Racer and AMA Hall of Famer Skip Van Leeuwen Passes Away at 79

Van Leeuwen was a legendary TT Steeplechase racer and founded one of the nation’s largest aftermarket parts and accessories distributors.

Skip Van Leeuwen
Future Hall of Famer Skip Van Leeuwen preparing to race his No. 59 Triumph at Daytona.Photo: AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Motorcyclist is sad to report the passing on June 21st of racer and businessman Skip Van Leeuwen. Van Leeuwen, who was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, is best known for dominating West Coast TT Steeplechase events in the mid-1960s, as well as starting his own aftermarket accessories business. He was 79.

Van Leeuwen won four AMA TT nationals (the short dirt track races that include left- and right-hand turns as well as a small jump), in addition to numerous regional West Coast championships.

Skip Van Leeuwen
Van Leeuwen getting it sideways. He raced against other greats such as Dick Mann.Photo: AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Recalling his early years in racing, Van Leeuwen said, “I promised my mom that when I made expert, I would quit racing. Then I went out in my first expert race and there were all the guys I grew up watching and were my heroes. I just happened to get a great start and won the race, and, of course, after that I was hooked.”

In 1962, Van Leeuwen turned pro with sponsorship from Triumph, and had a lot of regional success even though he had a reputation as being a wild man on the race track. It wasn’t until 1967 that he won his first AMA national event at the Ascot Park TT in Gardena, CA. He was lucky to even finish considering, as it was discovered afterwards, that his fuel line was broken during the race.

Skip Van Leeuwen
Pictured here with a Triumph roadracer, Van Leeuwen remembered thinking, “When Kenny Roberts and Gary Scott came along, I knew that my racing days were about over.”Photo: AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Van Leeuwen also tried his hand at roadracing, where his best AMA national result was fourth place in Carlsbad, CA in 1967. He also raced the Daytona 200 and the Loudon Classic, though TT racing remained his specialty.

After retiring in 1972, he focused on his aftermarket parts business, Van Leeuwen Enterprises, now one of the nation’s largest distributors of parts and accessories.

Skip Van Leeuwen
The motorcycle world mourns the passing of one its own. We'd love to hear your memories of Skip in the comments section below.Photo: AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame