Born in 1915, Rod Coates was an engineer, motorcycle dealer, racer and industry executive. An honorary AMA Life Member, he served on the AMA's Competition and Technical Committees. He is recognized as having had a significant impact on the growth of Triumph motorcycle sales and AMA competition, spanning the two decades of the 1950s and 60s.
Growing up in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, Rod owned an Austin Bantam that he customized with an insulated compartment. He drove around town, selling ice cream from the car. An industrious Eagle Scout, the inscription below his class portrait read: "The greatest happiness comes from activity".
The son of a professional engineer, Coates attended Lehigh University and Northeastern University, studying mechanical engineering. In 1936, he moved to Maryland, where he worked in a screw machine factory, doing tool maintenance and screw machine repair.
In 1937, Rod moved to Rochester, New York, where he worked for the Eastman Kodak Company. On the side, he opened a small motorcycle shop and became an authorized dealer for Triumph motorcycles.
In 1940, he began working for the Delco division of General Motors, where he helped develop an experimental motorcycle for military use. Several features of the motorcycle, including a headlight nacelle, rear enclosure and telescopic forks, were later incorporated into standard Triumph designs.
Coates moved back to New Jersey in 1944, working for the Lawrence Aeronautical Corporation. With the end of the war, he opened a full-time motorcycle shop in Pluckemin, New Jersey, selling Triumph, Vincent, Ariel and many other makes of machines.
In 1950, Rod began working for Rich Child Motorcycles, as a BSA Retail Manager. In that year, he won the 100-mile amateur race on the beach at Daytona, on a Triumph, at a record speed of 81.26 MPH.
Later that year, he moved to Maryland, to work as Service Manager for the Triumph Corporation, a position he held for 20 years. This was the newly-formed United States East Coast distributor for Triumph motorcycles, where Rod was credited with building an outstanding dealer support program, that included annual service schools for dealers. He also organized and improved Triumph's racing efforts, by developing a dealer sponsorship program and supporting product developments that increased the brand's performance. His efforts helped earn AMA National wins and championship titles for Triumph, with such racing greats as Bill Baird, Ed Fisher, Gary Nixon and Don Burnett.
Rod began motorcycle racing in 1937, entering all types of competition, including hill climbs, scrambles, road races, TT races, half miles, observed trials and endurance runs. He won the Sandy Lane Endurance Run ("Jack Pine of the East") in 1948, the 1950 Daytona 100, and many other AMA sanctioned events. His last race was in 1957, where he took first place in the Lightweight Class at Long Island's Bridgehampton Road Race. In the 1960s, he built a small dirt track on his property, and held annual AMA sanctioned scrambles races to benefit the Boy Scouts of America.
As well as riding in competition, Coates rode a motorcycle to work every day, summer and winter. His five daughters and his son remember him as a family man, with a strong sense of competition and fair play, who participated in their school activities and took them along to the races.
Following the merger of Triumph with BSA in 1970, Rod and his wife Marge established and operated Laurelbrook Foods, a pioneer wholesale distributor of natural and organic foods in the mid-Atlantic region. His hobby was the restoration of vintage British touring cars. Rod Coates retired in 1980, and died at home in 1990, of complications associated with Alzheimer's disease.