Walt Fulton, Jr. was a leading AMA road race and TT competitor during the 1950s. His biggest victory came in the prestigious Catalina Grand Prix in 1951 on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. Fulton was very closely associated with Triumph. He raced the British brand and later became a leading sales representative for the company, covering his Midwestern territory in a very unique way. He later helped establish both Honda and Suzuki in the United States. His son, Walt III, became a factory road racer in the 1960s.
Fulton was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1918. He came to motorcycling later than most. During World War II, Fulton served in the Army in North Africa, Sicily and eventually Italy. After his company took possession of some "liberated" Italian-made Moto Guzzi military motorcycles, his commanding officer asked if anyone knew how to ride a motorcycle. The adventurous Fulton immediately raised his hand, although in reality he had never ridden a motorcycle in his life. Needless to say, he learned to ride very quickly.
As the war came to a close, Fulton began taking apart, boxing and shipping the Moto Guzzi back home in pieces via parcel post. When he arrived back in Southern California he found that putting the bike back together was a bit more complicated than taking it apart. He recruited the help of Al Evans to help him and it was through Evans that Fulton first became interested in racing.
Fulton started competing in local scrambles and TT races. His first sponsor was George Butler, who owned a Triumph and Mustang dealership in San Bernardino. Fulton approached Butler about sponsoring him on a Triumph, but Butler had other ideas and said he would sponsor Fulton on the condition that Fulton would race a Mustang.
Fulton was not happy with the offer. At the time, a Mustang was thought of by motorcyclists as little more than a glorified scooter. But having few options, since he was just getting started in racing, Fulton reluctantly agreed to Butler’s terms.
"I think Butler was just trying to help my dad out and keep him in one piece," said Fulton’s son. "My dad ended up on his butt a lot early in his racing career and I think Butler just wanted to give him something that had a little less power and that he could learn to race without the advantage of having horsepower."
Butler’s plan worked well. Fulton learned to handle the diminutive Mustang very well and he started winning races, much to the chagrin of his fellow competitors. The strength of the little Mustang was its lightweight and small frame, which made it an excellent handling machine on tight circuits. Fulton and his Mustang became infamous on the TT and scrambles circuits of California and the Southwest. Often, when Fulton showed up at a technical track with his Mustang, the promoters would suddenly take out some of the tighter turns. To say Fulton and his Mustang were not popular in the racing community would almost be an understatement, but Fulton loved showing up riders on bigger and more powerful machines.
The Southern California company that produced the Mustang had Fulton ride the bike in speed runs on dry lakes. In 1947, the Mustang, with its 375cc sidevalve engine, ran a top speed of 62 miles per hour. Each year, the company improved on the motor and gave Fulton a faster bike. In 1952, the company finally reached its goal when Fulton coaxed 100 mph out of the little bike. Maybe to some the Mustang was still nothing more than a glorified scooter, but Fulton helped give the little machine some respectability.
By the early-1950s, Fulton was racing Triumphs. The skills he’d learned riding the Mustang translated well to the bigger bikes and he became one of the leading riders in Southern California, especially in scrambles, TT and road racing events.
Fulton’s biggest win came at the Catalina Grand Prix in 1951. The Catalina race was a huge, albeit short-lived, event with hundreds of riders and thousands of spectators coming over on ferry boats packed with race bikes. The circuit was a 10-mile course made up of everything from paved roads, to fire trails, to single-track mountain paths and even golf course paths. Fulton drew a late starting position of 103rd of 132 starters in the Sunday 100-mile national. Riding a Triumph Thunderbird, Fulton passed 51 other riders on the first lap of the 10-mile circuit. His ride was flawless and when the elapsed times had been figured, Fulton won the race by a mere 4/100ths of a second over Chuck Minert. Fulton had another good run at Catalina in 1952 and finished second to John McLaughlin.
Fulton was part of a contingent of California Triumph riders who made the trek to the Peoria TT in Illinois in 1951. The TT had been a stronghold of Harley-Davidson riders, but the Triumph riders found the circuit perfectly suited to their machines, and Fulton won the heat races in both the 45-inch and 80-inch classes. In the final, Jimmy Phillips, one of the California Triumph riders, won both races. Fulton finished third in the 45 class and fourth in the 80 final. That same year, Fulton also won the Southwestern TT in Waco, Texas.
By the late-1950s, Fulton began to scale back his racing. He was now working for Triumph as a sales rep. He competed at Daytona throughout the ‘50s, earning a very respectable sixth-place finish in 1955. Perhaps one of Fulton’s favorite wins came in a Dodge City, Kansas, road race in the late-1950s. He had already pretty much retired from racing and came to the race in his capacity as a Triumph rep, not intending to race. He found the tight little road course hard to resist, however, and convinced a spectator to let him borrow his bike. Then he went out and won the event on a stock street machine.
While working for Triumph, Fulton’s territory was vast. He covered nearly the entire middle section of the United States from Minnesota in the north all the way down to Texas. Fulton convinced Triumph to let him use his private plane to cover his territory. He’d stuff a Triumph 200cc Cub into the storage area of the single-engine plane and fly from town to town and use the little Cub to get from the airports to the dealerships. Fulton’s rather unconventional method of covering his territory, while causing some consternation on the part of his fellow reps, proved successful. He was perennially the leading sales rep for the company.
In 1959, Fulton left Triumph to help introduce Honda into America. From there, he went on to work for Suzuki and later for the importer of Laverda motorcycles, and finally for a large motorcycle accessory firm.
Fulton helped his son, Walt III, get into racing. He enjoyed being with his son at the races and young Walt became a successful road racer, riding for Suzuki and later Harley-Davidson. He won an AMA national road race while at Harley.
Fulton retired in the early ‘80s and moved to Arizona. He died on November 4, 1999. He will be remembered as a very likeable and sometimes unconventional person in his racing and business life. But his unorthodox approach made him very successful.