Larry Maiers was the original host of television’s MotoWorld, which debuted in 1984 and was the first regularly scheduled, nationally televised program devoted to motorcycling. MotoWorld was influential in showing American TV audiences a positive side of motorcycling with an emphasis on racing. MotoWorld proved to be such a success that it spawned other motorcycling shows in years to come. Maiers was also well known in motorcycling as the race announcer at the AMA Motocross Nationals during the 1970s and ‘80s.
Maiers was born on March 3, 1939 in Lansing, Michigan. His first exposure to motorcycling came as young boy when the town of Lansing was inundated with off-road riders coming in for the annual Jack Pine Enduro.
“It was a big deal when the Jack Pine came to town,” Maiers remembers. “We’d hang out at Oscar Lenz’s Harley-Davidson shop and watch all the riders gather for the start of the race, which in those days was in downtown Lansing.
“We’d watch them leave, then watch again when they returned. And of course we heard their stories. Then we’d tear our bikes up pretending we were Jackpiners.”
Maiers' first ride on a real motorcycle was with an uncle who was a motorcyclist. His uncle let him ride his bike a few times while he was in high school and he became hooked. A few years after high school, Maiers bought a Zundapp and began racing off-road and amateur dirt track events with help from Lansing’s College Bike Shop.
“There was so much camaraderie in the sport,” Maiers recalls of off-road motorcycle racing in the late 1950s and early '60s. “It was just a bunch of friends getting together for a race through the woods. Someone would always stop and offer to help if your bike quit out on the trail. Afterwards, we’d all get together and tell lies about how fast we were. Plus you could just about ride anywhere in the state of Michigan. It was a real kick and a great time to be a woods rider.”
Maiers tried all forms of racing, but found he never got a handle on flat track.
“Bart Markel gave me advice once. I think he saw me ride and felt sorry for me. He told me to run it into the corner. When the rear end started to slide, he told me to blip the throttle and steer with the rear end. That made no sense to me, so I stuck with enduros and scrambles racing.”
Maiers had worked his way up the ladder from boxcar loader to sales rep for Massey Ferguson. One of his territories was Ohio where he became good friends with off-road racing pioneer John Penton. This was during the time that Penton began selling his motorcycles that would revolutionize off-road racing in America. Penton told Maiers he needed help, and offered him a job. Maiers, excited by the prospect of working in the motorcycling industry, left his established position at Massey Ferguson and went to work at Penton Imports.
“I came home and told my wife what I was doing and she said, ‘You’re doing what?’” remembers Maiers. “It was a pretty big leap of faith, but I loved the sport and it was something I was really excited about.”
Maiers’ title was president of Penton Imports, but he points out that the title didn’t mean much.
“Those motorcycles were Penton’s babies and nobody was going to tell him how to run that part of the business,” Maiers said with a smile. But one area that Penton really did need help with was in accessories.
Under Maiers’ direction, the Hi Point accessories division grew and became highly profitable. He initiated some of the first rider sponsorship deals in motocross.
“In those days, the riders bought their own apparel,” said Maiers. “Once, just to say thank you, I bought some Malcolm Smith wallets and put $500 in each and gave them to several of the top riders who wore our Hi-Point boots. Bob Hannah, Pierre Karsmakers, Marty Smith, and Brad Lackey. Before long we were giving free boots to the top riders and it sort of just went from there. Bob Hannah was probably the first rider to start getting big sponsorship money from the apparel companies.”
One of the funny stories Maiers remembers about Hannah was that the legendary motocross racer had a deal in which Hi-Point paid him in gold.
“Hannah would watch the gold market,” remembers Maiers. “and when he felt the price was right he would call us and I’d have to quickly come up with the money and go out and buy gold Krugerrands.”
Maiers was the first regular announcer at National Motocross events. He was at Red Bud when the regular announcer did not show up. Promoter Gene Ritchie asked Maiers to help out.
“From that first job at Red Bud, all of a sudden I was calling races every weekend,” he recalls. Maiers often traded his services for Hi Point advertising. “In those days no one was in line to pour money into motocross. I’d announce the race and in exchange the promoter called his event the Hi Point National.”
His track announcing led to television.
“Lou Seals said he was going put a motorcycle show on television and needed a host,” Maiers remembers. “He figured it would be easier to take a motorcyclist and teach him TV, than to take a TV guy and teach him motorcycles.
“At first I was skeptical and told him to call me when he had it put together. To my surprise, Lou called, and the rest is history.”
In 1984, MotoWorld made its debut on the USA Network with Maiers as host. Once a month, Maiers would fly in from Ohio to Atlanta and spend a day in production. In addition to hosting the show, Maiers wrote most of the program. He did this with John Penton’s blessing, who realized the benefit of having the president of his company hosting a national television program.
Eventually the show went bi-weekly and then weekly, and Maiers found he couldn’t keep up with the workload of both Penton Imports and MotoWorld. MotoWorld offered him a full-time position, so again Maiers left a stable and established position to begin a new career. MotoWorld grew in popularity and helped build a bigger audience for motorcycle racing.
“The viewers got to meet the racers and found they were clean-cut athletes,” said Maiers. “I think the show did wonders in helping transform the general public’s image of motorcycling. For the first time, people got to see a different side of the sport they’d never seen before.”
When MotoWorld switched networks and went to ESPN, Maiers left the show and went to work for Chet Burks Productions, which was producing shows for the burgeoning Speedvision Network. Maiers hosted a weekly show called Bike Week and became involved with TV motorcycle racing that eventually turned into live events.
In 40-plus years of attending, announcing and broadcasting races, Maiers has covered every aspect of the sport and every discipline of racing. He calls the 1983 U.S. 250cc Motocross Grand Prix at Unadilla one of the highlights of his announcing career. He remembers that race with David Bailey, Danny LaPorte and Brian Myerscough racing up front, never more than a few feet apart.
“At the end of the race, all three riders were on the verge of collapse,” Maiers said. He also remembers the early-1980s motocross clashes between Bob Hannah and Kent Howerton as some of the best races he ever witnessed.
When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, Maiers lived with his wife DiAnn outside of Atlanta and continued working in television.