The Vetter Rickman Connection 1973-76
Tony Salisbury, my new General Manager, came from BSA, which, at the time, was being phased out along with the Rickman product line. With Tony, came Rickman, if we wanted it. I thought that the Rickman Cafe Bikes would be a good fit, but not the dirt bikes. A deal was struck and in March of 1975, wooden crates of beautiful, nickle-plated Rickman frame kits for Triumph 650s, Honda 750s and Kawasaki 903s began to trickle into our Rantoul, Illinois warehouse. The Rickman frame would become the basis of my next project, the world class design "Mystery Ship"

Before all this had taken place, I reasoned that I could be a better designer if I really knew how to road race. "After all, how could you design a world class motorcycle if you did not know how to race?"

I assumed that road racers knew "secrets" that I did not know. To begin with I bought a used Aermacchi 250 road racer thru Cycle News and a brand new Yamaha YZ250 air cooled motocross engine from Yamaha and put them together.

I trucked it to Daytona, practised for a few minutes and placed 5th in the Amateur Class. I had never been on a track before.

This was fun.

March 1975 Daytona on my 250 Yamaha-Aermacchi Road Racer
Derek Rickman in his shop in 1972

I had met Derek when I was in England working with Triumph.

I pulled a Honda 750 Rickman frame out of inventory to begin the Mystery Ship. The idea was to design and make the most wonderful sport-touring motorcycle in the world.

You can see in this picture a little piece of Windjammer windshield in place to guarantee that a stock Windjammer windshield would fit.

About this time Derek Rickman paid a visit from England.

This is how the Mystery Ship began
Derek talked me into racing a Rickman
Derek - who was a World Champion Racer - asked me why I was racing the little 250 Aermacchi... that a bigger Rickman framed bike would be much easier to ride. Well, he ought to know. If I wanted to give it a try, he would make the special parts I would want, like a double disc fork setup and a longer swing arm. Sounded good to me. In the picture above, Tom Lester had just shipped a special set of cast aluminum wheels for me.

"Cafe Racing" - an unbelievable free - for - all in 1975

There was no maximum engine size! It just needed to be street legal.

Indianapolis had the closest road race track so I took our Honda-based show bike racing. Derek, of course, was right. The big, solid Rickman was a whole lot easier to ride than the smaller 250 Aermacchi.

The next step was to build up a Kawasaki 903 version and race it, too. In those days, The AMA had a class of racing with very loose rules, calling it the "Cafe Class". The rules were so loose that there was no maximum engine size! I sent the Honda 750 and Kawasaki 903 engines to Russ Collins. My instructions were to "Make them as big and powerful as he could but be bulletproof."

Indy May 10-11, 1975: My first race on a Rickman
The Honda was good but I had a suspicion that the Z1 would be better.

July 28, 1975, my 32nd birthday:   “Woody Creek” Raceway outside Aspen, Colo.

My Rickman Kawasaki was now1100 cc and plenty fast. I think I got 1st place only once, and that was here at Aspen.

Woody Creek was a tight and twisty course. Russ Collins was good to his word. This bike was fast and never failed. Now the Rickman rotors were not up to the job. I ordered a set of three, iron plasma coated aluminum rotors from Harry Hunt which I loved.

Yes, that is my wife-to-be, Miss Carol in the hat at our last race of the year run at the airport of DFW. DFW was the fastest track I had been on and the very fast Rickman was easily going over 150 mph. At that speed, it was no longer stable. The tires were not up to the job.

Probably because I was at more races than anyone else, getting second or third, I had amassed enough points to be named "#1 Midwest Cafe Class Racer” and invited to race at Daytona the next March.

Fortunately, the first shipment of the new V--rated Michelin tires ( good for 150 mph) were on there way. I needed them.

Carol, Craig and Margie Coolidge at Dallas Ft. Worth airport track
March, 1976, Daytona. This was probably the most exotic Rickman in the world. Darryl Bassani had made a special version of his "Quiet Pipe" for me and I left the electric starter in place.

If this had been somebody else's bike, I would have been worried.

Videotaped at the 2012 AMA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies at Las Vegas

Download this m4v video

Daytona, 1976

I waited until the starter's sign was turned sideways before I pushed the starter button. Everybody else had cooked their engines, revving them at the starting line. I shot out so fast that I drove off the track on the first corner! I placed 3rd behind Lang Hindle and Mike Baldwin.

150 mph scared me so, after Daytona, I pulled the killer Kawasaki engine out and installed a Ron Grant Suzuki 500 air cooled twin. I was working on very radical air ducting when I crashed at Road Atlanta on my Production RD350.

That was the end of racing for me and the end of Rickman for Vetter. I traded off the RC Kawasaki engine, replacing it with a stocker, restoring my racer to its Daytona condition, figuring I would drive it on the street someday. I never did. In 1998, the bike was donated to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Development of the Mystery Ship was to continue on a new and different platform, that of the Vetter AMA 1978 Superbike Championship bike as ridden by Reggie Pridmore.

Cardboard Aided Design (CAD) I sure would have liked to have tried this
31 Years Later: 2007
I had the honor of introducing the Brothers Rickman into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame

My Rickman racer was now a part of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. Today, Robert Simpson, a fellow Rickman enthusiast, is detailing the bike, getting it ready for Vintage Days, 2008 which happens to fall on July 28, my birthday.

Posted Mar 22, 2009

Updated Jan 20, 2013