TrailBlazers - We are a social organization of pioneer motorcycling enthusiasts. Meeting annually since 1940.

Walt Axthelm: 2015 TrailBlazers Hall of Fame Inductee

SAVE THE DATE! The 71st Trailblazers banquet will be held at the Carson Center in Carson, CA on Saturday, April 11th. Tickets will go on sale online at beginning January 1st. The banquet sold out quickly last year, so don’t get left out.

As always, there will some notable motorcyclists being honored and in the coming weeks and months we will be featuring them here. Our first honoree is Walt Axthelm.

Walt Axthelm: 2015 TrailBlazers Hall of Fame Inductee

Walt Axthelm was born in Upland, Pennsylvania, in 1933. His family moved to Southern California when he was 14 years old and Walt soon got a junior motor license and his first motorbike, a Schwinn-bicycle-framed Whizzer. His first races were against his buddies who had Whizzers and scooters of their own. He loved to ride and in the afternoons he would go down to the L.A. riverbed and practice until dark. When Walt was 17 he began racing his first true motorcycle, a rigid-framed Royal Enfield.

One of his first races was the 1951 Big Bear Grand Prix. It was a wet year and the mud built up so thick under the rear fender it locked up Walt’s rear wheel. So, he removed the fender and finished the 180-mile race.

He continued to ride Scrambles and other off-road events and quickly became one of the leading off-road racers in Southern California. His first sponsored ride came in 1954 when he was backed by Louie Thomas’ BSA shop in Los Angeles. Riding a BSA Gold Star Scrambler in 1955, Walt earned the District 37 number 1 plate.

For off-road racers like Walt, the Catalina Grand Prix was the high point of the racing season on the West Coast. In 1956, Axthelm won Saturday’s featured 50-mile race and then scored second to Chuck Minert in Sunday’s 100-mile final. No one was allowed to practice on the once-a-year Catalina course, but Walt was a smart racer. He volunteered to be on the hay bale crew so he could drive around the course (setting hay bales) and at the same time plan his races for the weekend.

By the early 1960s, Walt moved from riding the big four-strokes to the lighter, more nimble two-strokes. He began riding Jawas and CZs and that led to an opportunity to compete in the ISDT. The U.S. Jawa importer helped set up the trip to Austria for Axthelm. He was only the third American to ever compete in the Six Days. Walt went back to the ISDT with the American team several times in the 1960’s, pioneering the way for the successful USA teams of the present.

Walt was also one of the pioneering motocross riders in Southern California in the 1960s. He’d had direct exposure to European motocross, having ridden on some of the tracks as a guest of Jawa when he went over to Europe. As a result he became one of the early proponents of motocross racing in the USA and participated in many of the earliest motocross events in America, including the Inter-Am races put on by Edison Dye.

As his career progressed, Axthelm specialized in the long-distance off-road races of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, such as the Baja 1000, the Parker 400, and the Tecate GP. Walt also raced and tested some of Suzuki’s early TM250 off-road prototypes. He later worked with R&D for Kawasaki, racing for the factory in desert races.

By 1980, Axthelm was in his late-40s and decided to retire from off-road racing and focus on his engineering career.  He had done enough for the sport to be inducted in the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.

But his career on two-wheels wasn’t over. After gaining a lot of weight in his job as a contract engineer for Boeing, Walt bought a mountain bike to “get back in shape.” The racer inside Walt was still alive and the skills he’d earned with thousands of hours of off-road racing transferred well to mountain bike racing. He soon became one of the nation’s top senior mountain bike racers. In 2007, he won the overall cycling jersey in the National Senior Games. In 2014 he won the overall jersey in the Huntsman World Senior Games in the 80-84 age division.

Walt’s now retired and lives in Durango, Colorado and trains almost daily for his bicycling competitions.

The TrailBlazers welcome Walt Axthelm to the 2015 Hall of Fame.

Published Sunday, Dec 14 2014

71st Annual Trailblazers Banquet
April 11, 2015.