Mike Parti was a leading sidecar racer of the 1960s and later became one of the foremost restorers of antique motorcycles in America.
Parti was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on June 23, 1935. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1945. The neighborhood that Parti grew up in was, in his own words, "very motorized," so by the time he was teenager he was already getting his hands greasy in old motors.
At 15, Parti bought an old Ford jalopy. When his mother saw the car, she threatened to chain the tires together until Parti turned 16 and got his drivers license. Early on, he bought an old Indian Scout for $15, which Parti pointed out was the going rate for a bike that didn’t run in those days.
As he became an adult, Parti had a group of buddies that shared in his enthusiasm for cars and motorcycles and they all followed each other in one another’s interests. If one got into desert racing, they’d all get into it; if one got into scrambles, they’d all follow along. And, as Parti remembered, if one decided to hang out at a beer joint they all joined in.
A local Harley-Davidson mechanic, Harry Sorensen, who’d befriended Parti, was instrumental in getting him more involved in bikes.
"One day I was taking a radiator in to be fixed for the umpteenth time," remembers Parti. "Harry told me that motorcycles didn’t have radiators and you didn’t have to crawl underneath to work on them and the girls were prettier. I became a motorcyclist on the spot."
By the mid-1950s, Parti began racing scrambles on old Indians and Harleys. He finally tired of competing on old, worn-out bikes and broke down and bought a new bike – a Triumph Cub – and started racing the 200cc class. At one point, famous Speedway racer turned motorcycle dealer Wilbur Lamoreaux was a sponsor.
In the early 1960s, Parti became a sidecar enthusiast. He remembers riding his wife and baby daughter around in the sidecar.
"Ladies would pull up to the light and smile, thinking the sidecar was cute, and then they would turn to a look of horror after seeing the baby in my wife’s arms."
Parti took to racing the sidecar rigs and found that his former sprint car racing experience translated well to the sidecars. During the mid 1960s, Parti held the AMA’s District 37 number one plate for sidecars for three straight years, earned in all forms of off-road racing – scrambles, enduro and desert racing. He rode the famous Greenhorn Enduro 11 times at the controls of a sidecar rig.
Parti smiled as he explained his procedure for recruiting passengers for the sidecar.
"When I’d audition a passenger for the sidecar races, the first thing I’d have him do was pick up the rig and run around the block with it on his back. But in all seriousness, it took a special person to be a sidecar passenger. It is truly a team sport. I think that’s one of the reasons that sidecar racing really never took off in this country because motorcycling is such an individual sport. To get any two riders to agree on something is quite an accomplishment."
Parti became president of a Southern California sidecar racing association and with help from AMA competition committee member Earl Flanders helped get the AMA to recognize sidecar racing as a professional category. That made sidecars eligible to run at tracks such as Southern California’s famous Ascot Park. Of all the places Parti raced, he perhaps best enjoyed the annual trek to Salinas, California, and the charity races held on a TT track set up on the Salinas Fairgrounds half-mile.
"We’d start seven sidehacks abreast up at Salinas," Parti recalls. "We’d put on a good show and the fans just loved us there. They’d really just greet us with open arms."
By the late 1960s, Parti began to scale back his racing efforts.
"The younger riders started using me as a berm," Parti joked. "Plus, the ground started getting harder for some reason. I blame it on global warming."
Not quite able to totally give up the speed bug, Parti started taking his sidehacks to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for the top-speed runs each year. When Parti and his fellow sidecar racers first showed up at Bonneville, the officials didn’t know what to do with them. There wasn’t even a class for them. "We were just doing it for fun," Parti said.
Longtime friend Bud Ekins had gotten into collecting antique motorcycles, and through him Parti caught the bug. Over the years, Parti has restored hundreds of motorcycles. By the 1990s, he became especially known for his work with pre-World War I American bikes.
Parti, who worked his entire life as a machinist, became a master at fabricating new parts for these rare machines. His skills are highly sought after by restoration enthusiasts all over the world. Parti is a proponent of restoring motorcycles to new condition.
"I want to see them at their best, not at their worst," says Parti, who is not in favor of the machines becoming statues. He prides himself on making complete running restorations of the machines he works on.
Some of Parti’s clients over the years included famous fellow motorcyclists such as Jay Leno, Steve McQueen, Bud Ekins and auto racing world champion Phil Hill, to name a few. Parti said before Leno got so busy hosting his television show, that the two worked together restoring a couple of bikes. One of the Cyclone motorcycles Parti restored was part of the Guggenheim Museum’s "The Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit. He also has three bikes on permanent display at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Parti’s love of old motorcycles is the good fortune to all in the sport who care about its earliest days. Through the care of his skilled hands, future generations will be able to get a more than just a glimpse of some of the rare surviving machines from the early part of the 20th century.
Inducted in 2001