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The 75th Trailblazers Banquet and Bike Show – April 6, 2019

It is always difficult to describe how popular and cherished the Trailblazers have become. Remarkable, significant, exceptional, extraordinary, impressive, memorable, historic, and unforgettable only start to scratch the surface of this remarkable organization. Founded in 1940 they welcome any and all who love motorcycling regardless of which spoke of the wheel you are. Spectator, racer, sponsor, promoter, advertiser, each form an equal partnership in one of the finest organization of its kind in the world. 

Trailblazers President Don Emde

Story & Photos by Harald (Howie) Zechner

The annual Trailblazers Banquet is steeped in this rich tradition. Often referred to as the Oscars of Motorcycling as both organizations are distinguished, hold a top of the line gala gathering and use a similar format that encourages its members to nominate those who should be recognized for their work, dedication and involvement. Merit driven this allows all disciplines of the motorcycling community to have an equal voice on who it’s honorees are.

Motorcycle TV Producer & Flimmaker Peter Starr with "The Flying Flea Sammy Tanner"

The 75th Trailblazers Banquet was held April 6, 2019, at the Carson Center in Carson California. Attendees come from all over the globe to participate in this popular once a year tradition. With a limited 800-seat capacity the event sells out within a day. Much like a rock concert or ball game playoff it is not uncommon for some to stand outside the entrance asking if anyone has spare tickets. Calls to move the venue to a larger facility have met resistance because the Carson Center is such a convenient location and has a rich history of hosting this event.

Eddie Lawson World GP Chamionship Yamaha YZR 500

Many come days early and stay at the adjoining hotel. It welcomes the Trailblazers with discount room rates and special bar drinks. As always tailgate parties fill the parking lot hours before any of the festivities start. This banquet has become “A Happening” that reaches well outside of its original format.

Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show exhibition is a Serious Bench Racing Zone

Recognizing the need to feed this phenomena the Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show exhibition opened at noon. Wildly popular with some extraordinary machinery the extra three hours allowed more time to view and socialize. To accommodate more spectators and bikes the outdoor display area was reconfigured. After all this is where most of the meet and greet takes place.

Some of the bikes on display were one of a kind with rich factory and privateer history. Not roped off or behind glass you could touch them and talk with their owner who gladly shared the who, what, when, and where on each of these fascinating machines.


Landspeed Record Holder Larry Coleman displays his 750cc BMW Sidecar

Like in years past those in attendance voted for their favorite bikes in four different categories. Before the banquet hall was opened those winning machines were moved and displayed below the front of the stage and their owners were acknowledged and given a trophy once everyone was inside and seated.


Trailblazer Spirit Award Winner Dennis Briggs

As in in previous years the outside display area housed several full service bars, coffee stands and chairs for people to sit. Now how many functions have you attended where you can just walk up and start a conversation with names like K enny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, John Penton, Malcolm Smith and so many others that were there and should be mentioned. Snobbery or get away from me you commoner is not something you hear with this group. Everyone is treated as an equal and a two or three wheel brother. It’s a camaraderie that lasts a lifetime and one of the things that makes being a Trailblazer so special.


(LR) Bob Starr - Mert Lawwill - Kenny Roberts - Thad Wolff

The rest followed its normal layout and timeline. Checking in and picking up your credentials was painless. Fast and efficient the gold jacketed Trailblazers board members and volunteers never missed a beat. Any issue or request they were there to help, answer and resolve the matter.


Trailblazers Board Member Paul Flanders on Credentail Duty

Once the banquet hall opened and everyone was seated it all went like a well-oiled machine. An opening toast and prayer, the singing of the National Anthem by Sandi Johnson Wielder was followed by a “ In-Memoriam” video honoring those we have lost over this last year. Many of the names are of those we have watched, cheered, raced and revered. They will be missed, until we meet again.


Singer Sandi Johnson Wielde photo bombs Don Emde & Bob "Hurricane" Hannah

So were there any big changes you ask? Well, there were several. This year instead of everyone standing in a long line to get their dinner it was brought out and served at your table. My hat is off to whoever came up with this as it changed the entire banquet for the better. Now that extra time was spent in conversation and visiting friends that were seated elsewhere. Also each guest received 68-page color program and wine glass with “75th Trailblazers Banquet” engraved on it. Truly wonderful souvenirs they brought a smile to those there, as did the bottles of wine so graciously supplied by the Breckenridge Hills Vineyards.

Emcees Don Emde and Larry Huffman were once again outstanding. One being a little ridged and the other a little loose it is a combination that has elevated the presentation to a whole new level. They are an outstanding team that has introduced some Las Vegas showmanship to this special occasion.


Master of Ceremonies Larry Huffman with Motorsports writer Harald Zechner

The Earl & Lucile Flanders Award was the first of the evening. It’s recipient Chris Agajanian is no stranger to public speaking and he quickly commandeered the microphone. Sharing tales of the Agajanian dynasty, his upbringing and Ascot, the crowd was fascinated. Time went on and but is a precious commodity if you want to stay on schedule so after a while Don Emde made some futile attempts to move on. At one point he held up his I-Phone with a huge clock on its front. This however did little to stop Chris who was on a roll and had the entire audience wanting more. When his saga was completed the audience gave a roar of approval and a standing ovation. Chris Agajanian now holds the new record for longest acceptance speech by a Trailblazers inductee after taking the tile from its previous holder Dennis Kanegae.


Chris Agajanian - Promotor - Sponsor - Manager - TV Producer & so much more


The crowd could not get enough of Chris Agajanian's stories and urged him to tell more

Hall of Fame acknowledgements followed. Once again a well-produced video narrated by Dave Despain outlining the history of each nominee before they were brought on stage. Don Emde would hang a gold Hall of Fame medal on the recipient and then Larry Huffman would engage in conversation about their lives and career. Each deserving they told wonderful stories of how it happened and how much they enjoyed motorcycling and the people involved in it. Congratulations, A.C. Bakken, Mark Blackwell, Ed Burke, John Penton, Rex Staten and Jim Wilson. Each an exceptional recipient with countless credits and titles to their name they are the 2019 Trailblazers Hall of Fame honorees.


Malcom Smith praises A.C. Bakken (on stage) during his Hall of Fame induction


Mark Blackwell 1st US 500cc National Motorcross Champion-Suzuki Motorcross Team Manager


Ed Burke - Yamaha USA Research & Development Manager

Named 1 of 10 Most Influential People in American Motorcycling by Cycle World Magazine


(L-R) John Penton - Tom Penton - Jack Penton - Jeff Penton


Marty Tripes relays racing against the "Rocket" Rex Staten


"I can't imagine a life without motorcycle" Jim Wilson - Trails & Mototcross Champion

Next came the Dick Hammer Award: This year it was shared by four time Grand Prix World Champion, Eddie Lawson and three time 500cc Grand Prix World Champion and Daytona 200 winner Wayne Rainey. Both outstanding recipients it was an honor to see them receive the Trailblazers highest honor. They now join the distinguished list of: Dick Hammer, Gene Romero, Joe Leonard, Everett Brashear, Tom Crates, Dick Mann, Bud Ekins, Skip Van Leeuwen, Dennis Mahan, Malcolm Smith, Dan Gurney, Ralph White, Sammy Tanner, Ed Kretz Jr., Kenny Roberts, CH Wheat, Keith Mashburn, Dave Ekins, and Tom White.


Four-Time Grand Prix World Champion, Eddie Lawson


500cc Grand Prix World Champion and Daytona 200 Winner Wayne Rainey

As the evening drew to an end all former Inductees went on stage for one last set of photos and accolades. Like so many good things you wish this could last forever but alas you can’t stop time. What all who were there can attest to is that the 75th Trailblazers Banquet was one for the record books and a life experience that will be etched in their memory for eternity.


Past & Present Trailblazers Hall of Fame Inductees (L-R)

Front Row: Neil Fergus, Debbie Evans-Leavitt, John Hateley, Chris Carter, Ernie Aragon, Del Kuhn, Don Graves, Gary Bryson

Second Row: Chuck Miller, Paul Collins, Jim Connolly, Lori Conway, CH Wheat, Kenny Roberts, Al Rogers, Dan Haaby, Ron Nelson, David Aldana, Jim Odom, Bobby Schwartz

Middle Row: Wayne Rainey, Rex Staten, Sammy Tanner, Steve Scott

Top Row: Larry Huffman, Tony Murphy, Mike Bast, Thad Wolfe, Susie Ellsworth, Ed Burke, Ralph White, Mike Konle, Darryl Bassani (partially blocked), Kel Carruthers, Peter Starr, Stu Peters, Dennis Mahan, Don Emde, Steve Storz, Mark Blackwell, John Penton, Judy Whitson (partially blocked), Bill Van Tichelt, Buddy Stubbs, A.C. Bakken, Jim Wilson, Norm McDonald, Bryon Farnsworth, Tom Horton, Chris Agajanian, Dave Ekins, Mary McGee, Rob Morrison

More Trailblazers Motorcycle Club information at:

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Thanks for Listening

Howie Zechner

Motor Press Journalist - Trailblazer