Chester "Chet" Dykgraaf was one of the nation's top racers during the period immediately after World War II. Dykgraaf, riding a Norton, won the AMA national championship in 1946 by virtue of his win at the Springfield (Illinois) Mile. His Springfield victory was Dykgraaf's only national victory, but he was well known for winning numerous regional events across the Midwest.
Born in Holland, Michigan, on November 17, 1914, Dykgraaf moved to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, when he was 11 years old after his parents purchased and moved into a downtown hotel. Across the street from the hotel was a motorcycle dealership. Dykgraaf was naturally attracted to motorcycles at the shop so close by. When he turned 16, Dykgraff had saved a little money and bought a basket-case Harley-Davidson for $25. He put the bike together in the basement of the hotel and was soon riding the roads around Grand Rapids.
In the late-1930s Dykgraaf began racing in novelty races in which a rider would have to stop each lap and drink a coke or eat a hotdog before continuing the race. In 1938, Dykgraaf won a slew of novice races and the officials bumped him up to amateur level that same year. In 1939, he became a rookie expert, but claimed he had a dog of a motorcycle that year that explained his mixed results.
In 1940 Dykgraaf went to Daytona for the first time to compete in the 200. He rode to a sixth-place finish, which ultimately proved to be his best result on the beach in six appearances. Later that season, he started racing a Art Hafer-built Indian, and just when he was getting used to his new ride, he wrecked in a crash in Shreveport, Louisiana. Just before World War II put a temporary stop to racing in the United States, Dykgraff hooked up with Norton dealer John Essler and began campaigning the British-built machines.
Dykgraaf was drafted into the Air Force during the war and was discharged in 1946. After the war, Dykgraaf resumed racing Nortons. The biggest win of his career came that year at the Springfield Mile.
Rains made the track heavy and rough that year and Dykgraaf took the lead early on his Norton. During the race Dykgraaf battled for the lead with Andy Drobeck and Kenny Ingle before edging out Ingle by just a few feet at the checkered flag to put his 1938-model Norton Manx atop the podium.
Dykgraaf continued racing through the 1953 season. He won a slew of regional races, but never could quite make it to the top again in a national. He finished second numerous times, including just being edged out by Jimmy Chann at the Springfield Mile in 1948. A month later, he was runner-up again at Langhorne to fellow Hall of Famer Ed Kretz Sr. Also in 1948, Dykgraaf finished third at the Milwaukee Mile and Shreveport (Louisiana) half-mile. The '48 season turned out to be the most consistent year for the Michigan racer.
Dykgraaf continued to be one of the top competitors until a crash at Darlington, South Carolina, in 1950 left Dykgraaf hospitalized for nearly two months. Doctors in South Carolina told Dykgraaf he'd be lucky to walk again. Shaken, he immediately called a friend who owned an ambulance service in Michigan to come and take him back to Michigan. Once home, Dykgraaf found a bone specialist who performed a bone graft operation that helped Dykgraaf fully recover from his leg injuries.
After missing a year, Dykgraaf returned to racing in 1952. He showed that he still had the touch when he finished third that August in the AMA national held at a half-mile track in Williams Grove, Pennsylvania.
Dykgraaf's father purchased a berry farm. Increasing demands of the farm and another bad crash at Langhorne led Dykgraaf to retire from racing after the 1953 season. He was just short of 40 years old and felt it was the right time to leave the sport.
Dykgraaf ran the family farm until the early 1960s, when his brother-in-law brought him in to help run a carbonated drink company, which Dykgraaf later owned. He retired in 1982 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida, with his wife, Jane. Looking back on his career, Dykgraaf cited the Springfield Mile his favorite race and Leo Anthony as his toughest competition.
When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, Dykgraaf still lived in Florida and enjoyed playing golf. He was still making special appearances at various vintage racing meets around the country. Dykgraaf has one son.