E.C. Smith served as Executive Secretary of the AMA, running the association for 30 years (1928 to 1958). Taking the reins from the AMA’s first secretary, A.B. Coffman, Smith became the AMA’s first full-time employee. During Smith’s administration, the AMA moved from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, and really began to take the form that it has today.
Smith headed the association through good times and bad. Under his guidance the AMA survived the Great Depression and World War II. Smith was known for his authoritarian style, but even his biggest detractors concede that he was incredibly dedicated and loyal to the cause of motorcycling in all its forms.
A native of Ohio, Smith was born in 1890. He first became involved in motorcycling as an inspector and referee for the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) at Midwestern races during the 1910s. By the early 1920s, Smith was promoting dirt-track races in Indiana and Ohio and established a good relationship with the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association (M&ATA), from which the AMA was formed in 1924. When Coffman resigned from his position at the AMA in 1928, Smith was elected to replace him. James Wright, president of the M&ATA, selected Smith for his honesty, forthrightness and forceful style of promoting.
Smith became the first full-time manager of the AMA. He hired an assistant and set up the first official AMA office in Columbus. In order to help supplement his meager AMA salary, Smith, in addition to heading the AMA, was also given the position of part-time publicity representative for Harley-Davidson. While this action could easily be seen as a conflict of interest, it was done with full knowledge and consent of the other manufacturers, which were all voting members. Smith became a tireless promoter of the AMA and traveled the country, often in a Harley-Davidson sidecar rig, carrying a 16mm projector and motorcycle racing films on loan from Firestone and Goodyear tire companies. Under Smith, the AMA began a long and steady period of growth, despite the onset of the Great Depression just a few years into his administration.
One of Smith’s top priorities was to build activity on the club level. He believed that the clubs were an important key to building AMA membership and spent much of his efforts helping the clubs coordinate Gypsy Tours, races and other activities to get people excited and involved. Smith was also ahead of his time in encouraging clubs to get involved in civic events and charities. The roots of much of the charity work done by motorcycle clubs today can be traced back to Smith’s pioneering ideas.
One of Smith’s biggest challenges was keeping the AMA afloat during World War II. It should be noted that World War I essentially put the AMA’s predecessor, the FAM, out of business. Smith wrote and edited a quarterly newsletter called AMA News, which went out to all AMA members, including those in the service around the world. The newsletter proved to be a stroke of genius. It kept those in the service in contact with the association. After the war the returning servicemen returned to motorcycling and supported the AMA in record numbers.
Smith was also in charge of all types of AMA motorcycle competition. Under his guidance the rules for competition gained much needed uniformity and in 1954 Smith helped established the AMA’s first national championship series, the Grand National Championships. Smith not only had a vision for racing’s big picture, but he also enjoyed supervising track preparations on dirt track circuits. He could often be found walking the track before a national, making sure the facilities were in top condition.
In 1948, at the Springfield (Illinois) Mile, Smith was presented a new Buick in honor of his twenty years of service, purchased for him by dealers and clubs across the country. Photos of the day show a tearful Smith accepting the keys from legendary racer Cannonball Baker and receiving a standing ovation from the thousands of fans in the packed grandstands.
Smith announced his retirement in dramatic fashion at the annual banquet during the 1958 Daytona classic. Following his retirement, after 30 years of service, Smith remained active in the organization of the Charity Newsies AMA dirt track race in Columbus each year.
Smith died on March 31, 1977 at the age of 87. He will be remembered for his deep dedication to the AMA and, in turn, to motorcycling.