Let me explain how it all started. I’m seriously enthused by the history of American speedway racing, particularly on the very old stuff, the dangerous board and asphalt speed bowls that largely disappeared around the same time as World War II. In my library, I have histories of the famed Nutley Velodrome in New Jersey and the nearly vertically banked Oakland Speedway in California. I reached out to Don Emde, the subject of this post, because I wanted to acquire his work of research, The Speed Kings. It’s the definitive history of early motordrome racing, and won Best of the Year in books from the Motor Press Guild, which counts us among its membership. So I reached out to Don, the scion of a Southern California motorcycling family that has been on two wheels since World War I, and we got to talking. Don was kind enough to not only sell me The Speed Kings but to also include a review copy of his newest work, on the pioneering cycle racer and daredevil Freddie Ludlow.
We’ll get to this title in a moment, but first, you’ve got to get to know Don and what he does. Aside from hailing from a bike family, Don has been a top-tier motorcycle racer, winner of the Daytona 200 in 1972. He and his father, Floyd, are the only father-and-son duo to have achieved victory in the legendary Daytona race. Don’s late brother, David Emde, was the 1977 AMA 250cc national champion. More recently, Don is also president of the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club, which can trace its roots to 1940. After retiring from active competition, Don turned to journalism and historical research in a crucially meaningful way. His books rely heavily on priceless archival material that he personally gathers and verifies. I can tell you flatly that Don Emde Books publishes some of the most lavish and detailed motorsport histories of any kind that you’ll find anywhere. The depth of information and its loving presentation is no less than stunning, which I challenge you to learn yourself. Don has published histories of the Daytona 200 and a personal effort retracing the route that the record-setting motorsport folk hero Cannonball Baker rode across the United States in 1914. Freddie Ludlow: His Life on Two Wheels began when Don acquired Ludlow’s personal scrapbook as part of a research acquistion, starting further inquiry that resulted in this exhaustive, heavily illustrated 176-page hardcover volume. The book chronicles Ludlow’s accomplishments as a World War I dispatch rider, speedway racer, very early Bonneville Salt Flats competitor aboard a radically streamlined Indian and later, motorcycle policeman in Pasadena, California. This is simply fabulous stuff. Go to the website, where you’ll find this book, priced at $45.00, along with the other Emde titles. We’d be remiss if we didn’t add that Floyd, Don and David Emde are all enshrined in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.