Dick Klamfoth will forever be associated with the Daytona 200. At the age of 20, Klamfoth burst onto the motorcycle racing scene in March of 1949 when he rode to a surprise victory in the 200 on his very first attempt. Klamfoth won the spring classic again in 1951 and 1952 to become the first three-time winner of America's most famous motorcycle race. Known as one of the true gentleman of the sport, Klamfoth was named AMA's Most Popular Rider in 1961.
While on the surface it seemed that Klamfoth was an overnight sensation, the fact was that the farm boy from Groveport, Ohio, had been honing his racing skills for three years competing in enduros and later local dirt track events in his home state. The year before winning his first Daytona 200 he finished second on the beach course in the amateur race.
Klamfoth was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 30, 1928. Growing up on a farm in nearby Groveport, Klamfoth began riding motorcycles after getting his drivers license at the age of 14.
"It was during World War II and everything was being rationed," Klamfoth recalled. "Motorcycles were allowed a gallon and a half of gas a week, but I managed to sneak a gallon or two from our farm tractors and I rode about anywhere I wanted."
Klamfoth graduated from high school in 1946 and began competing in local enduros on a 61 cubic inch Harley-Davidson. He caught the eye of a Columbus Norton dealer who told Klamfoth he thought he should try out dirt track racing. In 1947, rode his motorcycle to Springfield, Ill., to watch the famous Springfield Mile. He was inspired by the riding of the pros and the atmosphere provided by thousands of enthusiastic racing fans and decided to try to become a professional racer.
Back in Ohio, Klamfoth convinced a couple of friends who co-owned a racing Harley to give him a shot on the bike. Klamfoth spent hours practicing his dirt riding technique racing through apple orchids near his home. He progressed quickly through the novice and amateur ranks, the highlight being his second-place in the amateur race at Daytona riding a Norton supplied by the Columbus dealer who had urged him to start racing pro.
As a rookie expert, Klamfoth didn't expect to set any records at Daytona in 1949, but he did just that. Riding conservatively in the beginning, Klamfoth steadily picked up his pace forging his way through the field en route to winning the 200 with a record average speed of 86.42 miles per hour. Klamfoth led a Norton sweep of the top-three finishers, with Billy Mathews and Tex Luse taking second and third. Klamfoth described what it was like to race in his first Daytona 200:
"I didn't try to break any records early on. With 100 bikes on the course the traffic was pretty thick and I just wanted to stay out of trouble. The Harleys and Indians had more brute horsepower and would pull past me on the soft sand of the beach side. But, the Norton had a lot more top speed back down the paved highway side and I'd really fly past people."
Klamfoth proved that winning Daytona was no rookie fluke later that summer by finishing second at the Langhorne (Pa.) 100-Mile National, and winning an International race at Wasaga Beach in Ontario, Canada.
In 1950, Klamfoth earned five podium finishes including a second-place finish at Daytona. 1951 was Klamfoth's most successful season. He started with his second victory in the Daytona 200 and followed that up with national wins at the half-mile ovals in Richmond, Va., and Shreveport, La., as well as earning a victory in the Laconia Classic road race.
Klamfoth set a new record by winning his third Daytona 200 in March of 1952. It was a victory in a race he nearly missed. In one of the most popular stories in Daytona 200 history, the race was supposed to be postponed a day due to wet conditions. Klamfoth decided to spend the day on a fishing expedition. As he stopped at a local restaurant to pick up some sandwiches for the boat trip, a fan recognized him and asked how he thought he'd do in the race today. Klamfoth replied, "Don't you mean tomorrow?" The fan showed Klamfoth the newspaper headlines telling that conditions had improved and the race was going to be run as originally scheduled. Klamfoth sped his way back to the Norton garage in town only to find that the team had left for the beach figuring that he wasn't going to show up. Klamfoth put on his racing suit and hopped on his race bike speeding off to the starting line. He arrived just in time before the race started.
Klamfoth's record of three Daytona 200 wins was tied, but not broken until 1998 when Scott Russell took his fourth victory at Daytona. While Klamfoth never won the AMA Grand National Series (which was instituted in 1954), he finished in the top ten in all but two years during the period from 1954 to 1961. Klamfoth went into semi-retirement after the 1962 season, but did venture back to Daytona in 1964 so he could finally race on the high banks (In 1961 through 1963 the 200 was held on an infield course that did not utilize the banked turns of the super speedway). In his final pro race, appropriately at Daytona where he came to fame, Klamfoth took a very credible fifth on a Matchless. Klamfoth finished his racing career with a total of 12 AMA national victories and one international win.
Klamfoth owned one of the nations biggest Honda dealerships and also promoted AMA National Motocross races at his central Ohio Honda Hills complex. Klamfoth retired in 1989 and continues to promote the sport. He spearheaded an effort to have a monument placed on Daytona Beach commemorating the years in which the Daytona 200 was held on the beach course from 1937 to 1960.
Klamfoth was married to Beverly in 1956 and they have three grown children. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.