Norm Bogan wrote this article for Flat Out Magazine about four years ago. Sparky was a very accomplished motorcycle racer and later Team Manager for several of the top riders in worldwide motocycle racing. He built a number of innovative bikes for different teams and gave Honda their first win on the flat track miles. That bike now resides in the Honda Museum in Suzuka, Japan. After nearly three decades of traveling throughout the world, he returned to Santa Clarita, California and went to work for the movie studios building stunt bikes for many feature films. Wanting to race a sprint car after urging from two of his close friends, Eddie Wirth and George Snider, Edmonston joined the Senior Sprint class at Ventura Raceway. He won one feature as a car owner, when he replaced himself with Richard McCormick, one night at Ventura.
This story is presented as a tribute to a very dedicated gentleman, who enjoyed success at the highest level of competition and then returned home to race at the local track, enjoying time with his grandson. Sparky passed away shortly before Christmas 2008 after a valiant fight with cancer. Many friends from throughout the racing world attended a memorial service to celebrate the life of Sparky Edmonston. We all lost a good friend.
LONG JOURNEY TO SATISFACTION WITH SPARKY
by Norm Bogan
Back in 1951, while campaigning through the
Midwest fair circuit, an event happened in Kansas City, Kansas to a
dirt track motorcycle racer, “Red” Edmonston.
William Edmonston Jr., soon to become “Sparky”, arrived on
the planet and joined the family odyssey.
With Dad racing motorcycles out of a pickup truck as a gypsy
rider, traveling a regular circuit throughout the heartland, Sparky
and his younger sister were exposed early to a lifestyle foreign to
At the age of nine, Sparky’s family left the
nomadic adventure and settled in southern California, where Red was
able to employ his acquired skills at several different motorcycle
shops, helping novice bike riders tune their chassis and engines for
optimum performance. The
younger Edmonston was already developing an affinity for bike riding
and began racing at the age of eleven.
Recreational riding allowed testing and developing of skills
such as laying the bike over to the edge of crashing and then pulling
it back up to accelerate to the next challenge.
Sparky’s Dad was instrumental in teaching the idiosyncrasies
of making a bike run faster and harder, either in organized
competition or just chasing buddies out across the open land.
The Edmonston family moved to Lake Isabella, where he completed
the senior year of high school. While he was never involved in high school sports, Sparky
would leave school at noon and make the journey to Ascot Park for the
Friday night Flat Track, Scrambles and TT races.
In the early seventies, Edmonston participated in
road racing at Willow Springs Raceway, winning eight of twelve
features in 1972 and was crowned the District 35 TT Open Champion in
1976. Sparky competed at
Pikes Peak from 1976 to 1981, where one of his biggest disappointments
came in 1979, while leading at the ten mile marker by 45 seconds, he
got off the edge of the road and had to settle for a fourth place
In 1969, Red Edmonston invented an innovative
carburetor for bikes and followed that up with a couple more
generations, until he sold the rights to Lectron Corporation in 1973.
Sparky then joined Lectron as the R&D Manager and test
rider for the firm, coordinating the AMA contingency program and
developing new products and motorcycle kits. Edmonston says the association with Lectron opened a lot of
doors to influential people in the sport.
Sparky married his wife, Karen in 1972 and they
soon began to plan their family.
They wanted to have their children while they were young so
they could participate and share as the kids grew.
Being involved in racing gave them an opportunity to travel
throughout the world and enjoy many family activities, such as snow
skiing, Jet Ski riding and off road activities with dirt bikes and
quads. Now, as daughters, Jamie and Jennifer have grown up, they still
live close to Mom and Dad and participate in family activities, like
sprint car racing!
Sparky raced professionally up into the early eighties, but
his time was limited, due to his employment.
Like his father, he had gained a reputation as a master tuner
and chassis builder, sought out by some of the top teams in the world
to prepare and maintain bikes for their premier riders.
Sparky first hooked up as a mechanic with Mike Bast in 1979
& 80, accumulating 186 wins and claiming both the California State
and US Speedway Championships. In
1981, Edmonston began building Suzuki race bikes and coordinating
factory efforts that qualified Ronnie Jones for all six Winston Pro TT
Nationals, the only rider to do so.
In 1982, Sparky moved to the Kawasaki Super bike team of Eddie
Lawson and later, Wayne Rainey, who rode an Edmonston built, KZ1000 to
his first national road race victory.
It was at Kawasaki, which Edmonston connected with Rob Muzzy,
the overseer of the Kawasaki race team for ten years and now managing
a Pro Stock Drag Bike operation. Sparky was the lead mechanic for Kawasaki’s Wes Cooley in
In 1984, Sparky and Rob moved to Honda and
developed the RS500, RS600 and RS750 dirt track bikes.
Ricky Graham won the first AMA dirt race for a Honda RS750 at
the Sacramento Mile. That
winning bike is now enshrined in the Honda Museum at Suzuka, Japan, a
source of great pride for the humble mechanic and builder.
Graham won the AMA Grand National Championship of the Camel Pro
Series. Ricky Graham
garnered ten AMA Grand National race victories in 1984 & 85, while
missing half of the '85 season with a broken leg.
Sparky mounted a TV camera on Graham’s Honda 750 to capture
on-track footage for the ABC coverage of the Du Quoin mile.
Edmonston and Muzzy took on the Honda Road Race
team efforts in 1986, with rider, Wayne Rainey capturing eight of the
twelve races. The
following year the team returned in tact with Rainey winning the
Daytona 200, smashing all previous records and going on to win three
more Super Bike races. Wayne
also claimed five of the nine Easter Anglo/American Match Race series
and was crowned the 1987 AMA Super Bike Champion.
Sparky’s association with Wayne Rainey opened
the door for him to get involved in the movie industry.
Edmonston worked as a stuntman over the next few years in both
motion picture and television features, such as Lethal Weapon 2 &
3, Roadhouse, Ford Fairlane, Die Hard 2, Terminator 2 and True Lies.
He also built many of the bikes used as stunt doubles and photo
bikes in various scenes including chases, starring actors such as
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson.
A few of the Edmonston prepared bikes are displayed at various
Planet Hollywood locations.
In 1987, Sparky and Muzzy rebuilt Ricky
Graham’s RS750 and won a 5 lap Camel Dash at Ascot Park collecting
$10,000, beating out all the factory efforts with no outside support.
Sparky and Kenny Roberts formed a special bond
and in 1994, Roberts hired Edmonston to move to Spain and act as Crew
Chief for Kenny’s son, Kurtis and Mark Coates in the Ducados Open
series on 125cc Yamahas. Sparky
built twelve KR dirt motorcycles for the Marlboro series. 1995 found Edmonston managing the Ducados Open team for KR
riders Sete Gibernau, Jose Barisi and Kurtis Roberts, with Gibernau
finishing 2nd in the series.
Spearheading the Kenny Roberts Euro-Championship
team placed riders Jimmy Filice and Kurtis Roberts among the top ten
in points for 1996. Sparky
also oversaw the dirt track race at the KR Training Ranch USA versus
World, sponsored by Marlboro. 1997
found Edmonston leading the 250 GP team PJ1 for Kenny Roberts and
rider Kurtis Roberts. In
1998, Sparky took a Suzuki 650 Street motorcycle and created the KR
Millennium 500GP street legal motorcycle prototype.
It was during this period of time with Kenny
Roberts, traveling around the world racing circuits that the Edmonston
family got to do much of their globetrotting.
In 1998, Sparky, Karen and the girls returned to California and
he joined the studios as a teamster.
In 1984 and 85, Sparky became acquainted with
sprint car racer, Jackie Howerton, who built tanks for the Honda team
based in Indianapolis. Edmonston
knew George Snider from Bakersfield and Eddie Wirth from his bike
racing adventures, so when Ziggy or Wheelie the Kid came to town for a
sprint car race, Sparky would accompany them to the track and was
fascinated with the traditional sprinter.
In 2000, the Ventura Racing Association changed
from IMCA sprint cars to a VRA sanction and a number of racers joined
the series, including Sparky, who had acquired a 1999 Stinger Chassis
with an engine assembled by Mike Libby at Axtell Cams.
In 2001 VRA split the field creating a class for Senior Sprint
Car Drivers (45 and over). Edmonston
has raced with this class for five years and entered about fifty
features. His only
feature victory came as a car owner, when he loaned his car to buddy,
Richard McCormick who took it to victory circle.
Sparky recently sold his racecar and will center his efforts on
wrenching for seventy-four year old John Richards, but may take an
occasional spin in John’s car.
When queried about his favorite race circuits
after so many years of competition, Sparky named the Springfield Mile
as number one. He also
ranks the Indy Fairgrounds and Road America as top US courses, while
his international choices are Gran Prix Jerez in Spain, Bruno,
Czechoslovakia and the Ferrari test track at Mugello, Italy.
Edmonston seems to enjoy the camaraderie of the
VRA sprint car racers and respects them as a bunch of old guys having
fun with their racing buddies. After
years of circling the globe and meeting many celebrities, Sparky finds
enjoyment racing close to home on Saturday night.
Sunday will find him playing with his grandson,
Casey as the two go for rides on Grandpa’s motorcycle.
Sparky is already assembling a Quarter Midget for the next
generation to pick up the gauntlet.