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Bob BudschatBob Budschat: 1930-2017

The news came quickly, Saturday morning January 14th, legendary Pacific Northwest racer extraordinaire and well-known motorcycle dealer, Bob Budschat had passed away the night before. Budschat was the one to beat in the 50s and 60s and some remember him being the one to beat on the Isle of Vashon Tiddler Tour as he got on in years. But beyond the speed, he inspired a number of kids to ride. One such was Moto International's Dave Richardson. Enjoy the read and celebrate Bud's life.

Bob Budschat died last week. In recent years, he’s been known to some local Ducati guys as their local dealer from the 60s. For me, most of my early motorcycling memories start with Bob. I would truly not be where I am today without his help.

I’ve been working on a book of memoirs. For Bob’s passing, I wanted to share the following excerpt chronicling my many fond memories of him.

At about age 14, my buddy Henry got a Suzuki 80 and I soon followed with a Honda Trail 90. Inevitably, we were soon both looking to move up. Henry’s folks gave him a new motorcycle for Christmas! And it’s a 250! And it’s a… Ducati? What the heck is that? It turned out to be more of a life-changing event for me than him. I ran up to the lot where the proud new owner was twisting the throttle and making the lusty-sounding four-stroke engine propel dirt clods past the bike’s too-short rear fender and deposit them in front of the bike. Quite curious. Stranger still: the shift lever was operated by the right foot instead of the left and you clicked it up for first instead of down. You mean all bikes don’t shift the same way?

Meeting Henry’s Ducati lead to meeting the local Ducati dealer, Bob Budschat, his wife Val, son Mike, and daughter also a Val but called Peaches to avoid confusion. In a few years, Henry and Peaches got married. The Budschats lived in Edmonds and became trail riding buddies. Bob was a well-regarded racer who also had some national fame, ranked top 5 in short track I’m told. He was #13, he said because no one wanted that number but taking it meant having a particularly low number which indicated high ranking. Bob was always thinking. He had been known for beating guys on far bigger bikes using his Ducati 250. Budschat Motors was at 170th and Aurora and carried a multitude of odd brands: Ducati, Hodaka, Husqvarna, Maico, Moto Guzzi, Zundapp, and Sachs. Bob was a guy who rode faster than the rest of us and looked far smoother in the process.

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Bob and friend Dick Ahrens had developed trick lightweight frames for Ducati’s 450 and that lead to Bob being invited to the Ducati factory in Italy during their development of the RT (for road & trail) 450. The resulting bike was amazingly bad, ignoring all that was right about the prototype. I had to wonder if the Italians listened to Bob at all. Little did I know what a theme this would become in my own life.

It was fun to hear Bob tell stories of his trip to Italy. And I never minded Bob repeating the stories because they always got better! He mentioned a side trip to Moto Guzzi, as the US Ducati importer also represented them. Bob asked designer Lino Tonti why the V7 Sport lacked an air cleaner. Engineer (Ing.) Tonti said that he designed the intake system so that the air had to travel around several corners, and that the heaver dirt particles would fail to make the bends, therefore cleaning the air without the restriction of a fine-mesh filter element. Lino asked Bob how many sets of rings he had to replace on V7 Sports. Bob admitted none.

At Ducati, Bob sat down with a guy who didn’t speak English but was the keeper of the camshafts. Ducati had a curious way of identifying cams with little paint dots. As a finished cam is case-hardened steel and therefore not easily inscribed, we had to rely on these paint marks that were all too easily washed off. Depending on the height, width, and position of the cam lobes, an engine might be docile or a hot rod. Different characteristics work best in specific applications. So here’s Bob drawing out for this man the concept of the American ¼ mile flat track race. With a nod of understanding the man looked over his collection of cams sticking out of a wood box with their paint spots visible until he picked one and handed it to Bob. Budschat looked at it on end, then handed it back saying, “Monza,” the name of a mundane Ducati production street model. The cam guy snickered and returned the cam to the box; Bob had passed the test. He then handed Bob another cam, which upon examination Bob liked very much. The cam guy signaled for Bob to put it in his pocket. Upon his return home, Bob didn’t have time to have Don, his machinist friend, make a pattern of it before putting it to use at an upcoming race. It worked spectacularly! Bob was way out in front of everybody else. Same at the next race but not quite as far ahead. Third race other riders started going by. Bob took the cam out and found it was ruined; it hadn’t been properly hardened. And now it was junked so badly it couldn’t be copied. Gone forever!

One of my favorite stories was about Bob’s trip to see the AMA dirt track national TT race at Peoria. Here, Bob was an observer. The race was lead from early on by Harley team rider Bart Markel on his big 750 V-twin. In his comfortable lead, Markel was styling spectacularly over the jump, something like a later generation of motocrossers would call a cross-up. Meanwhile, perennial underdog Dick Mann on his British 500 single was slowly gaining by braking briefly just before the top of the jump, so that he was accelerating down the back side of the jump while Markel was essentially coasting. Mann won the race.

I also found memorable Bob’s story about the birth of the Benelli Sei (six). Benelli was a grand old brand that had fallen into obscurity. Owner Alejandro de Tomaso decided that the way to return Benelli to prominence was to have them out-do the Japanese in modern sophistication. If Honda built a 750 four, Benelli would answer with a 750 six! So de Tomaso ordered his US importer for Moto Guzzi (as owned by de Tomaso) to find a US Guzzi dealer who was also a Honda dealer, have that dealer sell Benelli two new crated Honda 500 fours and arrange for them to be air-shipped to Italy. The story goes that in mere weeks the end cylinders of one had been added to the other, and that’s why the Sei looked remarkably similar to Hondas. A quarter of a century later I was at the Guzzi factory with my Dutch dealer friend Teo Lamers. A massive clearing of old junk was going on following Aprilia’s purchase of Guzzi. In one building scattered on the floor were steel casting molds for aluminum parts. The biggest one was for the bottom case half of the Sei.

Bob also gave us a great back story on Ducati’s chief engineer / emerging personality, Engineer Fabio Taglioni. His image was odd to Americans, what with his thin dark hair slicked back ala Dracula and his ever-present smoke in a cigarette holder. Bob said that employees of Berliner Motors, Ducati’s US importer, were sent scurrying around the southwest in search of rare cacti. Apparently Dr. T. (as he was known in the US press) had a thing for succulents.

I briefly toyed with getting a Ducati when a nice little 250 Scrambler showed up used at Budschat’s. This model wasn’t really much of a dirt bike unless you did a lot to it, like a better front fork and wheel off a ‘real’ dirt bike. This was just such an improved Scrambler. Bob’s counter man granted me a test ride, out behind the store in the dirt lot where his VW Beetle was parked. Scared of the backwards foot controls, I thought out every move. Let’s see: up over that dirt mound and brake down the other side so as to be able to turn before reaching the car. Instead, I went over the hill, pushed down with my right foot looking for the rear brake, and instead clicking it up from second gear to third, and mashing into the VW. There was no damage to the bike, the car was fixed for less than $100, I almost died of embarrassment, and I decided to stick to Japanese bikes that all shifted down for first on the left! Unknown to me then, in a dozen years I would own part of a Guzzi/Ducati dealership called European Cycle right next door to Bob’s old shop.

The next year I succumbed to a used Ducati RT450 from Budschat’s. I felt that getting an Italian bike was like going to the third world but I did it anyway. The bike was a tank but solid and reliable. And I remember that every week it took all of fifty cents to replenish the tank from the previous week’s ride; cheap entertainment!

The 450 was great for a couple of things. One was trips to Cle Elum and the required play time on the coal piles. There’s nothing like a bunch of horsepower to get you up those monster hills! The other was dealing with soft sand. Mattawa courses were almost completely hard-packed. Not so the sand dunes near Moses Lake. Bob invited me to join them on a trip over there. Except a trip meant leaving at 4 a.m. so we could get in a good day’s ride before the heat became unbearable. Nice to go with someone who knows what they’re doing! What was unexpectedly strange was how abruptly some sand dunes rose from the hard desert floor. It took some learned skill to scale one. You wanted momentum but not too much, as that caused you to auger into the side of the dune rather than climb it!

Soon afterward I came up with the financing to buy a big street bike. I hadn’t ridden one yet but I had ridden along side one. Bob had rigged up a Ducati 750 sidecar. It was quite an experience, as those engines made such a horrid clang, riding along with your left ear right next to that rock crusher of an engine.

Before making my decision, I visited The BMW Centre at 77th and Aurora to see their new R90S. There weren’t many $3000 motorcycles in that day and this one was $3300, oh my God! Proprietor Fred Turbeck immigrated from Germany, first to Canada. I heard that Bob helped him get into the US. A quarter of a century after my visit to Fred’s shop, we moved Moto International into that very building, where it has now been for over 18 years.

Alas, I was a Ducati guy now, so in thinking about a big street bike, really my choice was which of their models. Ducati’s 750 V-twins were well-regarded and good looking but I was drawn to the new 860GT for its added features of left-hand (normal) shifting and electronic ignition; I wasn’t drawn to its ugly styling. So for a mere $2,749, I had my 860, surely one of the strangest-looking motorcycles ever built.

My motorcycle racing exposure was greatly expanded thanks to Bob. On one occasion I was invited to accompany the Budschats to a motocross in Bremerton. Bob in his 40s would compete on his homemade four-stroke against purpose-built, lighter, more-powerful two strokes. Add to that, Bob didn’t have any brakes that day. His front wheel was off a small Honda – known to be light and work well – but the hub had cracked. As for the rear, Bob was way ahead of his time, having fit up a disc brake. But on this day, it would stay on if applied so it couldn’t be used. Still, Bob took 2 seconds to a guy on a Suzuki TM400.

Once, Bob took Ducati’s mythical 750 Super Sport to Seattle International Raceway (SIR) for a run. The 7500 SS desmo was the raciest thing you could buy in 1974 (for about $3900). Bob ran it in the 750 Production class, where no modifications were allowed other than tires and rear shock absorbers. In both heats Bob came in second to a fellow on a Honda CB750, a competent bike but not one in the Ducati’s league for speed. Bob said that at one point he was close behind the Honda on the straightaway. Startled, the Honda rider noticed Bob gaining on him so he merely twisted the throttle and disappeared. So much for 750 Production.

My last race spectating with Bob was really big: the 1975 San Jose Mile. That was a 900-mile drive to see one of the most famous AMA flat track races. I remember walking in looking for our seats and finding myself close to the track at the end of the front straightaway just when Mert Lawwill went by. It wasn’t just loud it was intense. You felt it in your gut. The Harleys ruled the day as usual but we got to see something extraordinary. Famous two-stroke road race tuner Erv Kanemoto showed up with two Kawasaki 3-cylinder two-strokes. I can still remember watching them in the distance going down the back straightaway. About two-thirds of the way down, they would both suddenly pass 3-5 bikes, only to loose the places as soon as they reached the corner. Sure, they made a lot more horsepower than the Harleys but it wasn’t the kind of power that connected well with the smooth dirt track. It was an awesome lesson.

Part of the experience was meeting up with Bob Blair, then the west cost sub-distributor under Berliner Motors and the guy most responsible for keeping the police happy with their Moto Guzzis. I was fascinated with Blair’s stories. I had barely considered what it meant to be a dealer and here was my first exposure to the distribution side of the motorcycle industry; certainly not my last.

It wasn’t long before the 860 was pressed into race service. I guess I’d call the outing a success because I didn’t fall off. I was a bit amazed how slow I was and also how slow my bike was. I assumed the bike would go about 130 because that was what the 8000 rpm redline equated to in top gear. I didn’t understand that an engine is more limited by its ability to breathe air and its aerodynamics. And like most riders, I assumed that my bike was holding me back more than the other way around! Luckily I found close competition with one of Bob’s customer’s, Roger Eck on a Moto Guzzi V7 Sport. The best thing for me was having someone like Roger show me around on my 110-mph 860. Bob was frustrated with my lack of killer instinct. “If you can stay with him, you can pass him!” There was no logic to me in this statement from Bob but I got the message that it was true for a real racer. Forty years later, Roger came into Moto International to buy a part for his Guzzi and we had a good laugh about old times.

As fragile as Ducati 860s were as street bikes, they were far worse as racers. My race buddy Gus Denzler and I both wound up with blown engines. His was bad, with a connecting rod pushing out a big chunk of the engine case. I over-revved mine, exceeding the valve springs’ ability to pull a valve closed before the piston could smack it. Budschat had closed his shop in 1975 and gone to work for Boeing, saying that the Japanese had ruined his business by making it so all bikes had to shift on the left like theirs. I figured the Europeans would soon have better-adapted models than my 860 so Bob’s reaction seemed excessive to me. Forty years later a guy comes into Moto International saying he was a friend of Bob’s. He told me Bob went to work for Boeing so he would have a funded retirement. Oh, that’s how it’s done.

Adding to my mess, I bought from Gus the remains of his 860. So I had three of the things and two in pieces, which actually turned out to be as favorable a ratio as it gets! I would need a lot of parts. Luckily Bob remained a big supporter of my racing fantasy. He was still allowed to purchase parts at dealer price. He allowed me to make up orders and buy for his price. This would not be sauntering up to the parts counter and telling him what I wanted by description; an order to Bob meant quantities and part numbers all written out. That also got me started understanding the then-marvelous organized Ducati parts system, where numbers in certain positions of the part number told you where on the bike an item went and on what model it first appeared. I was more than a little fascinated with all this. A few years later, I came to comprehend the same sort of system in Guzzi part numbers. I still like to wow the young guys at Moto International by spewing Guzzi part numbers out of my head. That all started buying Ducati parts from Bob.

Over the years, my path lead away from Bob. I started working in motorcycle shops, Bob retired to Maltby, Henry remarried and moved to Hawaii, and I became disenchanted with Ducati and started riding Guzzis.

Many years later, perhaps 2013, Henry and I visited Bob and his wife Val in Monroe. The years had been a little rough on Bob physically but his mind was still sharp and he could still tell a story. I gave him a copy of Guzziology, not that I figured he had any Guzzis to fix.

With news of Bob’s death came the realization of how many opportunities he gave me. I always felt a little shy around him because I was obviously a pretender, never going to be a really proficient motorcycle rider like him or his son Mike or Henry. But he must have seen something in me. Why else did he invite me to so many experiences? He brought me to my first motocross, my first road race, my first mile dirt track, gave me the help I needed with my racing, and exposed me the inside of the Italian motorcycle industry.

I live not a couple of miles from Bob’s old shop so common travels take me by 170th and Aurora fairly often. Our big old shop where European Cycle sold Guzzis and Ducatis out of a corner of Seattle Honda is long gone, the victim of an arson fire. But the vacant space only makes Bob’s old shop stand out more prominently. Being just a couple doors down from my local auto parts store has given me the opportunity to walk in once in awhile. It was long a convenience store; now it's a little glass shop. I hope to see memories of Bob’s old shop in there but all I get is the feeling of being out of place.

In recent months, Bob’s been on my mind. But as so often is the case, we don’t make the time until it’s too late. I realize now with his passing why I gave him that copy of my book. I think it was my way to say to someone who lived large in the world of motorcycles that I had found my place too.

Dave Richardson


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