Babe DeMay was an AMA Grand National competitor who raced from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. He won the national at Lincoln, Illinois, in 1966, and was a Harley-Davidson-supported rider for most of the 1960s. In addition to his racing career, DeMay went on to become a leading tuner and team owner on the AMA Grand National circuit.
Cyriel "Babe" DeMay was born on March 11, 1938 and raised on a farm near Moline, Illinois. "I played a lot of sandlot baseball and always got on base, so the other kids started calling me 'Babe' after Babe Ruth," said DeMay. "Besides, they couldn’t pronounce Cyriel anyway."
Babe’s first exposure to motorcycling was through his older brother, who owned a 1948 Indian Chief. At 13, DeMay got his own bike – a Whizzer – for a paper route, but it didn’t last long.
"It was a terrible machine, and always broken," he remembered. "I graduated right away to a Cushman scooter, then figured out I couldn’t jump the curbs with it, so I got rid of it and got a Mustang."
During his high school years, DeMay went to work for International Harvester, which indirectly led him to his professional racing career.
"I earned about $40 a week, and one weekend I rode my Brother’s Indian up to the races at Mendota and watched Bill Tuman win $400. I said to myself, 'I can do that!' "
DeMay got his AMA novice license in August, 1952, and went racing with an Indian Warrior. "All I did with that Warrior for the rest of the summer was crash a lot, and I didn’t earn any points, so my real novice year began in 1953," he said.
That season, Bill Tuman took DeMay under his wing, built his engines and set up his machines, and became his mentor. As a result, DeMay finished the year as one of the top novices in the nation, earning over 700 points. His amateur year was equally successful, finishing not far behind top amateur Brad Andres.
By 1955, it was clear that the Indians had become obsolete, so DeMay switched to a BSA, picking up factory support in 1956.
"I rode a BSA until 1959 when Ted Hodgden fired me, complaining that I hadn’t beat Resweber enough," he recalled. "Heck, nobody could beat Resweber enough!"
In 1960, Harley-Davidson racing chief Dick O’Brien gave DeMay a factory KR, and Babe rode for Harley-Davidson until 1969, earning his only national victory at Lincoln, Illinois in 1966. "I was always in the hunt; almost always in the main event at the dirt track nationals. But me and that Harley just couldn’t get along on road courses.”
Seeking as many dirt track opportunities as possible, DeMay also regularly raced the Wisconsin Badger Circuit, where the fans knew him as the Flyin’ Belgian. He explains, "That’s when the AMA would pull your license for racing an unsanctioned event, so the announcers at Badger races never used our real names. Everyone knew who we were, but officially I was the Flyin’ Belgian when the results appeared in the press."
Retiring from professional racing in 1969, DeMay returned to International Harvester and started helping the Harley-Davidson race shop build engines.
"I was a tool and die maker by trade, and by then I had learned a lot about building a fast engine," he said. "Also, I was a union steward, so I could get time off to go to the races."
DeMay’s work at Harley-Davidson in the early 1970s put a series of young champions on fast machines, including Garth Brow, Dave Sehl, Mark Brelsford, Corky Keener, and Rex Beauchamp.
After a stint with Yamaha, helping maintain Kenny Roberts’ bikes in 1878 and 1979, DeMay returned to Illinois, working for both International Harvester and John Deere, and sometimes promoting races. Today, he is back in dirt track racing on a full-time basis. In the late 1990s, he spent four years with the Coziahr Harley-Davidson team, on which Johnny Murphree earned 7th in the Grand National standings.
In 2002, DeMay formed his own team, which carried Kevin Varnes to both 505 and 750cc AMA Hot Shoe national championships, and to 4th place in the AMA Grand National standings. For 2003, he has signed J.R. Schnabel.
DeMay was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2001.