I had the honor of spending the afternoon with Nation's Capital Norton Owners Club members, Burt Upchurch, Angel Sturges, and most notably Bob McKeever.
We all met at Bob's country estate and as the afternoon progressed, we flipped through his old racing scrapbooks and listened to many stories including his legendary 1948 Daytona race experience.
Most impressive, we got to dust off countless trophies and tour his motorcycle garage that houses the Nortons for Team Champagne.
A short Interview with Bob McKeever:
How did you get started with motorcycles?
That's a funny story. My friend lived next to a gentlemen named Bradley Fox and he had a big long shed that used to be a chicken shed. Inside that shed was an old motorcycle that I kept admiring- it was old and dirty. Finally one day riding my bicycle, I found $2 in a ditch on the road. I went back to Mr. Fox and offered him the $2 for the motorcycle and he said give it to me. So I towed the bike home- it was a 1914 Excelsior autocycle and we did everything in the world to that motorcycle but we never got it to run. I just had to have a motorcycle so later bought an Excelsior that ran. My friend and I had 3 and we had a lot of fun running it around the fields.
Who mentored your racing in the early years?
Clark Trumball Jr., who took second place at the first Daytona Beach race in 1937.
Tell us about your Daytona race in 1948:
Daytona was my most memorable race story. I wore a German flying suit and it was just a little bit small for me. It was pinching the back of my neck and cutting off my blood flow. After a couple laps, I noticed I was graying out. At one point, I fell off and the guy said your finished. I said quitters don't win and winners don't quit. I just have been making pretty good time though because I then pushed it through the turn up the road and started it again. Later on the bike quit and my crew ran all the way down about 1/2 mile away to help me change the spark plug. I had the plug and the wrench in my boot but I was a little out of it from falling off. So in spite of all that, I got going again and finished 14th out of 155. If I hadn't fallen off, i think I would have been closer to the front. My bike was really going fast- I really enjoyed that race.
How did Team Champagne originate and where did the name came from?
The vintage race scene started picking up momentum in the early Eighties so I decided it was time to race at Daytona again. I bought a Norton from a guy in England and then rode it in a vintage race in 1988 at Daytona. I finished seventh and the Norton Champagne Racing Team was born.