Del Kuhn, one of the nation’s top off-road racers in the 1940s and ’50s, passed away peacefully on March 24. He was 95.
Born in Camp Douglas, WI, in 1925, Kuhn settled in the Los Angeles area after serving in the Navy during World War II, where he joined the Compton Roughriders Motorcycle Club and started riding in off-road club rides.
He soon started racing and competed on his Army surplus 45-inch (750cc) Harley-Davidson that was stripped down for off-road use despite trends at the time favoring single-cylinder British off-road bikes.
To compete in the 1948 Greenhorn Enduro, Kuhn borrowed a rigid-frame Matchless that he rode to victory in the two-day event. That performance earned him a sponsorship from British motorcycle importer Frank Cooper.
During his career, Kuhn rode against talented off-road riders such as Ernie May and Hall of Famers Aub LeBard, Max Bubeck and John McLaughlin.
Notably, he won the Greenhorn again in 1950 and 1951. Because the 1950 Greenhorn was awarded the AMA sanction for that year’s national enduro title, Kuhn’s victory also earned him the 1950 AMA National Enduro Championship.
That same year, Kuhn and LeBard helped establish the Catalina Grand Prix on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. The Catalina Grand Prix became one of the most popular races of the 1950s. During the 1951 inaugural race, Kuhn charged through the field to finish third.
Kuhn achieved an emotional victory at the classic Big Bear Endurance Run in 1952, where he raced in a tribute to a close friend who had died in that same race in the mid-1940s.
In 1955, Kuhn retired from racing to focus on his career as a motorcycle patrol officer for the California Highway Patrol, a position he held until 1979. In his nine-year span of racing, Kuhn became one of the country’s best-known off-road racers.
Kuhn was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003.
Look for more on Mr. Kuhn’s life and motorcycling career in a future issue of American Motorcyclist.