Sunday, 19 December 2010

Kenny Eggers - as one door closes...

This blog arrives at the beginning of 2011 to tell you about something that happened at the very beginning of 2010 - the death of Kenny Eggers.

Kenny seated on the restored Daytona BSA A7 in 2004

It also marks the return of the Beezagent to active BSA blogging after a very difficult and distracting year.

In January this year Kenny Eggers, one of the BSA 'wrecking crew' that took the first 5 places at Daytona in 1954 died after a short illness.

Kenny started his riding career in 1941 at the age of 12 riding a 1929 JD 74 ci Harley. Racing leathers were temporarily put aside when he joined the army but dusted-off again when he returned to civilian life in 1948 and started riding for the famous tuner Tom Sifton, then a Harley dealer in San Jose, California.

Kenny quickly became one of the fast guys to watch on the West coast and in 1952 wanted to ride at Daytona but Harley wouldn’t give him a bike – they reckoned he was too small to hang-on to a bike for the full 200 miles of Daytona. In stepped West coast BSA Distributor Hap Alzina, who had kept an eye on Kenny after his performance at Belmont, a track south of San Francisco and gave him a BSA Star Twin on which he came tenth.

There followed a brief spell on a Triumph though Phil Cancilla but after a recommendation from West coast BSA regular Gene Thiessen he returned to BSA and Hap Alzina again in 1953 to become one of the famous BSA Wrecking Crew that was so successful at Daytona in 1954.

Riding a rigid BSA Shooting Star, Kenny came fifth and just a month after Daytona, the same bike fitted with high bars was used to win the 125 Mile National road race at Willow Springs California in April 1954 then win again later in the year at the Portland Mile in Oregon.

Kenny retired from racing in 1957 but didn’t retire from bikes which he rode and restored and I first contacted Kenny then met him as part of the Project Daytona 50th Anniversary Celebrations in 2004. I only met Kenny during the 50th Anniversary Daytona events that was involved in but he made a big and memorable impression.

At Daytona in 2004 I hoped to get as much information out of the BSA riders as I could for my website and private research. I wanted to speak to these guys and soak-up as much as I could, mindful of the fact that I'd be asking them about things that happened 50 years previously - how much will I remember about today 50 years in the future?

Not surprisingly, some memories were better than others but I got some of the best and most detailed information from Kenny and enjoyed an hour of pure magic at the track with him talking and taking notes.

I remember in particular I had shown Kenny an old photo with him and some other riders because I was trying to identify one of the other riders. I was pretty sure that I knew where and when it had been taken, but Kenny disagreed. At the time I politely accepted his correction but thought that actually, 50 years after the event he was probably wrong and I was right. Well afterwards I found out the he was right and I wasn't!

Kenny was a lively and entertaining character. At Daytona in 2004, Colin Washbourne had been inducted into the 2004 wrecking crew as an honourary member since he was one of the young engineers employed by BSA to prepare bikes for Daytona in the 50's and latterly had been helping us restore the bikes.

However, Colin had also been BSA sidecar champion Chris Vincent's passenger and as an ex- racer found a bond with Kenny that resulted in them both meeting enthusiasts, signing posters and t-shirts and talking BSA to enthusiasts during the day but finding some time in the evening to drive around Daytona fairly quickly in a car, managing a few drinks on the way and having a lot of fun. Old racers, huh...?

Anyway, it was these experiences that prompted me to describe Kenny as "...a bright spark..." in a magazine feature that I wrote after the 2004 event. I heard that Kenny had read this and took it quite the wrong way, thinking I was painting a less than complimentary picture of him.

Not so - in Scotland, when we say someone is a bright spark it's a very affectionate and complimentary way to describe someone.

Kenny was a real bright spark.

Kenny winning the 125 mile National at Willow Springs in April 1954, on the same bike he rode at Daytona just a month before.

Kenny on his 1952 BSA with Ang and Don Rossi, location unknown.

Kenny's 1952 BSA at Portland, Oregon. Couple posing behind are unknown!

Portland Meadows, Oregon 1954. No. 83 is Dick Mann on Kenny's 1952 A7 and no. 59 is Kenny on his 1954 A7. Dick won the ameatur and Kenny the expert. The gentlemen standing behind are Ang & Don Rossi, dealers & tuners from Santa Rosa.

Kenny and Bobby Hill at the 2004 50th anniversary celebrations at Daytona.