The Ballad of Nobby and the Hall
by dean adams
Friday, July 13, 2012

Update: (July 15 2012) The AMA Hall of Fame has released a report on the Clark situation on Friday. It gives a detailed account of how this played out. You can download a PDF of the report here.


I've been an AMA Hall of Fame supporter for almost twenty years and a founding member of the roadrace committee portion of the Hall of Fame. Over the years we've inducted a large number of deserving American riders, tuners and other important-to-the-sport personalities. Of course, the really big ones were easy to get into the Hall--Kenny Roberts among those, but also some slightly more obscure but equally important people--for example, the first American to win a 500 Grand Prix race—Pat Hennen.

For the past several weeks I have spent considerable time trying to explain the recent actions of the Hall of Fame. This, to me, has been like being the caller at a bingo game held in a Florida senior center where the players are daft seniors who can't recognize a fact if you put a neon sign on it. I'm referencing, of course, the recent situation within the Hall of Fame where 1960s GP tuner Nobby Clark was announced as one of the inductees into the 2012 Hall and then just a few weeks later was pulled from the inductee list by the Hall of Fame.

A press release followed:

The American Motorcyclist Association Motorcycle Hall of Fame regretfully announces that, due to an error in the Hall of Fame balloting process, Derek "Nobby" Clark will not be inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2012, as was previously announced on June 11.

"This is unfortunate but Mr. Clark's name should not have been on the ballot," said Jeffrey V. Heininger, chairman of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, which oversees the selection process for Hall of Fame nominees. "We sincerely regret this error and I have apologized to Mr. Clark on behalf of the Hall of Fame. "This was a difficult decision, but it had to be made to ensure the integrity of this remarkable institution," said Heininger. "We are undertaking a thorough review of our nomination process and its implementation going forward."

Numerous old guys have their Depends undergarments in a bunch over this because, they suspect, Nobby, once a successful tuner for Roberts, Ago and Hailwood, was iced for also having a criminal record. The oldsters feel this is a witch hunt and that Nobby is being black-balled.

Hey, grandpa, do you want to know the real reason that Nobby Clark was bounced from the Hall of Fame? Do you really want to know? Well, find your really strong bifocals because I'm going to reveal it right here and right now.

You might want to sit down. Here it is:

Nobby Clark was bounced from the Hall of Fame due to an error in the Hall of Fame balloting process.

No, really, read it again, slowly if you need to. Nobby Clark was bounced from the Hall of Fame due to an error in the Hall of Fame balloting process.

This is how this disaster played out:

When the Roadrace committee for the AMA Hall of Fame cast their votes for the 2012 candidates, they met in January by conference call as is the normal practice. Myself and Cycle News Editor Paul Carruthers—also on the committee—could not make the call and we stated we'd let them know of our two picks later. So five members were on the call.

In the conference call, I learned later, it was discussed or decided that those members could make three picks. Which they did. Also, according to the email trail, they really wanted Nobby Clark to be inducted this year, and suggested that perhaps he could be inducted by another committee that was lacking a viable candidate which sometimes happens. So Nobby may have gotten in as an industry person, if this fiasco had been played above board. Regardless, it was clear that they wanted Nobby Clark in the Hall of Fame. They got three picks to distribute as they liked.

Then, Paul and I were contacted and we gave our two picks for the final ballot. Both of mine went to Randy Renfrow, as did Paul's, if I recall. No one said anything about a third pick to us. I gave them my two picks, and waited for the votes to be tallied. On January 18, they were. So Renfrow looked to be in good standing, or "Renfro" as the committee chair always spelled his name.

Okay, it's no secret that I have been trying for years to get the late Randy Renfrow into the Hall of Fame. Renfrow was a magnanimous and inspiring racer, known for his intellect, character and integrity. To me, anybody that beat Wayne Rainey in the F1 class for the championship should be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, based just on that. This year Renfrow had the most committee votes. The voting went like this:

Randy Renfrow 6 votes
Jarno Saarinen 3 votes
Derek "Nobby" Clark 2 votes
Rob Muzzy 1 vote
John Long 1 vote
Lance Weil 1 vote

It had been a long-standing pre-determined agreement within the committee that the top two candidates go to the final ballot. In this instance, that meant Renfrow and Saarinen. So, imagine my surprise when the press release comes out and none other than ... Nobby Clark is going to the Hall of Fame as the roadrace inductee. A guy who didn't have the votes to actually go to the final ballot.

My immediate reaction was much like the mushroom cloud that grew up from the earth after the first nuclear bomb was detonated. I picked up the phone and started asking questions. I called other committee members, the AMA and others, wondering how even with my meager math skills I could see there was no way Clark should have been on the final ballot.

I didn't get many answers.

I'll be completely honest and readily reveal that for the last several years it is my opinion that the Hall of Fame has become some sort of old boys club in certain committees. People were voted into the Hall who many feel frankly should have never gotten close to it. Every few years a very questionable person would be "voted" in and a select group of his friends or family were very happy, while fans, enthusiasts and even fellow committee members would wonder openly to me how the devil these people got in. I'd shrug my shoulders, tell them who my votes were for that year and we'd just shake our heads.

In April, fellow Hall of Fame roadrace committee member Don Emde did some digging—after I sent him several emails wondering how it was that Clark was even on the ballot—and he made an important discovery. The discovery was this: That the larger part of the roadrace committee that met first was afforded three choices, while the other smaller portion who met later were given only two. Emde, to his credit, did a full disclosure report to the Hall on this glaring error.

Shockingly, the second detail of Emde's discovery was even more troubling and unfair than the fact that Clark should have never been on the ballot. He discovered that somehow, by either conspiracy or incompetence, all six of the candidates who garnered votes from the roadrace committee made it to the final ballot.

So, instead of the top two candidates, Randy Renfrow and Jarno Saarinen as the two to choose from, they had six to choose from: Renfrow, Saarinen, Clark, Muzzy, John Long and Lance Weil.

This single move poisoned the entire hall of Fame ballot, diluting it down so that, hey, guess what guys? Nobby Clark got the majority of the votes. Wow, amazing, right? It's almost as if a concentrated effort was made by hook or by crook to get Clark on the final ballot so that the masses could take care of getting him voted in to the Hall of Fame.

When this was pointed out to me, I began a second front on making sure that the Hall and the AMA knew that the results from the roadrace committee were incorrect and that the ballot was either intentionally or unintentionally poisoned. I finally found a few guys at the AMA who would listen. They launched an investigation and then and only then was Clark removed from the Hall's induction for 2012. The AMA did the right thing, I believe, by removing Clark.

What I found terribly disappointing was that even after it was revealed to the committee members that Clark should never have been on the final ballot, certain HOF committee members wanted to leave it as is; no one mentioned disclosure of the facts or anything of that sort. But, then, they wanted Nobby Clark in the Hall in the first place.

Then a story was published, to which I gave some quotes, where it was revealed that Clark has a criminal record. I told the publication that I brought this fact up in passing, in either a Hall of Fame conference call or in an e-mail with the other members back in January, but that it was never cited as a reason for him being excluded. To my knowledge there is nothing in the bylaws of the Hall of Fame which would preclude a candidate from being inducted because he is a convicted criminal. You only have to look at the persons in the Hall to know that a criminal record does not preclude one from being in there. You could be a convicted child molester and still be in the Hall of Fame.

It doesn't make for vibrant water cooler talk, but that he was convicted--and paid his debt to society--had nothing to do with why Nobby Clark won't be in the Hall of Fame in 2012. It was, rather, as the AMA press release stated: "due to an error in the Hall of Fame balloting process."

Since then, and directly because of the "injustice" served to Nobby Clark, several Hall of Fame members have asked to have themselves removed from the Hall of Fame, among them, Dave Despain, Dick Mann and Kenny Roberts. They are sending back their medals and want their names removed from the granite wall of honor, or whatever it is.

I'm completely fine with them removing themselves from the Hall of Fame. Because to me what this means is that Dave Despain, Dick Mann and Roberts aren't interested in a fair and just voting process; they don't want a democratic process to decide who goes into the Hall of Fame. I find it hard to believe but apparently, they want the old boys network to trump it all, for the old boys network to decide, 'Hey, lets get Nobby in this year' and then for the OBN to stand by quietly, probably with knowing grins, while corruption or incompetence poison the entire process. One would like to think that, as Americans, Despain and the rest would value a fair election. Apparently that's not the case.

How many AMA Hall of Fame members will rise up and revolt when they learn that Randy Renfrow was screwed out of his spot in the Hall of Fame by near slapstick-level committee incompetence; or when they understand that the process was corrupted and twisted so that certain people could get their candidate on the ballot? How many will send back their medals because of what has transpired against the memory of a good man, Randy Renfrow? You and I both know the answer: none. More people will continue to send back their medals because of the perceived injustice done to Nobby Clark, a damn good man himself, but unfortunately a guy who never had the votes to actually be on the final ballot.

It doesn't look like Randy Renfrow, even though he had the most road race committee votes in 2012, will ever get in the Hall of Fame, even though Paul Carruthers and I both gave him all of our allotted votes this year in an effort to finally push him and his memory in, to finally do the guy justice. It's interesting that since I began voting for him years ago, not one person, not one, has said to me that Randy Renfrow is not Hall of Fame material. Most are aghast that he isn't already in the Hall of Fame.

But, you know what, with the way the Hall of Fame stands today, where it sure looks like the Old Boys Network rules and a cult of personality means more than a fair election, I'm thinking that the memory of Randy Renfrow is better served by him not being in it.


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