Charles "Feets" Minert was one of the best off-road racers in America during the 1950s. He won the popular Catalina Grand Prix in 1956 and was a leading rider before the days of specialization. Minert excelled in all types of motorcycle racing from speedway to trials, from desert racing to scrambles, and later, in motocross. Minert rode a factory-backed BSA for much of his racing career and was loyal to the British brand long after the bikes were past their competitive prime.
Minert was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1931. His mother worked building P51 fighter planes during World War II. Like many boys of his era, Minert first learned to ride on a Whizzer motorbike. An older friend in his neighborhood had a Harley-Davidson and in exchange for washing the bike every Saturday morning Minert was given the chance to ride the bike around the block to dry it after the wash. He started hanging around the LeBard & Underwood motorcycle shop.
"Aub LeBard was the ace off-road rider of the time," Minert remembers. "He won the Big Bear three years straight and was a bit of a local legend. He took me under his wing and really taught me how to ride."
It was LeBard’s partner, Jim Underwood, who gave Minert the nickname "Feets."
"I was a skinny little kid who wore these big size 12 logger boots," Minert explained. "I guess it just didn’t look right. Jim said, 'My god, look at that boy’s feet!' And everyone started calling me feet. Later on an 's' got added to it. I don’t know how. I really don’t use the nickname, but that’s what a lot of people know me by."
In 1946, Minert bought his first true motorcycle, a 1946 AJS (350cc). He lied about his age and at 16 got a job as a shagger delivering blueprints all around Los Angeles on his new bike. He saved his money and bought his first race bike, a war surplus Indian Scout. Riding the Scout, he entered his first race, a hare and hound held near Newhall, California.
"Those were the days when you rode your motorcycle to the meet, raced and then rode it home," says Minert. "The off-road races were a lot different than they are today. The courses were mainly made up of fire roads. It was fast and a lot of fun."
By 1948, Minert started winning races. His first victory came at an English Trials event riding an AJS. Minert became a leading desert and scrambles racer as well. When he turned 18, he started racing flat track and TT events at the numerous racetracks in Southern California. "We raced two nights a week and all weekend back then," Minert remembers.
By 1950, Minert was gaining a solid reputation and began getting his first sponsored rides. Louie Thomas BSA offered him a ride for the amateur event at Daytona in 1950. Minert had never ridden anything like the old beach course and was pretty slow early on in practice as he took his time learning the techniques of riding the sand. But Minert proved to be a quick study and turned in a solid performance in the race.
"I got a little lucky, I guess, and ended up finishing fourth," Minert said. "It was my first and last race at Daytona."
In 1951, Minert finished second at Catalina. He started getting help from BSA distributor Hap Alzina, and was well on his way to breaking out on the AMA national circuit, when he joined the Navy during the Korean Conflict. Minert spent four years in the Navy as part of the Seabees, the construction battalion. He was stationed all across Asia during his stint. While stationed in Japan, he had his BSA Goldstar shipped over to race in Japanese flat track events.
"This was the early 1950s and the Japanese riders had never seen a bike like the BSA," Minert remembers with a smile. "They wouldn’t let me race it. Too big I guess. But they loaned me a little pressed-steel-framed Honda. It was a lot of fun."
Returning from the service in 1954, Minert started back into racing, but by now he was married and later took a job as a Los Angeles County firefigther. Racing became more of a serious hobby rather than a professional pursuit.
Nevertheless, Minert continued to win a lot of Southern California races on his beloved BSAs. He rode all of the famous races of the time, such as the Big Bear and Greenhorn Enduros, the Cactus Derby, the Elsinore Grand Prix, Hopetown and of course Catalina.
It was at Catalina in 1956 where Minert earned the biggest win of his career. The Catalina Grand Prix was one of the biggest races on the country at the time. It was a 100-mile event held on Santa Catalina Island of the coast of Los Angeles. The 10-mile course was a mixture of road, dirt fire trails, singletrack, and even went through a golf course. Cycle Magazine noted that many of the big AMA national riders skipped Catalina so as not to suffer embarrassment at the hands of Southern California scrambles riders who dominated the event.
"I raced Catalina that year with a big five-gallon tank so I could go the entire race without a pit stop," Minert remembers. "I stepped off early on and bent my handlebar down pretty bad. I remember coming into the pits and Louie Thomas coming over and with all his might pulling on the handlebar and getting it almost completely straight."
With the bar straightened, Minert continued on to win the race. It was one of the closest races in the history of Catalina with the top three finishing within 50 seconds of one another. Walt Axthelm and C.H. Wheat finished second and third on BSAs, making it a clean sweep for the British maker.
"That was pretty big stuff back then," Minert said. "There were big ads in the magazines. I suppose that race really made my name a lot more recognizable among racing fans."
By the late 1960s, scrambles racing was giving way to motocross and the BSAs were losing ground to the lightweight two-strokes built by Greeves and Husqvarna, but Minert kept right on racing BSAs. Minert met BSA motocross legend Jeff Smith when he came to race in America. In 1969, Smith invited Minert to England to race in British and European motocross events. The European tour proved to be a highlight of Minert’s career.
"I got to race on the courses over there, which were a lot tougher than the tracks we were used to racing on in America," Minert recalls. "One day, Smith left the BSA factory early and tossed me the keys and told me to lock up when I left. Can you imagine? After all BSA meant to me, I was standing there holding the keys to the factory!"
In the early 1970s, Minert was now over 40 and was still a leading American rider in West Coast Trans-AMA races. He was one of the few riders to score national points in both Trans-AMA Motocross and AMA Grand National races. While he eventually quit racing nationals, Minert never totally retired from racing and doesn’t plan to. When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, he continued to race and especially enjoys riding with his grandson, who tests bikes for Motocross Action Magazine.
Minert and his wife Gloria live southeast of Los Angeles in a scenic airport community. Minert is a pilot and can walk from his house directly into his garage, an airplane hanger, which houses his planes.