Earl Robinson was a motorcycle dealer, a racer, a transcontinental record holder, a racing sponsor, a long-distance tourer, husband of one of the most famous women in motorcycling -- in short, if it had anything to do with motorcycling, Robinson probably did it.
Robinson was born in Saginaw, Michigan, on March 17, 1908. He purchased his first motorcycle while working for his brother in New England. After returning to Michigan, Robinson began racing. He excelled in all types of racing, everything from the high-speed road racing of the Savannah 200-Mile National Championships, to the rough-and-tumble national TT races held each year in Marion, Indiana, but Robinson's favorite was endurance racing, later called enduro. In those days, riders wrestled big Harley-Davidsons and Indians through rutted and washed-out dirt roads and single-track trails full of rocks and exposed tree roots.
Earl was not the only Robinson competing in the rugged endurance races. His wife, Dot, whom he met at a Saginaw motorcycle dealership owned by Dot's family, also competed in the sidecar class and was one of the top competitors. Dot was a champion of women's rights in motorcycling and later went on the form the Motor Maids.
The granddaddy of all endurance races was the annual Jack Pine 500 Mile National Endurance held in Robinson's home state of Michigan. Earl was a top competitor in the Jack Pine for years, placing first in his class in 1946.
Another of Robinson's favorite pastimes was chasing transcontinental records. In the 1930s, Earl set marks for solo runs and he and Dot set transcontinental records for sidecars.
Earl's wife recalls the effort required in setting the cross-country records in those days. "We had to stop and get our log book validated at a Western Union station every two hours. That really slowed things up and sometimes you'd ride in and not be able to find a station. We had an owner of a grocery store validate our book at one stop and the AMA nearly threw out the record over that. They were very strict. We had a wonderful time on those runs, seeing all parts of the country."
After a transcontinental run in 1935, Harley-Davidson approached Robinson about opening a dealership. The Robinsons moved to Detroit and opened a dealership in 1936, in the middle of the Depression. The dealership became successful despite the poor economy. Robinson kept the dealership's name in the limelight through his and his wife's racing efforts.
After Earl's racing schedule began to slow down, he stayed heavily involved by sponsoring several racers, most notably AMA Grand National star Paul Goldsmith.
The Robinsons retired in 1971 and set off on several long motorcycle tours, including a 6,000-mile excursion through Australia. Earl and Dot were awarded the prestigious AMA Dud Perkins Award in 1979 in recognition of their years of service to the sport.
Robinson was great ambassador for the sport motorcycling right up to his death on July 31, 1996.