Not forgotten – David Emde | Columns | Gassit Garage
The tall, talented Californian was part of a unique racing dynasty
The youngest of five children, David Emde grew up in a San Diego motorcycle family made famous across the American race scene. It would be only a matter of time before David would be racing at the elite level like his older brother Don Emde who won the 1972 Daytona 200, joining his father Floyd as the only the father and son to win the event.
With so much pedigree around him, it was the perfect upbringing for a budding professional racer, despite the big age difference between David and Don. “Dave and I got along well,” remembers Don. “Being seven years older, I had my friends and he had his. We generally did different things but when he wanted to start riding, I gave him my Honda Mini Trail pit bike to get started on. A few years later I built him a Yamaha 125 racebike to start road racing.
“Dave had the chance to travel to events when I was racing, so by the time it was his turn he pretty well knew how things worked and did well right from the start,” reveals Don. “Like me, he rode trail bikes almost every day and had a lot of miles under his belt when he started racing. As we grew up, I was more of a planner/thinker, while David lived for the moment. I tried to help him look ahead.”
It worked. David excelled in the 250 GP amateur class in 1976, then stunned pros the calibre of Kenny Roberts, Steve Baker, Gary Nixon and Randy Mamola in 1977 when he won the AMA 250 National Championship, claiming a dozen race wins along the way. (Gregg Hansford won the ’77 Laguna Seca AMA 250 race with Emde third). David also finished second to Cook Neilson’s California Hot Rod Ducati in the 1977 Daytona Superbike race, but all that success didn’t automatically parlay into factory rides.
“By the time Dave elevated himself to the top in the USA, what he lacked was a top team to connect with,” says Don. “My dad tried to get him on some teams, but they were mostly dealer programs. But the timing of Superbike racing opened some opportunities and he did pretty well, scoring some wins on Yoshimura Suzukis and others.”
In 1979, David raced at Daytona for Yoshimura alongside Wes Cooley and Ron Pierce. A crash in his 250 heat race sent him to the hospital, so he missed his Superbike heat. That meant he had to start the 100-mile Superbike final in the 63rd and final starting position. Emde carved his way through the field from last to finish third behind his two teammates on identical Yoshimura Suzukis, giving Pops Yoshimura a dramatic 1-2-3 sweep. A very versatile rider, David later turned his attention to a rising European brand.
“When his Superbike career finished Dave raced in the Battle of the Twins, and had some good years riding a BMW Boxer for San Jose BMW,” says Don. “He was up for just about anything, including accepting an offer to ride the Suzuka 8 Hour one year on a Yamaha TZ750 that was arranged with a Japanese rider I had known from my days named Isoyo Sugimoto. Dave set the fastest qualifying time for that race and they ended up second overall in the race on a bike few expected would go the distance. That motorcycle was on display at the Honda Museum at Motegi when I was there a few years ago.”
David competed for the Honda factory in the 1978 Bol d’Or 24-Hour, finishing in the top 10 despite a lengthy pit stop after his teammate crashed the bike.
After he finished racing, David became a riding instructor and worked for BMW demonstrating their latest models and technologies to its dealers. He later moved back to San Diego and worked in motorcycle retail. In September 2003, David was riding through the mountain roads near his hometown with friends when his bike left the road. He died at the scene.
David was posthumously inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2010, joining his father and brother. More than the accolades, though, David is remembered for the person he was. “Success didn’t really change Dave,” says Don. “With my dad’s racing history, then mine, I think Dave knew success was something we all expected would come for him, but all that stayed on the track. Over the years I’ve heard from people who knew him, and universally the comments are how he never changed as he went up the ladder of success. Always the same fun guy, always respectful to people no matter what they position in the sport may have been. We miss him very much.”
By Darryl Flack