1959 Harley-Davidson KR Flat Tracker
Restoring a Hall-of-Famer’s ride
It’s every collector’s dream: finding an undiscovered gem in the rough.
Al Bergstrom did just that when he picked up this Harley-Davidson KR750.
The story began when a friend called with a tip about a KR750 racebike sitting in a Honda shop in Los Angeles. The bike had been taken as a trade-in on a Honda trike, of all things. The asking price was $3,500.
Bergstrom and his son drove from their home in the San Francisco Bay area to L.A. and bought the bike, which came with a large envelope full of papers that Bergstrom read on the drive home. One of those papers included a phone number for former flat-track racer Marshall “Digger” Helm.
Helm “about jumped through the phone” when he learned that his old race bike had been located, Bergstrom recalls. But what he told Bergstrom next made the bike a lot more unique and valuable.
In 1962, Helm was traveling with three-time AMA Grand National Champion Joe Leonard. It was the last year Leonard raced bikes before moving on to cars.
At the end of the season, Helm bought Leonard’s bike from Monte’s Harley-Davidson of Fresno, the dealership that had sponsored Leonard.
In other words, the motorcycle Bergstrom had purchased wasn’t just raced by Helm—it was also the last motorcycle raced by a dirt-track legend.
Realizing what he had, Bergstrom contacted Marsh Runyon, who tuned Leonard’s bikes from 1959 through ’62. He asked Runyon to restore it to the condition it was in when Leonard competed on it.
“I worked on it when it was fresh and new, and then I was able to put it back to the way Joe rode it, which was pretty neat,” says Runyon.
The result is a perfect period piece, preserved just as it was raced in ’62, right down to the hundreds of holes drilled in every possible part to shave critical ounces.
The KR was Harley’s dirt-track and road-racing weapon for nearly two decades. Introduced in 1953, it replaced the WR racebike line. From 1954, when Leonard won his first title, through ’62, KR Harleys won the Grand National Championship every year.
This KR, Joe Leonard’s last ride, will remain on display at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum through 2004 as part of the “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” exhibit, presented by Progressive Motorcycle Insurance.