Below is my thoughts of the induction of
grand father Orie Steele into the
National Motorcycle Hall of Fame
October 9, 2007
By John Orie Clauss
It was quite a weekend (October 8 and 9 , 2007). It has taken me a while
to sit and process thoughts about the weekend and what I needed to say. It
was fun, exciting, tiring, but above all it was the end of a 10 year quest.
In December of 1996 I received a scanner as a Christmas gift from my
in-laws. I had also gotten more pictures related to my grandfather. So I
started scanning the images into the computer and then I needed something to
do with them. So I started a Geocities free website. From there things sort
of exploded. I spent a lot of time cruising various motorcycle related
websites and gathering information and making friends with people. I was
sent articles and pictures of my grandfather from people all over the
In 1997 the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation created the Hall of Fame in the soon to be built Hall of Fame museum outside of Pickerington, OH. There are other Hall of Fame's but this one has the clout of the AMA behind it. This is THE ONE. So I thought "My grandfather should be in there. Joe Petrali is in there, he used to beat him all the time." So I nominated him formally for induction. And for years nothing happened. Finally I wrote a nice two page synopsis of his career and accomplishments and submitted that. There were some other people involved as well, working behind the scenes. It seemed that the Foundation had moved away from honoring the pioneers of the sport and were moving towards the younger, newly retired or not even retired riders. In January I got to meet Chris Carr, 7 time National Champion and a Hall of Famer. He gets a vote, so I told him about my grandfather. I didn't beg, but just asked him to consider. I don't know if it made a difference or not, but maybe it did.
In April of 2007 I was contacted by the museum and told that he was elected and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in October, but wait theres more. They needed someone to introduce him and accept the medal, and they wanted that person to be me. They also asked for "stuff" memorabilia from his career. We made a trip out in August to drop stuff off. That was neat but not like the experience of this past weekend.
We flew out on Thursday. We being my wife, daughter and my mother. Mom was my grandfathers child, her two surviving brothers made the trip out as well. I have always kept the website as a repository for information for the entire family. Its the easiest was to share everything I had with anyone who wanted access. There it is, for free.
Friday night was the "Night of Stars and Legends" reception at the museum. He I was wondering around with an inductee lanyard with one of the original pictures of my grandfather I scanned in on it. Its this one:
This picture has gotten a lot of play. It is from an Indian Motorcycle advertising poster. I got to meet some of the other people being honored, but mainly just wandered around. I ran into Jerry Hatfield, he is an author of some note and has written quite a few books about Indian motorcycles and the men that rode them. We were standing right by the new plaque on the wall with the same picture on it and my grandfather's name. I had been in contact with him many times in the past about various things and he gave me permission to use one of the images from one of his books on my website. He turned to his wife and said "His grandfather was probably the best Hillclimber ever." It meant a lot to hear it form a man of his stature.
Saturday I needed to do an Autograph session. What a second, I am NOBODY who wants my signature? Well, they did. So I was sitting at a table with Pat Hennan on my left and Mike Keidrowski on my right. Pat is the first American to win a Motorcycle GP race in Europe, and Mike Keidrowski was a 4 time motocross champion. We were all chatting like friends, no pretension in this crowd of motorcyclist. Everyone there shared the same love, and it showed. I signed and chatted and had a blast. Then I needed to get ready for the induction ceremony that night.
To say I was nervous would be a great understatement, I was terrified. I am used to teaching and talking to small groups, but this was a whole different deal. There were at least 500 people there and there were two big screens which would have my mug up on them. Gulp. Before the event I got to chat with Mitch Boehm, he is an editor with Motorcyclist magazine. I have been reading his stuff for years. We chatted and he told me not to worry it would be fine. It helped. He was seated at the table in front of mine and on the way by he shook my hand.
I got up to the stage and read my
speech, here it is:
It is with great honor that I introduce to you, my grandfather, Orie Steele, to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. His career started in 1913, riding Indians. His entire career was spent riding Indian motorcycles and winning many events. The beginning of his career he spent racing endurance. One notable win of this time period was the 1914 Yonkers endurance run, a 500 mile race with his father, John Steele in the side car. Imagine riding 500 miles on 1914 roads with your father sitting next to you. Endurance is a good word for it, although Hell might be just as good.
There was a break in his racing career during the late teens due to his military service, which appropriately involved motorcycles. His return from service saw the boom in his winning ways. His career was spent mostly on the East Coast. Hills in Rochester, Mt. Beacon, and Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, were his most fertile grounds. However in 1923 he made a trip to the West. He ran on California's most prominent hill, Capistrano, against all the locals and the odds and he won. I think the quote from Western Motorcyclist and Bicyclist put it best, ". Steele has an entirely different style of hillclimbing from others, but it is a finished style that commands admiration from all. His performance for his first time on Capistrano was marvelous and raised the enthusiasm of his Indian worshipers to the bursting point."
Harry Sucher in his book The Iron Redskin had this to say about my grandfather's style. "His hell-for-leather style was seldom imitated by others, as it required singular courage to perform. Steele would start his engine, rev it full throttle and drop the clutch, at the same time throwing himself well forward over the handlebars." This is pretty much the same style which is used by today's hillclimbers. In the process of gathering information I have found over 100 events in which my grandfather scored a first, second, or third. I have only counted wins in which we have found a paper record of. There are many more 1st places on that list than others. I started my website about my grandfather 10 years ago. The idea at its inception was that it would be a family repository of information about my grandfather. But websites, being public draw attention from others with similar interests. Soon I was receiving e-mails from around the country, and the world. Many people have sent me articles and contributed to the storehouse of information, without their help I do not know if this would have been possible. Please watch the video:
[AMA Video was shown at this time. It used many of my images that I had lent them]
My grandfather passed away over 40 years ago, on his behalf and the rest of the family I thank you very much for this great honor.
The speech went well, I didn't sound nervous and I guess in the end I really wasn't. I did get a little choked up with the very last part. I never meant the man, but he has meant a lot to me over the course of my life. Motorcycles have defined who I am as a person for the most part, and a large past of that was his legacy. They handed me a beautiful medal that bears his name and boom, my quest was realized, what now?
Here is one of me giving the speech:
The rest of the night is a blur. Amazing stuff. Hope you enjoyed the story.