One of the most colorful personalities in racing, David Aldana was a top AMA Grand National Series competitor during the 1970s, winning four AMA nationals during his career. By the late-1970s, Aldana began concentrating on road racing. He became a factory rider for Suzuki and later joined Kawasaki’s AMA Superbike team in 1980. He went on to be a Honda factory rider in the FIM World Championship Endurance Series. Aldana teamed with Mike Baldwin to win the prestigious Suzuka eight-hour endurance race in 1981. He later rode the revolutionary Elf Hondas in the world endurance series. One of the most versatile racers in the history of the sport, Aldana competed in nearly every form of motorcycle racing, including motocross and speedway racing.
Aldana was born in Santa Ana, Calif., on Nov. 26, 1949. Aldana’s father was a motorcyclist and his uncle was tuner for AMA national racer Skip Van Leeuwen. As a child, Aldana attended Southern California scrambles races, but said most of the time he would hike off into the woods looking for lizards and frogs instead of watching the races.
By the time he was 14, Aldana’s father finally bought him an 80cc Suzuki after years of pleading for a motorcycle of his own.
"That bike started out as a street bike," Aldana recalls. "It didn’t take long for me to strip the bike down to nothing. I was riding it everywhere. On the weekends, I would go dirt riding in the hills and during the week I would ride it to high school everyday. I got in trouble with the local police all the time."
At 16, Aldana bought a 90cc Honda and began racing all over Southern California. It didn’t take long for the youngster to move up through the ranks in racing. He started working at motorcycle shops and earned a factory-supported ride from BSA in dirt track and a factory ride with Ossa in scrambles/motocross, all by the time he was 19. By the late-1960s, Aldana was the star of the Ascot TT races. Without planning it, motorcycle racing had become a way of life for Aldana.
In 1970 Aldana became a rookie expert on the AMA Grand National circuit riding for BSA. It was to be one of the most memorable rookie seasons in the history of the series. Aldana made a serious challenge for the championship. A crash at the Sacramento Mile with just three races to go dashed his hopes for the title, but along the way he won three nationals, finished third in the series and won the hearts of America’s racing fans with his win-at-all-costs riding style. The classic motorcycling documentary, "On Any Sunday," caught snippets of Aldana’s rookie season and it conveyed his brash and carefree attitude.
While with BSA, Aldana was a part of the American team that went to England to participate in the Trans-Atlantic Match Races. It was Aldana’s first taste of racing outside of the U.S., and he later said those races really honed his road racing skills.
Sales of British bikes were waning in the U.S. in the early 1970s and Aldana felt the crunch when BSA dropped him from its racing team after the 1971 season. To make up for the money he lost from his factory salary, Aldana supplemented his income by hitting dozens of local county fair races in between nationals.
Aldana earned quite a reputation as a crasher in his early years on the professional circuit. He seemed to operate under a theory he laid out in a magazine interview. "If you don’t fall off now and then, you don’t know how fast you can go." At the same time he earned a nickname of the "Rubber Ball," since he always seemed to easily bounce up after spectacular crashes. He also gained notoriety from wearing a set of racing leathers he designed which featured a almost entirely black leather suit with a contrasting human skeleton on the front (above).
In 1975, Aldana secured a ride on the factory Suzuki road racing team, but suffered a slew of mechanical problems with the team that year. He won the 1975 Superbike Production race at Daytona on a Suzuki. That race was a direct predecessor of the AMA Superbike Series, which officially kicked off the next year.
In 1980, Aldana was hired by Kawasaki to team with Eddie Lawson in the AMA Superbike Series. Aldana’s experience at setting up bikes proved to be invaluable for the Kawasaki team.
"I remember times when the team was trying to set up Eddie’s bike, he’d come in the pits after a practice session and say to the mechanics, ‘Set mine up just like Aldana’s.’ "
Aldana finished on the podium at half of the Superbike races that year and finished the year ranked fourth in the series behind Wes Cooley, Lawson and Freddie Spencer.
Honda recognized Aldana’s obvious talent on Superbikes and hired him to race in the World Championship Endurance Series. In that series, Aldana raced in races such as the prestigious LeMans and Bol ‘d Or 24-hour events and the Suzuka Eight Hour, at that time arguably the single most important motorcycle race in the world. Aldana teamed with Mike Baldwin to win Suzuka in 1981.
"I’ll never forget the finish of that race," Aldana said. "My fellow competitors picked me up on their shoulders and carried me around in front of a couple of hundred thousand cheering fans. It was truly a highlight of my racing career."
The next two seasons Aldana continued on the world endurance circuit riding for the French Elf team on its unique racing machine, which featured single-sided swing arm in the front and rear. With the unusual set up, the team was able to change tires and completely fuel the bike in less than five seconds. Unfortunately, the chassis, while ahead of its time, was not completely worked out and the team struggled with handling problems throughout Aldana’s tenure.
When not racing in Europe and Asia, Aldana raced in select races in America. In 1983, he finished third in the AMA Superbike race at Daytona aboard a works Honda (above).
In 1985 Aldana rode the new Suzuki GSXR-750 for Cycle Tech Racing with teammate John Kocinski to win the WERA National Endurance Championship.
After the ’85 season Aldana retired from full-time racing. He stayed involved in the sport by instructing at the Team Suzuki Riding School and riding in select events for racing legends.
When inducted in 1999, Aldana was semi-retired, overseeing real estate he had acquired during his years of racing. He was also working with fellow racing legend Gene Romero on opening a dirt track racing school.