Kenny Eggers was one of the top racers on the West Coast during the 1950s. He won the Bay Meadows Mile AMA National in San Mateo, California, in his rookie expert season. Eggers also earned fame for winning the AMA national road race at Willow Springs Raceway in 1954, the first motorcycle race ever held at that venue.
Eggers was born in San Jose, California, on June 13, 1929. A neighborhood friend had a motorcycle and Eggers learned to ride his friend's bike when he was 12.
"The bike was an old 1926 Harley," said Eggers. "He let me ride with him on the back for a while, then he let me go by myself. I started sliding around on the gravel. It was great."
Eggers paid $40 for a 1927 Harley when he was 14 years old. He learned to slide by riding figure eights in the gravel parking lot of a neighborhood school. Eggers met legendary tuner Tom Sifton when he went to Sifton's San Jose dealership to find a piston for his bike. Sifton hired the young Eggers as a apprentice and put him to work assembling Cushman scooters. He worked for Sifton until he joined the Army in 1947.
Eggers ended up being stationed at Fort Ord, only about 60 miles from San Jose. On Saturdays he had leave and would work at the parts counter at Sifton's shop. Eggers said that after he got out of the service, Sifton wanted him to go to work as parts sales manager, but he didn't do it saying, "They weren't in the union so I couldn't make any money." Instead he went to work as an engineer for Westinghouse.
Eggers honed his skills by riding in the hills with the "San Jose Bunch" that included such talented riders as Bob Shavs, Al Rudy, Larry Headricks and racing legend Sam Arena.
"We all rode 45s (45-cubic-inch machines) because that's what Sam rode," Eggers said.
Eggers took part in the popular California endurance runs of the day, such as the Sawmill Endurance Run and the Tin Hat Derby. He also started watching local dirt track races and before long entered his first race on a short track in Belmont, California.
In the late 1940s, Eggers began winning Northern California races. He turned amateur in 1950 and won a slew of amateur races across the country.
Turning expert in 1951, Eggers continued winning. The biggest win of his career came on July 1st of that year in San Mateo, California, at Bay Meadows. Riding a Sifton-tuned Harley-Davidson, Eggers shocked the best riders in the country by winning the AMA 20-Mile National, the first race on a mile oval that year. A month later, Eggers finished runner-up to Bobby Hill at the national championship Springfield, Illinois, Mile.
"My bike was geared for Larry Headrick, who was 30 pounds lighter, and was way too tall and Sifton refused to change it," Eggers remembers of the Springfield race. "In the final I was so mad at Sifton for not lowering the gear, that I was thinking about laying the bike down on purpose. The gearing was so tall that I got a bad start and was way back in the crowd. I worked my way through and finally caught up with Bill Tuman, who was running second. I got by Tuman and his front wheel was rubbing on my leathers in the corners. This was about 14 laps into the 25-lap final.
"I just never let off the gas and three laps later I caught up to Hill and was just getting ready to pass on the inside when the bolt holding on my chain guard broke. The chain guard fell off and I ran over it. That threw me sideways and I bounced off of Hill than ended way up near the fence. The clutch was dragging on the chain and the motor wouldn't pull top speed anymore, so I finished second."
Eggers wrapped up his rookie season by finishing second to Dick Klamfoth on the half mile in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The AMA Grand National Series was inaugurated in 1954. Eggers finished fifth in the series opener at Daytona Beach, riding a BSA Shooting Star for Hap Alzina. That same year he won the road race national at Willow Springs. Eggers remembers the track was quite crude in its early days.
"The racing surface wasn't pavement, it was rolled oiled dirt," Eggers said. "It was actually a pretty rough track. The cars had been on it before and tore it up. It was just like riding an old endurance run. It was like riding on an old county road. We ran it counter-clockwise and the hill at the back of the track was really steep. It was just like racing in a hillclimb going up that hill."
The carburetors on Eggers' BSA flooded on the starting line and he was last off the line. Eggers blasted through the field and won the race over Ed Kretz and John Gibson.
Eggers retired in 1990 and today enjoys restoring historic racing motorcycles. He still attends events across the country. He and his wife, Kay, still live in San Jose. They have three grown children.