Archives: A Man of Unlimited Possibilities

Larry Lawrence | July 11, 2018

Archives: A Man of Unlimited Possibilities

During his heyday Gavin Trippe acted as if there was no limited to what he could pull off. Fortunately for us, he had the energy, the right partners and the ability to get others excited about his plans and ultimately motorcycle racing is richer for it. We lost Trippe last week to an auto accident and with his passing the sport lost one of its true greats.

Archives: A Man of Unlimited Possibilities

Gavin Trippe in the 1970s
Gavin Trippe in the 1970s at the Match Races with Gerard McCaffrey, the third guy, along with Bruce Cox, a kind of Three Musketeers of motorcycle promotion according to Cox. (Bruce Cox Collection)

The list of things Trippe had his hand in is simply astonishing. Trippe was one half of the legendary promotional company Trippe-Cox Associates (along with his partner and fellow British expat Bruce Cox).  This was the partnership that brought America the Hang Ten U.S. Motocross Grand Prix, the ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers, helped foster the launch of the AMA Superbike Championship, promoted the Transatlantic Match Races and published a motorcycle publication that raised the bar on racing coverage in this country.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Trippe and Cox were two of the most seminal figures in all of motorcycle racing during their fruitful partnership that lasted for 15 years starting in 1969.

A dodgy driving record may have been the deciding factor that led Trippe to say yes when Bruce Cox proposed he come over to America to start a motorcycle racing newspaper with him.

“I was about to lose my license because I had too many speeding tickets,” Trippe recalled. “I came over and checked it out and since I was about to lose my license anyway I decided to cash everything in and join Bruce in America.”

Trippe’s heavy throttle hand proved to be a massive gain for American motorcycle racing. He and Cox not only launched Motor Cycle Weekly, which put much more emphasis on the road racing coverage that had ever been done before in America. It also set a high standard of racing journalism.

“We commissioned features from freelances and actually employed full-time two of the finest feature writers in motorcycle and motoring journalism of those days – Joe Scalzo and Sam Moses. They are still well known and respected worldwide as magazine feature writers and book authors.”

The office, while business like, also reflected the laid-back atmosphere of 1970s California. It sat on the end of a runway at John Wayne Airport, and one afternoon Evel Knievel unexpectedly showed up to ask Gavin to come to Las Vegas with him.

“I got a new plane” Knievel bragged to Gavin. “But you don’t fly,” Gavin said. “I got a new pilot too,” Evel came back. With that they were off to a crazy 12 hours in Vegas.

Gavin Trippe in 2006
Gavin Trippe at the 2006 Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. (Larry Lawrence photo)

While the writing was great, the race coverage second to none, the business side of the paper was not as successful.

In the latter period of Motor Cycle Weekly’s run, Gavin began going from print shop to print shop trying to string out credit as much as he could. In the final months Gavin, a learning pilot, flew edit boards to printers as far away as Bakersfield as progressively more printers in the LA area refused to extend credit. In the end they ran out of options.

“Our decision wasn’t the result of much thought and anguish,” Bruce Cox remembered. “I remember sitting in the office one Monday night. The artwork was ready to go and only Gavin and I were left in the office. We were wondering where to find the money to pay the printer next day and we just kind of looked at one another, said something to the effect of ‘well, that’s that then’, left the artwork on the desk, walked out the door and drove down to Newport Beach for a couple of beers.”

With his contacts in European motocross, Trippe pitched the AMA on applying for a Grand Prix motocross race in America, featuring the best from Europe and America as part of the World Championship.

“At the time, the AMA’s leadership knew very little about motocross,” Trippe explained. “Bruce and I had a meeting with them and went to a chalk board to explain the motocross scoring system, as they didn’t actually sanction motocross back then or have a rule book.”

As a result of the meeting, Trippe promoted one of the first Trans AMA Motocross race series in 1969, which eventually led to the first United States Motocross Grand Prix, sponsored by Hang Ten – a first – being held at Carlsbad Raceway in June of 1973. The USGP was a watershed event in motorcycle racing in America. Not only did it bring the World Motocross Championships to the United States, but also ABC’s Wide World of Sports televised the race live, Bruce Brown being the producer. It was a huge ratings success and was instrumental in transforming motocross racing from a hard-core enthusiast niche sport to the most popular form of motorcycle racing in America in a relatively short period of time during the 1970s.

He copied the motocross model of bringing international stars to America in road racing and promoted a major AMA road race national at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1972. The race, sponsored by Champion Spark Plugs, paid an unheard-of purse of $50,000, with $20,000 going to the winner. He attracted many of the top world championship racers to compete against the top AMA riders in the hugely popular event, including Giacomo Agostini and John Cooper of England, who pipped Kel Caruthers at the line for the big money.

In an interview Trippe gave some insight into the mentality it took to be a race promoter.

“You had to have a great deal of intestinal fortitude,” he said. “At times, every nickel I had was wrapped up in an event. You might be sitting in a room coordinating everything and suddenly the pitter-patter sound of raindrops start falling and the sinking feeling hits you that you could lose everything. On the other hand, there was the euphoria you felt when you had a successful event. There was really nothing to compare it to.”

On Wednesday, July 25 at 4:00 pm there will be a celebration of life honoring Gavin’s life at Marbella Country Club, 30800 Golf Club Dr., San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675.

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Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.

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