By far the biggest turning point during my time at DG was the hiring of (then) telephone salesman Kenny Boyko. Ken had extensive experience in the corporate world, as well as a long history in Southern California motocross. Ken and I clicked immediately, because we each realized that the other was a master in the field of our greatest weakness. Ken was not only a great salesperson and motocross enthusiast; he was also a marketing genius that was unequalled in the motocross world of the day. When Ken came on board, the industry was made up of “hard parts” shops that sold only engine and suspension modifications and “soft goods” shops (like JT Racing) that sold apparel. Ken was responsible for the advent of a hard parts shop that also sold fashion apparel (hats, jackets, jerseys, custom shirts, and more). In very short order, DG apparel was selling at a pace that was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe it. In addition to this, Ken used his people skills (and some money) to put DG stickers on the helmets and fenders of countless factory riders. The DG logo was everywhere. Not long after arriving, Ken Boyko became DG sales manager, then general manager along with a dozen other job titles that had not been invented yet.
At exactly this same time, I was finding a firm grip on the process of developing the 1976 racing engines and bikes. The bikes had to be reliable and consistently fast to be a dominant force at the weekly Saddleback wars. While Saddleback wins were nice, our first real national caliber test would be at the season opening 1976 Hangtown AMA 125 national.
During late ’75 and early ’76, my race shop was buzzing with the construction of Team DG race bikes that featured lightweight chromoly frames and the very latest of our winter engine development. They were light and damn fast. We had YZ125 and CR125 versions, but only the Yamahas would race at Hangtown. Broc was still too young to race his DG CR125 in an AMA national.
This particular AMA 125 race event was also big news because it would be the first showdown between factory Honda 125 champion Marty Smith, and Yamaha’s newly signed Bob Hannah aboard the very first-ever water-cooled 125 factory motocross bike. By all measures, this race was going to be big news.
As the gate dropped on the Hangtown 125 moto one, all eyes were on Smith and Hannah. But to the surprise of everyone (me included), DG YZ125 riders Mark Tyer and Jim Doman holeshot the entire field to turn one. As the 45-minute race played out, the factory bikes eventually passed Mark and Jim (I expected that), but our top 10 finishes were impressive.
As moto 2 lined up, the DG YZ125s were getting a lot more attention from the competition. To the amazement of many, the two DG YZ125s holeshot the second moto by an even bigger margin than moto one, and both riders finished respectably. While the DG 125s didn’t win the race, we certainly won the horsepower race of the day. This showing put DG “on the map” as a serious privateer race team, and our bikes got plenty of post-race attention from the competition as well as the spectator crowd.
If this good showing wasn’t enough, there was added icing on the cake. DG owner Gary Harlow was instrumental in helping Bob Hannah to get the coveted Yamaha factory 125 ride. To show thanks for that help, Bob consistently had a DG sticker on his helmet and the fenders of his factory Yamaha. This was a “huge” deal because before then, no factory bike was ever allowed to have any aftermarket decals of any kind on them. The presence of DG at this race was heavy in every way.
The Tuesday morning after the Hangtown race, I received a call from Yamaha’s R&D department, asking if I could bring one of our Hangtown YZ125 race bikes to Yamaha headquarters for dyno testing. Within two days, I was pushing one of the DG team bikes into Yamaha’s Buena Park dyno room with Hangtown dirt still stuck in the nooks and crannies of the frame. In that era, quality dynos were very expensive and rare devices. This would be the first time I ever watched a dyno test in a real dyno room. The first dyno pull made more noise than I thought any 125 could make, and the vibrations shook loose every bit of hardened Hangtown mud from all those hidden nooks. The Yamaha tech made 4 more dyno pulls just to confirm the data.
After the last dyno pull, there was silence until the head tech looked at me to say, “it makes one horsepower more than our water cooled factory bike.” He then asked if they could look at the engine internals. Since Yamaha had given DG all the bikes and parts we needed, I was in no position to refuse, so the teardown began. For the next few hours, they had lots of questions, and I gladly answered them all. At the end of it all, the R&D guys had a lot more regard for the aftermarket, and what we were capable of. It was a turning point day for me personally, and a big day for the validation of my hard work.
In that era, it was very hard for any aftermarket motocross shop to catch the attention of the Japanese manufacturers, but our Hangtown results did that in a big way. The coming months would be filled with a rush of phone calls from factories, and many offers to accept new model machines for R&D projects. It was the beginning of the most high-paced year of my career and my life, and I was completely ready for it.
Story Index (Click on any title to read the episode)
Episode 1: Understanding The 70s SoCal Motocross Atmosphere
Episode 2: My Road Into Motocross
Episode 3: Getting a Foot in the Door
Episode 4: Reality in the Race Shop
Episode 5: Building a Race Team
Episode 6: Building the Team Bikes
Episode 7: Understanding the Goals of a Racing Business
Episode 8: The DG Front Office
Episode 9: The Competition
Episode 10: Painting the SoCal Racer’s Atmosphere
Episode 11: From Mechanic to I.T. Before There Was I.T.
Episode 12: A Few Words About Engine “Formulas”
Episode 13: Mechanic Buddies
Episode 14: 1976 Turning Points at DG
Episode 15: Facing the “Race-Gas” Era
Episode 16: The Retail Chamber Birthplace
Episode 17: The Mammoth Motocross Classic
Episode 18: The DG/Saddleback Launching Pad