Dave Coombs Sr. was a racer, entertainer and businessman who pioneered the organization and promotion of AMA motocross and off-road racing series. He developed High Point Raceway, Steel City Raceway, and the Loretta Lynn AMA Amateur Nationals, and is regarded as a founder of Arenacross and the National Promoters Group (NPG).
Coombs grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Morgantown, W.Va. In school he was both an athlete and musician. He co-founded a band called J.B. and the Bonnevilles in 1965. The Bonnevilles were a popular regional band, and played clubs on the Jersey Shore.
Coombs’ first bike was a Triumph Bonneville, and when he saw the movie, “On Any Sunday,” he knew he wanted to race motocross.
“Two days after he saw the movie, he went to the nearest motocross track, called Lazelle Union,” said his son, Dave “Davey” Coombs Jr. “He sold his Bonneville and bought a coffin-tank Maico the next week.”
Coombs immediately thought of ways to make the races better, and before long he talked the farmer who owned Lazelle Union into letting him run the races.
In 1973, Coombs hosted an AMA regional event at the newly built Appalachia Lake circuit in Bruceton Mills, W.Va. Things went so well that he felt confident enough to hold an AMA National motocross event at the track the next year.
“The Nationals were only two years old at the time,” Coombs Jr. said. “So getting a National wasn't that hard. My dad really wanted to be a racer, but he'd torn up his knee really bad in ’73, and he realized that he was too old to be a professional rider. But he was doing well as a promoter, so his life's calling was set. He hung up his guitar and became a full-time race promoter.”
Not only was he trying to support a family and get his fledging business off the ground, Coombs had three children who raced and he was trying to pay for that as well. Sons Davey and Tim both became successful racers who won national titles as amateurs.
Coombs started the Blackwater 100 in 1975, and it rapidly became one of the legendary off-road races of all time.
“Dad considered that event his masterpiece,” Coombs Jr. said. “The outgrowth of the Blackwater was the Grand National Cross Country National Series, which by the 1990s became the most prestigious off-road racing championship in America.”
Perhaps the thing that made Coombs a leader among the nation's promoters was the fact that he was a visionary.
“My dad had the idea of having an annual unified amateur national motocross championship on a neutral site. By 1982 that vision became a reality with Loretta Lynn's,” Coombs Jr. said of what would eventually become the most prestigious amateur motocross championship in the country.
One key to Coombs' success was that he treated all the riders well, be they factory No. 1 riders or triple-digit weekend warriors.
“It was an even playing field, and every rider got a championship experience,” Coombs Jr. said. “He also liked to work with his fellow promoters to help them be successful. He thought that was the way to make racing grow. Those were the building blocks to the NPG.”
Under Coombs’ guidance and with hard work from the Coombs family, the High Point and Steel City Nationals grew to be two of the premier events of the AMA Motocross National Championship. His wife, Rita, and daughter, Carrie Jo (who is an attorney), became prominent members of the NPG. Davey also points out how important his mom was in the success of the family's ventures.
“Mom was always right there, deeply involved,” Coombs Jr. says. “Dad was the thinker, the idea guy if you will, and mom was the manager. She put it all together. She was fully committed to Dad's vision from day one.”
Dave and Rita Coombs shared the AMA Dud Perkins Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. The award is given to acknowledge the highest level of service to the AMA in any activity.
“Big Dave” passed away in 1998, but his family continues to actively promote the sport. Today the annual AMA East/West Supercross Lites Shootout is named in his honor.
Dave Coombs Sr. was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000.
This biography contains excerpts from “The Patriarch,” written by Larry Lawrence and published in Cycle News. Used with permission.