owner of the dealership, asked not to be named. While respecting his privacy, I can tell you that I have met few individuals more passionate about motorcycle racing and its rich history. His collection has been a permanent resident of Red Rock H-D for more than five years.
One element that makes the collection especially intriguing is the extensive documentation that accompanies it. The collector told me that verification of a bike’s authenticity is of the utmost importance to him. The bikes are displayed with a backdrop of articles, original ownership papers, specific race documents, and even handwritten personal correspondence. He is not one of those collectors who builds a motorcycle around the seat off of a famous bike and calls it authentic.
When I asked him what makes a motorcycle worthy of his quest, he said, “It’s all about the story behind the bike.” If a bike was ridden in a significant race by a special racer, it will pique his interest. He went on to say that when he sets his sights on a particular bike that “the hunt is the real thrill.” Once an important bike is in his possession, he does everything in his power to have the restoration done by people and companies that were intimately involved with the bike or the marque.
When I queried the owner on what he considers the crown jewels of his impressive collection, he had a bit of trouble narrowing down his favorites. His stories of races, racers and motorcycles were detailed, passionate and intriguing. However, when pressed, he gave me his short list:
Cal Rayborn’s 1968 Harley-Davidson KRTT 750. The collector takes special pleasure in possessing the motorcycle on which Rayborn lapped the entire field in the 1968 Daytona 200. He went on to win the 1969 Daytona on the same bike, in addition to many other notable races in that era. The owner said that the bike is “fully documented with the chain of ownership from the factory to now.” He considers the motorcycle to be the most iconic Harley-Davidson racer of all time. Renzo Pasolini’s Harley-Davidson XRTT is also prominently featured.
Kenny Roberts’ 1975 Yamaha TZ750. This is the bike about which Roberts famously said, “They don’t pay me enough to ride that thing.” Certainly, the bike was a raucous, overpowered bear to ride. Basically, the TZ is an amalgamation of a 4-cylinder, 2-stroke road racing engine fitted in a flat track frame. It could be said that Roberts’ 1975 ride at Indy on the TZ was the single event that elevated him to iconic status. Yes, all the documentation is in place and this really is Roberts’ TZ. Notably, “King” Kenny’s amazing 1980 Yamaha YZR750 is also part of the collection.
Gary Nixon’s 1976 Kawasaki KR750. This screaming green monster is the motorcycle Nixon should have ridden to the Formula 750 Championship in 1976. The collector stressed “should have” because the heat race win in Venezuela that would have put Nixon over the top in the point standings was overturned in a controversial and confused ruling. The KR750’s 3-cylinder, 2-stroke engine is cradled in an innovative frame constructed of large-diameter, thin-walled tubing that greatly improved the bike’s handling.
Steve Baker’s 1978 Yamaha YZR750. Baker’s YZR750 sits in line with the other venerable race bikes at Red Rock Harley-Davidson. Ironically, it was Baker who was given the controversial heat win over Nixon in the botched race in Venezuela in 1976. The year after the Venezuelan fiasco, Baker became the first American to win the Formula 750 Championship. Unfortunately, Baker’s career was cut short by a devastating injury in 1978. YZRs are extremely rare, and two can be seen at Red Rock.
That’s an impressive short list, but the collection includes a myriad of other notable bikes. You can see Gene Romero’s Triumph Trident, Freddie Spencer’s Honda NS750, Barry Sheene’s Suzuki XR11, Jim Rice’s BSA Gold Star and dozens of other famous motorcycles. It’s nice to see such a spectacular collection of racing hardware on display to the masses rather than languishing in the owner’s personal garage. Next time you are in Las Vegas, take a foray away from the neon hue of the Strip and visit the magnificent machines at Red Rock Harley-Davidson. — Tim Kessel