Chuck Clayton, along with his wife, Sharon, founded Cycle News, motorcycling’s leading weekly newspaper. From its humble beginnings in the early-1960s, Cycle News grew to become on of the country’s foremost motorcycling publications. The paper covered everything from local race meets to world championships and was an important voice in the area of motorcycling rights. It came to be known as the bible of the industry.
Charles Clayton was born on December 21, 1935 in Whittier, California. While in college, he bought a Triumph Cub to use as basic transportation. While in school, he met and eventually married Sharon Potter in 1953.
After college, Clayton’s first job was working on the editorial staff at Cycle magazine. He and Sharon later moved to New York City and then to Montreal, where Clayton was a booking agent for Jazz artists.
By the early 1960s, the Claytons moved back to Southern California, settling in Long Beach. Chuck went back to work in the motorcycling industry, this time as a editorial staffer at Cycle World, shortly after that publication was launched. A few years later, an argument with Cycle World’s publisher Joe Parkhurst resulted in Clayton being fired from the magazine.
Shortly afterwards, Clayton bought a struggling Southern California weekly newspaper called Motorcycle Journal.
"Motorcycle Journal primarily covered the races at Ascot Park," remembered Sharon Clayton. "When it ran low on races to cover, it filled the space with bible verses."
Ironically, it was Joe Parkhurst who won the contest to rename the publication. Parkhurst’s idea of Cycle News earned him a lifetime subscription. So, in September of 1965, Clayton sold one of his motorcycles to pay for the first printing of the fledgling publication and Cycle News was born.
In the early days, Chuck did nearly all the editorial and sold advertising while working out of his living room. Sharon’s day job kept the two going while Chuck worked at making the weekly profitable.
"We’d go our separate ways during the weekend to cover races," said Sharon. "Then we’d spend all day Monday writing the stories and typesetting the paper. We really never looked at how much work it was. We were doing what we loved."
The motorcycling industry was going through a boom and Cycle News grew steadily. After initially covering only local motorcycling happenings, Cycle News grew and began covering events outside of Southern California. Daytona was featured one year and Cycle News gradually became a national publication. After about a year in the Clayton living room, Cycle News finally moved into its first office in Long Beach. It later moved to a larger office on Signal Hill, where it would be headquartered for two decades. Motorcycle dealers across the country were recruited to carry Cycle News and it quickly became a must-read for anyone interested in motorcycle racing.
Cycle News began to hire a staff. One of the strengths of the publication was its enthusiastic core of contributors who covered local races across the country. In the early days, Chuck recruited potential contributors by going up to anyone with a camera at the races, introducing himself and asking them if they would like to be paid to do coverage.
In the late 1960s, off-road racing legend John Penton was looking to sell his regional Ohio motorcycling paper. Several candidates wanted to buy the paper, but Penton chose the Claytons, and Cycle News East was born. By the mid-1970s, Cycle News had expanded to four regional editions across the country. The regional editions were later consolidated into one national edition published out of the California office.
Clayton loved the hum of activity in the busy Cycle News offices and showed a bit of distain when computers replaced the old typewriters and typesetting machines. "It’s too quiet in here," he complained.
By 1973, Chuck named Sharon publisher and he vacated the editor’s chair, although he would serve as interim editor several times over the next couple of years. In addition to Cycle News, Clayton launched a number of other publications, including ATV News, Personal Watercraft Illustrated and Motorcycle Road Racer Illustrated. But while several of the titles came and went, Cycle News was always the flagship publication.
Chuck and Sharon established the Clayton Memorial Foundation in 1989, upon realizing the need to financially help motorcycle racers who had been injured while racing. The Claytons wanted to give back to an industry that had given so much to them. Since the inception of the foundation, the non-profit charity has disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to injured racers in need.
Clayton passed away on February 20, 1992 after suffering a stroke. Sharon and son, James Brian, survived him. Clayton was a pioneer in motorcycling and his lasting legacy will be one of the most respected publications in all of motorcycling and the charity foundation that carries his name.
Inducted in 2001