Looks like the AMA has stepped in it once again. On June 16, the organization distributed a press release announcing the induction of Derek “Nobby” Clark—legendary roadrace mechanic who tuned motorcycles and their storied riders to 17 world championships over two decades and several classes—into its Hall of Fame. The release heaped extensive praise on Clark for his extraordinary accomplishments, including accolades from the Chairman of the AMA Hall of Fame Selection Committee, Don Rosene.
But just two weeks later, Jeffrey Heininger, Chairman of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, which oversees the HoF selection process, rescinded Clark’s induction, stating that his name never should have been on the ballot in the first place. Heininger did not specify how such a blunder could possibly happen, how someone could be elected to the Hall of Fame if he hadn’t even been nominated. Instead, Heininger only stated that the reversal of Clark’s induction was necessary to ensure the integrity of the Hall.
On July 12, Dave Despain, renowned TV motorsports announcer, motorcycle journalist and himself a Hall of Fame member, resigned from the HoF in protest of this unprecedented action. Despain enclosed his commemorative medal in the letter and asked for his name to be immediately removed from all Hall of Fame materials and representations. “Given everything Nobby Clark has accomplished in this sport,” wrote Despain, “if he doesn’t belong in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame then I sure as hell shouldn’t be in there.” You can read Despain’s entire letter of resignation at the end of this article.
On the very same day, another Hall of Fame member, Dick Mann, one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time, returned his medal with a letter of resignation. Shortly thereafter, Kenny Roberts, yet another racing legend and HoF member, also resigned. “If Nobby doesn’t deserve to be in there, nobody does,” said Roberts.
Although the AMA made no statements to this effect, many of the public responses to Clark’s “uninduction” suggested that it was the result of his “criminal history.” In 1998, Clark was shown leniency after pleading guilty to the theft of valuable Grand Prix motorcycle components from his employer, vintage racing’s Team Obsolete, and for illegally attempting to sell one of the team’s racebikes.
On his Ed Youngblood’s Motohistory website (www.motohistory.net), former AMA president Ed Youngblood said that if the revocation of Clark’s induction was due to his “character,” such a move is unjustified, based on the backgrounds of numerous other Hall of Fame members. “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?” wrote Youngblood. “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?”
Fair questions all. But the apparent answer finally has come not from the AMA but from Dean Adams of superbikeplanet.com. In a detailed article, Adams—who also is a founding member of the Hall of Fame’s roadrace committee—emphatically explains that the reversal of Clark’s induction had absolutely nothing to do with his criminal record but instead was the result of a significant error in the Hall of Fame balloting process.
Adams’ description of the events that led up to this debacle is far too long and complex to explain here; but in short, the botched nomination and voting for the 2012 HoF class came about through poor communication, unforgivable carelessness, complete failure—and, in some cases, perhaps even unwillingness—to adhere to established guidelines and maybe more than a dash of good-old-boy bias. Adams’ chronology of the events describes the kind of organizational fiasco that has put the AMA in an unfavorable spotlight so often for so long. You can read his entire article at http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2012/Jul/120713iiieeee.htm.
Digging yourself out of a hole like this isn’t easy, but the AMA could have given this matter a much more positive spin with better external communication and by not penalizing Clark for the egregious errors made by the Hall of Fame committees. The organization easily could have admitted its mistakes, proceeded with Clark’s induction—his achievements clearly are of Hall-of-Fame caliber—and also allowed the candidate who finished behind Clark in the voting to enter the Hall, as well. Clark would not have suffered such indignities, the AMA would have come across as more benevolent in the face of an organizational screw-up, and legendary HoF members would not be up in arms. But, as so often seems to be the case, the AMA instead made a left turn into oncoming traffic.
We can only hope that in light of Dean Adams’ explanation, no more of our heroes decide to resign from the Hall of Fame and that the gentlemen who already have turned in their medals reconsider. They deserve to be so honored, even if the institution that honors them is flawed.
July 24, 2012: The American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, which oversees the AMA’s Hall of Fame, evidently has reacted to public outcry and the resignation of numerous legendary Hall members in response to the removal of Derek “Nobby” Clark from the 2012 class of inductees.
In a press release dated July 19, the Foundation’s Chairman, Jeffrey Heininger, announced that the organization would conduct a supplemental vote for inclusion of Clark in the 2012 induction class. “We believe Mr. Clark is worthy of induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame,” said Heininger. “It’s important to stress that the balloting errors were not of Mr. Clark’s making, and the entire board offers its sincere apologies to Mr. Clark.
“The only people who can elevate Mr. Clark to the Hall of Fame are the voting members, which include the living Hall of Famers,” said Heininger. “A clear vote in light of all that has happened allows Mr. Clark to enter the Hall with the honor he deserves. We expect to start contacting voting members for balloting early next week.” This was a 180-degree change of direction from the previous stance held by the AMA and its Heritage Foundation.
Ironically, just a few minutes before this press release went public, I had completed a follow-up that disputed Dean Adams’ caustic, irreverent explanation of the events that supposedly allowed Clark first to be nominated, then elected and then refused induction to the Hall of Fame. Before I could get that follow-up posted, this latest press release arrived.
The thrust of that unpublished follow-up was to point out that despite arguments by Adams and Heininger that the Hall of Fame roadrace committee had somehow managed to nominate more candidates (six) than they were instructed to produce (two), with Clark being one of the four “extras,” the balloting committee that received those nominations is empowered to approve as many candidates as they wish. Strangely enough, in the same press release that attempted to explain why Clark could not be inducted, this critical fact was spelled out, thereby contradicting the very purpose of the release. It was just one more example of strange, inexplicable behavior by an organization that so often seems to take the wrong road.
In all likelihood, the upcoming supplemental vote will result in Nobby Clark’s election into the Hall of Fame, but the question is, will he accept? Although Clark has expressed his utter disappointment with the Hall’s bungled election process, he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from so many people, especially the racing legends who resigned from the Hall in protest of his exclusion. Clark said that the way those individuals stood up for him means more to him than being in the Hall of Fame.
What will be interesting to see, if Clark is elected and accepts the induction, is if any of the legends and luminaries who resigned from the Hall—including Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts, Ed Fisher and Dave Despain—agree to return. Given their public expressions of disgust with the way matters were handled, it’s reasonable to expect that they will not.
ORIGINAL LETTER FROM DESPAIN TO MHOF:
Motorcycle Hall of Fame
13515 Yarmouth Dr.
Pickerington, OH 43147
To Whom It May Concern:
This letter and the enclosed medal commemorating my induction comprise my immediate resignation from the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. I expect my name and picture to be removed without delay from all Hall of Fame materials and representations.
I take this action in response to the Hall of Fame’s unconscionable rescinding of the nomination of Nobby Clark, a motorcycling legend more than worthy of Hall of Fame membership. I believe we Hall of Famers have a special stake in the integrity of the institution and its nominating process. I have lost all faith in that process and, more importantly, in the individuals who apparently now control it.
I am deeply suspicious of media speculation that Clark’s “criminal record” is somehow grounds for the withdrawal of his nomination but given the absence of any clear and official explanation from Hall of Fame officials, that apparently is the brush with which Nobby is to be tarred. This raises a couple obvious questions: What changed in the short time between the announcement and the rescinding of Clark’s nomination and why would Clark’s ”criminal record” be grounds for a blackball when that clearly was not an issue for a number of previous inductees who also have criminal records.
I suspect the answers to these questions, if they were truly known, would do nothing to restore my faith in the integrity of the institution but in the end my resignation does not turn on those answers. Instead it is based on a simple and inescapable conclusion; given everything Nobby Clark has accomplished in this sport, if he doesn’t belong in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame then I sure as hell shouldn’t be in there.