Lin Kuchler served as the executive secretary of the AMA from 1958 to 1965. After serving as a top executive for NASCAR for 13 years, Kuchler returned to head the AMA for a second time in 1978 and retired in 1981. Kuchler guided the AMA during a transitional period when British, and later, Japanese makers first came to be major influences in the American motorcycle market. During both of his terms, Kuchler helped steer the AMA out of financially troubling times and set the association on a path that led to growth and stability.
Kuchler oversaw a period of steady escalation of AMA membership, in part due to his efforts at increasing the visibility of the association through innovative media and public relations campaigns. He also commissioned the first study about creating a museum that would preserve the history of motorcycling in America. Those early studies eventually led to the founding of what would later become the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.
Kuchler was liked and well respected by all segments of the AMA membership. He cultivated close relationships with the country’s motorcycle dealers and was appreciated for his evenhanded approach to dealing with the needs of all the motorcycle manufacturers.
Linton Kuchler was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 18, 1916. The son of an appraisal company executive, Kuchler grew up just two miles from the Harley-Davidson factory. He got his first motorcycle when he was 18. He bought a used 1928 single-cylinder Harley-Davidson from a buddy whose family owned one of Milwaukee’s many breweries. As it turned out, Kuchler had purchased a very rare Harley-Davidson motorcycle of which only four were made.
"That’s one bike wish I would have held on to," he said with a laugh.
After one year at the University of Miami, Kuchler moved back to Milwaukee and applied for a position at the Harley-Davidson factory. Two years after he applied, he got a call to interview at Harley-Davidson. He was hired in 1938 and his first job was factory tour guide.
"I gave two tours a day," Kuchler recalled. As a tour guide, he found himself to be a de facto liaison between the factory workers and some of the company's founding fathers.
"I got to know everyone on the production floor very well doing the tours. Once, during a factory strike threat, Walter Davidson, Sr. asked me every day how things were going on the floor. Another time the factory went through a major re-tooling and again he wanted to know how things were going with the new machines. I pulled a few samples from a new automated screw machine out of my pocket and said ‘Here, see for yourself.' "
Kuchler was promoted to the parts and accessories department just before the outbreak of World War II. He enlisted in the Air Force and trained as a bombardier on B-24s. Just prior to being shipped to the Pacific, he was given a routine vaccination shot and his heart rate went up abnormally high. Doctors diagnosed a congenital heart condition and he was grounded and served stateside during the war.
After the war, he moved back to Milwaukee and applied for a Harley-Davidson dealership. An opening came up in 1950 and he established a small dealership in East Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was not the best of times to have a motorcycle dealership.
"The Korean War was going and no one had any money for motorcycles," Kuchler recalled.
During his stint as a motorcycle dealer, Kuchler became highly respected by fellow Michigan dealers and he assumed positions of leadership in local dealer associations. By the mid-1950s, longtime AMA Secretary Manager E.C. Smith made it known that he would soon retire. The AMA’s board began looking for an eventual replacement for Smith. William H. Davidson, president of the Motorcycle & Allied Trades Association, backed Kuchler and in 1956 he went to work for the AMA as Smith’s assistant.
In 1958, Kuchler took charge of the AMA from Smith, who had served as the head of the AMA for 30 years. Kuchler was only the third executive secretary of the AMA following A.B. Coffman (1924-1928) and Smith.
Upon taking over the reigns of the AMA, Kuchler discovered that the association’s financial condition was poor. AMA annual membership dues remained at $1, the same price since the founding of the association in 1924, due to Smith’s belief that it would keep membership numbers at a high level. Despite the low annual fee, membership was stagnant at around 50,000 due in large part to the sluggish motorcycle market of the 1950s.
Kuchler recognized that immediate action was needed to put the association on better financial footing. He also argued the AMA would not be able to accomplish its mission without sufficient funding. He requested that the board raise dues to a more reasonable level, but at first his request was turned down. He was able to approval of an increase in the subscription rate for American Motorcyclist from $1 to $3 per year. Eventually, in 1959, the board agreed to a dues increase and AMA membership dues were raised to $2. He also raised racing sanctioning fees to a more realistic level.
With the additional funding, Kuchler went into high gear improving the AMA. He greatly increased the recognition of the association by hiring a respected New York City-based public relations firm. Those efforts resulted in broader coverage of AMA racing in newspapers and magazines across the country. The campaign also helped improve the image of motorcyclists by spotlighting the charity fundraising efforts by many of the AMA clubs.
One of the most visible highlights of these public relations efforts was when CBS filmed and broadcasted an hour-long special on the Loudon Classic road race during the early 1960s. All of this took place during a time when motorcycling’s image needed all the help it could get, due to growing public perception of the phenomenon of "outlaw" biker gangs.
Another campaign, titled, "Put Your Best Wheel Forward'" went a few steps further. "What we are planning,'' said Kuchler at the time, "is a program to encourage all motorcyclists to present a good appearance to the public -- not only by their personal appearance, but also by their riding habits ... in such measures as safety, mufflers, special consideration of quiet zones, and in many other ways.''
Kuchler greatly raised morale of AMA employees by increasing salaries to competitive levels. He also brought about much needed modernization of the association's woefully outdated office machinery. In the early 1960s, he oversaw a move to more spacious headquarters on North High Street in Columbus, and the staff was increased to 17 employees.
Despite Kuchler’s close association with Harley-Davidson, he was considered very fair by all of the manufacturers in helping to shape competition rules that leveled the playing field for the European and later Japanese manufacturers. He also brought representatives of foreign manufacturers into the AMA board to help in the decision making of the association.
In 1966, Kuchler left the AMA to take an executive position with NASCAR. He rapidly moved up the ranks of NASCAR from competition director to executive director and eventually to vice-president. Kuchler was a key figure in the growth of NASCAR during the 1970s.
Even while he was with NASCAR, Kuchler continued to look out for the AMA. In the early 1970s, RJ Reynolds Company became the major sponsor of NASCAR racing. Kuchler convinced RJ Reynolds marketing executives to take a look at working with the AMA national racing program as well, and as a result, Winston (and later Camel) became a series sponsor of AMA racing.
By the mid-1970s, the AMA was once again in need of strong leadership. It had fallen on hard times financially again due in large part to an overly ambitious racing insurance plan of the early 1970s that nearly bankrupted the association. After an AMA director was forced out in 1973, the board essentially ran the association for several years through interim manager Ed Youngblood, who had been the editor of the association’s American Motorcyclist magazine (then known as AMA News). Youngblood, just 29 when he was made interim manager, did an admirable job of running the day-to-day operation of the association, but the financial situation was still tenuous and the AMA needed a leader with the experience to turn things around. The board called upon Kuchler, and in 1978 he left a very comfortable position at NASCAR to return to his previous position with AMA.
Initially, Kuchler was worried that he might not be able to right the ship. His interest in the cause of motorcycling and his loyalty to the AMA helped him overcome his doubts. He told the board that he would take over the reigns of the AMA for two years. If things were heading in the right direction at the end of those two years he agreed to stay on one more year.
"I figured if we couldn’t get things straightened out in that time frame, then I’d never be able to fix it," he said later.
Kuchler’s charge was to get the AMA’s finances under control. He lobbied for, and got approved, a small $2 increase in membership dues, and he implemented a hiring freeze and a temporary stop to employee cost-of-living raises. Kuchler also brought the spiraling cost of professional racing under control by aggressively seeking competitive bids for insurance and other services.
Kuchler’s direction saw the AMA gradually return to a solid financial footing. In just three years, he had accomplished what he’d set out to do. Even though the AMA board wanted him to continue, Kuchler stuck to his guns and resigned after three years.
"My decision was made easier by the fact that Ed Youngblood was doing such a great job in government relations," Kuchler remembered. "I was 100 percent behind Youngblood taking over my position and the board recognized his leadership skills as well."
After leaving the AMA, Kuchler worked briefly for California real estate developer Warner Hodgdon, who was heavily involved in NASCAR as a team owner and track owner. By the mid-1980s, he’d retired to Florida. He and his wife, Lorry, had three children.
Kuchler will always be remembered for his dedicated leadership of the AMA and for twice bringing the association through challenging times.