One of the most prolific and versatile motorcycle racers of all time never won a national championship of consequence. That man is David Aldana, whose professional motorcycle-racing career spanned four decades. Fans of the movie On Any Sunday recall Aldana, probably for the first time, when he challenged BSA teammates Dick Mann and Jim Rice and eventual champion Gene Romero for the 1970 AMA Grand National title that served as the movie’s common theme thread. Those same movie viewers watched in slack-jawed awe as time and again Aldana walked away from some spectacular crashes.
Crashes and other on-track antics gained Aldana his reputation as a rather flamboyant and colorful character. No matter how spectacular the spill, Aldana seemed invincible, as if he were Gumby and Superman rolled into one, earning him the nickname “Rubber Ball.” He walked away from all sorts of crash carnage, prompting people to wonder if his bones were unbreakable. That reputation led to Aldana’s all-black leathers featuring the iconic full-body skeleton graphics on the front. The legend of Bones was born.
Aldana was a capable racer in a variety of categories, among them road racing, speedway and motocross. He earned AMA Rookie of the Year honors in 1970, placing third in the Grand National standings, scoring three wins including Talladega (road race), Terre Haute (half-mile) and Indianapolis (mile). He scored a fourth and final AMA National aboard a Norton at the legendary Ascot TT in 1973. In all, Aldana won in four of the AMA’s five disciplines, failing only to win a short track race. Remarkable.
During his first race season as an expert, Aldana, along with his Triumph/BSA teammates Romero and Don Castro, formed the core of what they termed Team Burrito, a tongue-in-cheek nod to their Hispanic roots, not to mention adding welcomed sauce to the sport.
Aldana eventually focused his energy on road racing, riding a Yamaha TZ750 in AMA events during the 1970s. He also represented the United States in the annual Easter Match Series races in England (he was top U.S. scorer in 1975), and in later years he specialized in endurance road racing. His experience made him a natural there, first winning the 1981 Suzuka Eight Hours, co-riding with fellow American Mike Baldwin for Team Honda. Two years later he finished third at the Daytona Superbike race aboard Honda’s new VF750 Interceptor (a race he won in 1975 for Yoshimura-Kawasaki), and in 1985 he and future star John Kocinski won the WERA National Endurance Championship riding Cycle Tech Racing’s Suzuki GSX-R750.It was at that juncture in his career that I interviewed Aldana for an article about endurance racing. Naturally enough, our conversation drifted to some of Aldana’s more memorable crashes, and he left me with these words: “It’s like a circus act. As you get older, you get more finesse. I still do stupid things, but I’ve improved the way I do ’em. [But] I still give ’em the old wave [after a crash].” MC