Motorcycle Classics

Racer Profile: Wes and Leah Orloff

Riders: Wes and Leah Orloff
Age/years riding:
48/25; 43/25
Harley-Davidson engineers
Race bikes:
1967 Honda CB450, Moto Guzzi LeMans Superbike, Kawasaki KZ750 Superbike, Buell XB12R Firebolt, Kawasaki KX500 ice bike/1973 Honda CR175, Honda RS125, Suzuki SV650
Daily riders:
2009 Buell XB12XP “Polysses” (police Ulysses), 1985 Honda VF700F Interceptor/2008 Buell Ulysses, 2004 Ducati 749 Dark

This is a love story about three people. No, not that kind of love story, although two of the players happen to be husband and wife. Rather, this love story includes motorcycle racing, with an emphasis on vintage bikes.

Meet WFO Racing, composed of Wes and Leah Orloff, with a little help from Dale Coffman. WFO was formed by Wes and Leah to give some off-track substance and meaning to their racing, and their venture includes various other players, too. Phase 1 of the WFO saga actually originated in Japan in 1962 where, as a young GI, Dale and two fellow soldiers raced motorcycles during their military time off. The local Honda distributor sponsored the trio, and they competed with more than a fair amount of success. After his military discharge, Dale continued racing in America, eventually earning AMA Expert ranking, wearing 74c on his bike’s number plates. By the time he hung up his steel shoe for good, Dale also was entrenched in a career as a high school shop teacher. He eventually retired, but still dabbled with motorcycles, a passion he never relinquished. His journey took him to vintage road racing, where he competed on a Honda 450.

Phase 2 that led to the WFO’s genesis was set in motion when Dale decided it was time to give up riding so he could concentrate solely on tuning his bike. Some friends introduced him to Weston Frederick Orloff (thus the eventual WFO team moniker) at about the time the world ushered in the new millennium, and at this point we’ll let Wes take over the tale: “We [he and Dale] met at a race one day, and during my race I proceeded to crash — right in front of him!” Wes pauses for effect: “But we still managed to hook up [as rider and tuner].” The seed that eventually became WFO Racing sprouted that day.

So where does Leah factor into all this? Good question, because even though she and Wes didn’t meet until 2004, their paths up to that point had all but crossed several times during their lives. Item one: Both grew up in nearby Cleveland, Ohio, suburbs during their formative years. Item two: Both are Ohio State University graduates, each receiving Buckeye engineering degrees a few years apart. It gets better: They both were hired by Harley-Davidson within a year of each other, although they had yet to meet.

Wes had been competing in vintage motorcycle road racing for more than a few years by that time, and Leah joined the old-bike racing ranks in 2003 with her aging Yamaha FZR400. That put them closer yet to each other until, the following summer, they officially met. As you now know, that union led to wedding bells, and the rest, as they say, is history.

That recap is an oversimplification, as there’s so much more. For instance, when Leah decided she wanted a career in the motorcycle industry, she enrolled at the American Motorcycle Institute in Daytona Beach, Florida, to become a certified motorcycle mechanic. It was there that she actually had her first brush with amateur road racing, working as a volunteer turn marshal, which prompted her to attend some track days with her own bike, later making the big leap at a Pridmore riding school to learn more about the craft of racing.

Today, Leah competes mainly in the Honda CB160 class aboard her modified 175, plus she races a bright-orange Honda RS125. Wes proudly points out that she won her first 160-class race at their home track of Road America in 2015, and this past year she posted another victory in the competitive class. And don’t think that she’s just a pretty face who happens to be pretty fast — she’s in charge of the team’s dynamometer, a piece of machinery that Wes describes as “her dyno” because Leah maintains and operates that coveted chunk of metal. “We have a dyno in our barn. Who else does that?” she rhetorically asks.

But WFO Racing is about competing on more than just vintage bikes. Wes, who has a couple of championships to his credit, also races other old bikes (some owned by such classic-bike luminaries as Stan Friduss, who campaigns the ex-Mike Baldwin Moto Guzzi), prompting him to tout WFO’s mission statement, “Our goal is to hit every kind of racing there is.”

Witness WFO’s multi-bike venture at Bonneville; Wes’ annual trek through the snow in Wisconsin’s annual Steel Shoe 3 Hour (a race in the absolute dead of winter that no doubt numbs the body but warms the soul of its competitors); and his 2012 Pike’s Peak outing where he crashed in, of all places, Engineer’s Corner. Wes’ Pike’s Peak crash proved to be a sobering moment, especially for Leah. “Due to the course layout, for a long time I didn’t know how serious it [the crash] was,” she says. Wes’ injuries sidelined him for a few months, but he fully recovered, returning in 2013 to take second in his class. He credits his return to Leah’s “amazing support and encouragment. Not too many wives would be so positive,” Wes says.

WFO continues to operate as a fun-functioning team, and today there are two more “team members,” Wynn and Indy, the Orloffs’ son (7 years old) and daughter (4). There’s a back story to their names, too, but you’ll have to find that out from Mom and Dad, who faithfully keep this racing organization bonded together as tight as, well, family.

We’ll leave with these words from Dale: “Wes and I have been partners in this racing stuff for 16 years now, and I couldn’t ask or hope for a better relationship. Wes is fast, but much more important than that is that he is a really good person, as is Leah. I would claim them as family any day of the week.” That, my friends, is true love. — Dain Gingerelli

  • Published on Feb 17, 2017
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