Living Color: AHRMA Racer Larry Poons

The concept of artist as racer sounds a bit abstract itself until you learn that Larry Poons is as much a racer as he is an artist.

  • Racer Larry Poons
    Photo courtesy Larry Poons
  • Larry heads for a third place finish in the 250 GP at Road America last June. He came in second the next day.
    Photo courtesy Larry Poons

Rider: Larry Poons
Age/years racing: 77/24
Occupation: Artist
Race bikes: Ducati 250 Mark 3, Seeley Condor 500
Daily rider: 1986 Suzuki GSX-R 1100

Off track, Larry Poons is famous for his paintings. Poons gained prominence in the early 1960s as a leading figure in abstract expressionism and his work drew international acclaim: Mentioning his name in the “right” crowd today draws knowing, appreciative nods.

Yet in AHRMA circles, Poons isn’t known for his paintings; he’s the guy riding the no. 21X bikes — a Ducati 250 Mark 3 single he pilots in 250 GP and a Seeley 500 Condor he rides in 500 Premier.

The concept of artist as racer sounds a bit abstract itself until you learn Poons is as much racer as artist, and that riding came before painting. “I’ve been riding all my life,” Poons says, “starting at 16.” His first bike was a BMW 250 single, followed by a Norton International, then a BSA Road Rocket, a Ducati Diana and a BSA Gold Star. “In 1963 I bought a Norton Manx from Ghost Motors and put a twin in it, and rode that in the city a long time.”

Poons wasn’t racing then, at least not on the track. “Back then I would race around New York City, running from 96th Street on the West Side to 96th Street on the East Side,” he says. “Then I had a chance to get a G50 engine from Berliner. You could buy a Matchless G50 off the shelf for $300, and we put the G50 in the Manx frame and that was my street bike for a while. And then when Seeley started making one of his race bikes with an alternator and lights, I ordered one.” That was in 1971, and Poons still has that bike; it’s the same Seeley he rides in the 500 Premier class.

“My first race was in the pouring rain at Loudon,” Poons recalls. “Man it was awful. Gordon Pulis was mothering me through, and the rain’s coming down and he looked at me and said, ‘Larry, you gonna go or not?’ I was slow, but I ended up second to Todd Henning.”

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