David Emde was among the best roadracers in the late 1970s--a time when the strength of the field was unmatched, filled with the likes of Kenny Roberts, Steve Baker, Gary Nixon and Yvon Duhamel. His speed and skill helped him win the 1977 AMA 250cc National Roadracing Championship and become a force at the prestigious Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance race.
At the same time that he was chocking up numerous National victories in AMA 250cc roadrace events in the late-1970s into the 1980s, Emde established himself as one of the pioneers of the then-new segment of the sport known as Superbike racing, battling stars such as Reg Pridmore, Cook Neilson, Steve McLaughlin and others. He also played a role even later in the newly created Battle of the Twins class.
Emde was born into a motorcycle racing family. Following in the footsteps of his father, Floyd, and brother Don, both Daytona 200 winners, David’s versatility became obvious when he began racing in the early-1970s. He was soon doing well in both amateur TT and Motocross events.
Next came roadracing, and he took to it like a duck to water. He won the Daytona amateur 250cc races in 1975 and 1976 and won 1976 WERA Western Regional Championships in three classes. No sooner did he have his license to compete at the top level of AMA National competition, than Emde was giving top stars such as Kenny Roberts, Steve Baker, Gary Nixon and others fits in the 250cc class.
His first major moment in the spotlight came when he won his 250cc Heat Race at the 1976 Laguna Seca roadrace National. Following closely behind was none other than Kenny Roberts. While King Kenny reversed the order in the Main Event, the point was made… David Emde was now a contender in the roadracing world.
While the success of his father and brother in the Daytona 200 eluded him in his career, Emde made his mark in other ways. In 1977 he was the AMA 250cc National Roadracing Champion, beating out Gary Nixon, Randy Mamola and other top stars. He scored a career total of nine 250cc AMA National wins at Laguna Seca, Sears Point, Mid-Ohio, Pocono and other tracks. In 1979, he won 17 of the 24 250cc events in the California-based AFM series.
Emde began competing in the up-and-coming “Superbike” category in 1977 riding for Mack’s Cycle Center in the Los Angeles area with full sponsorship from Nippondenso spark plugs. He finished second in the Daytona Superbike event that year and later teamed with another rider to win the AFM 6-Hour Endurance race at Ontario International Raceway in Southern California.
The following year, he had the distinction of setting the fastest qualifying time for the Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance race in Japan on a highly-strung two-stroke Yamaha TZ750, a machine considered by most to be an unthinkable choice for such a long race. Emde and a teammate proved the critics wrong, however, by finishing second overall. He also competed for the Honda factory that year in the Bol’d Hor 24-Hour race in France and finished in the top ten, despite a lengthy pit stop after his teammate crashed the bike.
In 1979 Emde raced at Daytona for the Yoshimura team along with fellow riders Wes Cooley and Ron Pierce. A crash in his 250cc Heat Race sent him to the hospital, causing Emde to miss his Superbike Heat Race. His injuries did not force him out of further competition that week, but missing the heat race meant he had to start the 100-mile Superbike Final in the 63rd and final starting position. At the start, Emde raced his way through the field from last to finish third behind his two teammates on identical Yoshimura Suzukis, giving “Pops” Yoshimura a dramatic 1-2-3 sweep.
As he continued to register victories in the 250cc class into the 1980s, Emde was signed by San Jose BMW to ride their potent BMW Boxer Twins in the newly formed Battle of the Twins class. Battle of the Twins was conceived since twins were thought then to be totally uncompetitive against the four-cylinder machines. He ran well in that class, with his highlight coming in June of 1981 at the Loudon, New Hampshire National. Emde was obviously not originally planning to ride in the Superbike event, but on a day where rain fell steadily throughout the day, his riding style and the more mellow power output of the BMW resulted in his practice times being competitive with the Superbikes. After reviewing his practice times, the team decided to enter him in the big race as well as the Battle of the Twins that would run later in the day.
Because he was a post entry, Emde would need to start on the back row. At the start he began a steady march to the front of the field, which resulted in a crowd-pleasing fourth-place finish. At one point late in the race, Emde caught and passed future World Champion Freddie Spencer, but Spencer was able to bounce back on the last lap to hang on to third place at the finish. Later that day, Emde easily won the Battle of the Twins event in the rain against a full field of twin-cylinder machines.
After his racing career was over, David’s love of riding kept him close to the sport. He did motorcycle camera work for films, including the opening action scene in Peter Starr’s “Take It To The Limit,” became an instructor for the DP high performance motorcycle riding schools and also capitalized on his BMW popularity by working with the company leading dealer rides, participating in catalog photo shoots and demonstrating BMW’s innovative motorcycle Anti-Lock Brake system at consumer shows when the innovative system appeared on the market.
A desire to move closer to his family in his hometown of San Diego led Emde into the motorcycle retail business, where he worked until his untimely death resulting from a road accident in 2003. It was a cruel twist of fate for someone who risked his life in competition for so many years, but Emde’s record of success on the racetrack and in the motorcycle community is a record that speaks for itself.
David Emde was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2010.