Of Bikes, Tracker Nites, and Fast Times: An Interview with Lorin Guy
One Wednesday night a year, Shulman Avenue is closed off from car traffic and 2Guys Productions hosts an epic motorcycle show, street party, and barbeque on the small industrial street in Santa Clara. Since it began six years ago, Tracker Nite has become a phenomenon, both in sheer numbers of attendees and in the quality of the experience. But this pop-up party lies way under the radar and is deeply loyal to its grassroots origins, so it retains a community feel of a rarified kind.
For its few precious hours, Tracker Nite brings together motorcycles and man, the young with the old, the works in progress with the finely tuned and track tested. Having grown from a gathering of a group of old friends and motorcycle enthusiasts to its present size, Tracker Nite’s purpose has remained the same: to celebrate the diversity of the passion we all share, and the racing spirit of riders and rides of every vintage and variety. You’ll see flat trackers and street trackers, vintage and custom bikes, cafes, ratz, racers, vendors, and likely some local racing legends.
At its core, Tracker Nite began and still is a big thank you from 2Guys Productions to the machine shop at the heart of the block party, The Barnaby Company. The famous Barnaby Co. has been hugely supportive of the local riding community over the years, and has been a gathering point for riders, racers, club members, and friends for decades.
Lorin Guy is half of the workforce behind the prodigious 2Guys Productions, and a Barnaby regular who brought Tracker Nite to life. And while you might not know Lorin or the other half of 2Guys, his wife Kathryn, chances are you’ve heard of or attended at least one of the incredible number of motorcycle events they’ve put on or been a part of. Lorin was on the planning team that worked to bring flat track racing to the West Coast, he is heavily involved in planning the fantastic Quail Gathering in Carmel, and has produced the Motorcycle Show at the Races™ at the Calistoga AMA Grand Nationals. Lorin and Kathryn have also been the promoters and members of the planning boards of events including MotoGiro America, Moto Concorso at Monterey, the Classic American Antique and Vintage Motorcycle Show, the International Norton Rally in Oregon, the European Motorcycle Show and Asian Motorcycle & Scooter Show at the Motorcycle Extravaganza, International Motorcycle Shows (IMS) vintage displays, La Ducati Day in La Honda, Ducati Island at Laguna Seca, and many more.
Beyond their years of work as promoters and organizers of motorcycle events, Lorin and Kathryn have been active members in the Northern California Norton Owners Club, Vintage Triumph Riders Group, Excelsior Owners Registry, BSA Club, Ducati Vintage Club, Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club, and many other groups. Lifelong devotees of two- and four-wheeled motorsports, for Lorin and Kathryn, motorcycling hasn’t just been a hobby, it has been a part of their lives from the beginning.
Road Rider is pleased to be a Tracker Nite supporter and be able to publicize this special event to the community. As Tracker Nite enthusiasts, we asked Lorin if he would talk in-depth with us about Tracker Nite and his life “behind the curtain” of so many motorcycle events.
Not unlike Tracker Nite, Lorin likes to keep a low profile, but when he’s on the block he brings a treasure trove of varied motorcycling and racing history with him. At the end of the day, though, he likes bikes and likes to hang out with the people who ride them. “That’s one of the great and important things about Tracker Nite and other events,” he said, “that there is a community of people who are all enjoying the sport… Regardless of what you ride, the fact that you ride is the common bond, we all enjoy the same thing.” The riding styles, bikes, and subcultures have changed many times over since he grew up in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, but that spirit is something that hasn’t changed. And Lorin and Kathryn are working hard to make sure it doesn’t.
Road Rider: You are involved with so many events but Tracker Nite is a personal favorite of yours. Why is it special for you?
Lorin Guy: It’s special because it’s our event. It’s something we concocted and put on, but also it’s more than just an event, it’s a thank you. It’s meant to be a thank you to the people of the Barnaby Machine Company for being so motorcycle friendly and supportive of the sport. What Tom and Judy offer has been such an incredible gift for a lot of us; to racers, to street riders, and to the people who hang at Barnaby. That to me is what really makes it special, that it’s a thank you and our gift.
RR: How did the first Tracker Nite come about?
LG: It’s kind of funny how it all got started. For years at Barnaby’s all I ever saw of any bikes were the bits and pieces that the guys brought in to work on, and I got a bit frustrated. So I challenged one old codger saying (tongue in cheek), “I don’t even think you have a whole bike!” I was immediately challenged by the whole group with “Oh yeahs?” and “I’ve more bikes than years you’ve been alive”, and one of my favorites, “You’re in the marbles there, boy!” So I said, “Ok ONE night a year we’ll all bring in our bikes, regardless of the condition; tow it, carry it, roll it, bring it in boxes, I don’t care, but bring it!” And that’s how it started-as more of a joke than anything else. The first year we just cleared out the back alley and had about 50 bikes; last year we had over 200!
RR: How has Barnaby’s work changed over the years since you and your buddies started hanging out there in the ‘80s?
LG: It seems local modern bike racers aren’t doing as much building, they’re doing more modifying. For the old guys, in the beginning it was a matter of modification, too, but then the flat trackers actually built their own bikes. All kinds of different engines, frames, mounts and swing arms had to be made and so many things had to be machined. And now, as those types of things are dying down, a lot of Barnaby’s work is coming from guys restoring and rebuilding bikes.
RR: Why ‘Tracker’ Nite?
LG: In the early days there were board track bikes, dirt track bikes, pavement track bikes, and Tracker Nite is meant to encompass all that. Anything that has to do with racing in any form is what we’d like to see at the event–everything from older trackers to current race bikes, dirt bikes, land speed racing bikes, and the people who race them. As far as the heritage of flat tracking goes, flat track racing was just a part of the Grand Nationals for a lot of years. The early days of the Grand Nationals were very different than today, because before 1989 you had to do all the disciplines–you had to do road race, dirt track, TT, everything. You had to be a good rider and master all of it, and that led to building different bikes for the different disciplines. It took a lot to be a Grand National Champion. But Tracker Nite is basically a celebration of tracking your bike, to run it and race it on a track in every sense–that’s what it’s about. The Bay Area is great for racing, too. There’s a rich heritage here, and a lot of Hall of Fame riders and National Champions have come out of the Bay Area, so it’s great to be able to celebrate that.
RR: What is Tracker Nite to the riding community, and how is it different from the other shows and races you are involved with?
LG: Tracker Nite represents a thank you, but it’s also about education. Both my wife and I adhere to a basic credo of involvement, a basic ideal, that when it comes to putting in effort, time, and money into an event, it must produce something that meets the following criteria: first and foremost the event has to be fun, secondly we want it to be educational.
That came about because one day I was up at Alice’s on my 1969 Honda 350, and a kid comes up to me in leathers. He just got off a modern Yamaha and says “Wow, that’s so cool. My dad has a really old Honda too.” And I asked him what his dad had and he said an ‘84 Interceptor. So I said, “Son, a 1984 Interceptor is a modern bike.” But the Interceptor was old to him, which I understand.
We think it’s important to take the opportunity to educate the younger riders and show them, for example, that there are more than four brands of motorcycles. Even in the world of Japanese motorcycles, there was a time when there were a hundred brands. Japan started building motorcycles in 1909, and we didn’t even hear about them on this side of the world until 1957. So there’s a lot of history there. The same with the British–there are 800 British brands. And there are 1100 American brands. But when you ask people to name 5 American motorcycles, they are hard pressed to come up with even 5 brands. So the opportunity to let people see bikes that they might only otherwise see in museums, to let people see that there is a really rich heritage in motorcycling, and that everything new is really old.
The last part of our credo is to help the common good, so when we gather that many people together in one spot, we feel we should be able to help a charitable cause, or at least make people aware that there are other people who are in need of help out there. We try to support local motorcycle and motorsport related charities at every event, and it’s important to help local first.
RR: How did you get started being a promoter and organizer of events? Over the years, has there been a gathering or event that sticks out in your memory as the best and most near-perfect day for you from your standpoint as an organizer and an enthusiast?
LG: In short, there is no perfect event. One day I was at a vintage event and I didn’t like certain aspects of it, and someone said to me, “Lorin, if you think you can do better, why don’t you do it yourself?” So I thought, “I could do this. Why can’t I do this?” It was a bit of the impetus for me to try to do something a little better or different. Not counting Tracker Nite because of its simplicity and grassroots nature, every event could use something, but the point is that everyone is trying. The Quail Lodge Gathering is the closest event to perfect for me, and that’s because of the people doing it and the eight months of work a year goes into planning it. But ultimately you can’t please everyone. There’s always something.
One of my major beefs with one show in particular (one that is no longer happening) was that it wasn’t for everybody. There isn’t anybody that rides a motorcycle that shouldn’t have the opportunity and feel welcome to be involved in these events. That’s why the Quail has moved forward and is so close to that perfect event, because it does involve everybody, no one is excluded.
RR: How have you kept that “grassroots” feel to Tracker Nite?
LG: The popularity has really been growing by word of mouth. And one of the things that keeps it grassroots is the fact that it’s on a Wednesday, which is almost unheard of in motorcycle shows, so the commitment you make to go is because you love the sport. The second thing is that 99.99 percent of the bikes there are ridden motorcycles. The root, the idea of the sport is to ride, so Tracker Nite isn’t about museum pieces, it’s not about show bikes; it’s about ridden, used motorcycles. That said we really like to see the really old, exotic show motorcycles too, but if you have an old bike that you ride, this is the place to show it off.
You know, showing a bike isn’t an act of ego; it’s really an opportunity to educate. If you love your sport and you want to see your sport survive, the way you do that is by exposing other people to it, and exposing them to the rich history of it. So, basically, it becomes a show and tell. At Tracker Nite, you don’t have to enter the event for an award, it’s optional and you can just display your bike, but you do have to actually sign up to be judged. So the point of the event is, fundamentally, to come on down, park your bike, enjoy a barbeque, enjoy the camaraderie and the people who motorcycle. That’s what keeps it special, relaxed and in the realm of the “grassroots”, as opposed to a more professional show.
RR: For younger riders just starting out in the sport who go to Tracker Nite, what do you think they can take away from the experience?
LG: One of the most important things to understand is that riding is a community. I think by coming to Tracker Nite, younger riders will pick up on that sense of camaraderie and the sense of community that motorcyclists have, and the fun you can have with that. I’d hope they would feel the rich history of motorcycling and how, regardless of what you ride, the fact that you ride is the common bond. We all enjoy the same thing and because it’s a different brand doesn’t make any difference. So if you keep an open mind and the right vision, you can have a lot of fun with motorcycling. So, I’d hope that young people would pick up on that.
RR: What was your first motorcycle?
LG: My first motorcycle was a shared effort. My dad broke his shoulder riding so my Mom had taken the opinion that none of her sons would ever ride. It was kind of tough because, unfortunately, my Dad passed away just before I was born and my brother didn’t get the motorcycling bug, but I did. I used to mow lawns, so my friend from down the street and I pooled our money together and bought a Kawasaki, but we had to keep it at his house. We’d go off riding and I’d come back all bruised and scratched, because that’s what you do when you’re learning, you fall down a lot. And that was when I was about 13 or 14. I had to lie to my Mom and tell her I was playing football or something. But that’s how you learn, at least that’s was how you learned back in the day. Currently, I try to keep riding things that don’t start with a button until my knee gives out. I’m 60 so I’m getting close to getting a modern bike. But I ride British bikes mainly, Norton and Triumph are my favorite. I’ve had BSA, Francis-Barnett, and Excelsior bikes, and just about everything else. I also really enjoy Italian bikes, but mainly British and Italian bikes that don’t start with a button.
My very first bike I bought with my own money was 1969 Honda 350 SL for $350–a dollar a CC.
RR: So were you hooked on riding from the very beginning?
LG: I’ve always been a motorsport guy. Though I didn’t get to know my Dad, he was an electrician and a car guy. He had cars and hot rods, and also rode motorcycles and had an Indian Chief. Growing up, before I could even ride a bicycle, my friends and I were riding flexies down the hills in San Francisco. Then as soon as I could ride a bicycle it was all about going as fast as possible–we were riding and sliding in the dirt, doing whatever we could. There were always a lot of crashes. We even started a little racing oval at our school in a dirt lot with bicycles and we’d put on football helmets and race around. When I was in my teens, my neighbor was a drag racer and I would pit with him at the Fremont Drag Strip. So it was always something that was there that I guess I got from my Dad. Even though it’s something I never had the benefit of doing with him, it was something in his genes that was transferred to me that has always been there. I raced cars for seven years, too. I was autocrossing and road racing cars as soon as I could get up and do it, and then got immediately into bikes like crazy. When I got the opportunity after car racing to race motorcycles I did that. So it has always been about driving, riding, and racing.
RR: Do you think starting out on a motorcycle is the same for young people today as it was for you and your friends when you started riding?
LG: I think it’s a lot harder for kids today. For some reason the industry believes that people just want horsepower. That said, there is a growing undercurrent of people attracted to smaller motorcycles, because once you play with a small CC motorcycle, you realize how much fun it really is.
Back when I started, if a motorcycle had 11 horsepower that was huge, and we were certainly able to crash and scare ourselves and hurt ourselves with 11 horsepower. But I have a lot of empathy for kids these days when they feel like their only choice is something that has 70, 80, 90, or 100 horsepower. If that’s where you’re starting, where do you learn, where’s the fudge factor? If you fall down on a 100 horsepower motorcycle, you’re going to get hurt, that’s just the way it is. It’s an epidemic, and no one has really pointed a finger at the industry.
One of the events I’m involved with is La Ducati Day, which benefits the La Honda Fire Department. These guys are pulling kids out of trees and out of ditches in the Santa Cruz Mountains and all these accidents are happening because the bikes have a lot more ability than the riders. The kids will push the bike to the point that their skill ends, and then make a mistake and go down hard. The industry is the root of that, because you don’t need to give a kid who is just starting out a 100 horsepower motorcycle. At the peak of Harley’s popularity, the bikes only had about 40 horsepower; Norton dominated the world with 60 horsepower.
RR: On that note, what’s your approach to wearing protective gear?
LG: You can tell the seriousness of a motorcyclist by their shoes. As in life, the shoes tell a lot about the person. If you wear Nikes with no socks, you aren’t a serious motorcyclist because you aren’t wearing gear that will allow you to keep doing the sport. Both Kathryn and I subscribe to the ATGATT philosophy-all the gear, all the time.
RR: How did you and Kathryn come to share your interests in motorcycling, in clubs, and in planning and promoting events together?
LG: My wife is a car girl, and when we first met I was racing cars and she had just finished a high school auto shop class and bought a 1964 Austin Healy Sprite that always needed work. Some of our first dates were prepping the race car, and she’d come over and work on the cars alongside me. One of the great things about Kathryn is that she loves working on cars and all that stuff, so she would jump right in. And when we went to the track, she was pulling tires and spitting lug nuts with the best of them. It has always been something she has done. So we enjoy motorsports together, and motorcycles are a part of that.
RR: Do you ride solo or with groups?
LG: Motorcycling is a sport that is better when shared. When a guy tells me he’s a lone wolf, my first reaction is “bull shit!” because riding is a LOT more fun when you’re with people, and riding with clubs is even more fun. For the same reason I also strongly encourage two-up riding.
RR: This year Road Rider is sponsoring the GSXR Corral at Tracker Nite 6. How do you think sportbikes will fit into Tracker Nite 6, and future Tracker Nites?
LG: I’m excited! That bike is nearly 30 years old, which is generally, considered to be vintage. But it’s also a bike that has changed the industry. The innovation, construction, and a lot of the developments Suzuki brought forth for the GSXR is something we can all appreciate. Motorcycling is motorcycling, and we can all appreciate the fun, the technology, and the build quality. I love seeing other people’s bikes, even if it might not be something I personally ride.
RR: You are collectors, riders, and club members, and you do an incredible amount of silent, behind-the-scenes work as promoters and organizers. After months’ worth of work promoting an event, the event happens, and the trailers roll up and go home. What makes it all worthwhile?
LG: Well it’s certainly not the money. There is no money to be made in this business. It’s a lot of work, a lot of hours, and a lot of frustration. But once the event starts and we see the fun people are having, the smiles on their faces, and we hear people say “Oh my gawd! I’ve only seen those in magazines!” or “I’ve never heard of that!”– that is education, that is excitement, and that is what drives us. We try to keep a low profile, but when the event is happening, we’ll look at each other and look at the event, and if everyone is happy and having fun, even for a couple of hours, well, we’ve done good. Of course, after the event there is the post-event depression, and then once we reflect on all the hard work we did, we say to each to other, “Remind me to never do that again.” But a few weeks later we’re already planning or being involved in another one.
RR: Our sincerest thanks to you, Lorin and Kathryn, for all the work you do, for sharing your story with us, and for sharing Tracker Nite with us!
Note: Tracker Nite 7 is just around the corner, and scheduled for September 10th, 2014. Click here to read our follow-up post from 2013′s event with photos and commentary. View the Tracker Nite 7 event post HERE.