Erik Buell, Racer | Icon

Nowadays when we hear the name Buell, we envision the American sportbikes that bear creator Erik Buell's name. But before Buell ever imagined his name gracing the sides of a fuel tank, he was a Harley-Davidson factory engineer who spent his weekends roadracing.

This photo depicts Buell astride an Aermacchi-made Harley-Davidson RR250 two-stroke, sometime between 1974 and '76, probably at Summit Point, West Virginia. But beyond that, Buell's memory has been dulled by the passing of time and the energy expended in creating his own motorcycle company.

Except for the technical details: "I was breaking in some experimental pistons made from Yamaha ones," Buell recalls. "You can see from my face and riding position that I don't have my 'race face' on, but my 'engineer' one! At that time you could not get parts from Harley, and those you did get were very bad. Harley was having huge problems with its soon-to-be-shut-down Italian division, from whence these came. The 250 was a very problem-filled motorcycle, and I was one of the few non-factory guys with one. It was a constant development program to keep it running."

Buell's racing career spanned 12 years. He competed in amateur motocross before making the switch to roadracing, eventually earning his AMA Pro license and scoring a number of top-10 finishes. In 1983, while racing a fire-breathing Yamaha TZ750 at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, Buell witnessed the gruesome collision that claimed the lives of Hugh Humble and Mark Jones, and decided it was time to hang up his leathers. He focused his attention on building a motorcycle, and then a motorcycle company...and the rest, as he says, "is better-known history."