Chuck Palmgren won five AMA Grand National dirt track races between the late-1960s and early 1970s, had numerous top-10 finishes on the national circuit, and ranked in the top-10 in points in 1968-70, 1972 and 1974. He was known as an innovator of the Yamaha 750cc motor and frame design. During his competitive years, Palmgren was well-respected by his peers, and was always ready to help a fellow racer or sign an autograph for a fan.
Born in 1944 in Colby, Kan., Palmgren started racing as an amateur in 1960. By 1965 he was the top-ranked amateur rider in the country. He entered the 1966 season as a first-year expert rider, but his racing career was largely put on hold while he served in the U.S. Army for the next two years. He managed to enter the 1966 Springfield Mile while on leave, and finished in eighth-place.
In 1968 Palmgren teamed with fellow AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Gary Nixon to race for Triumph, finishing the AMA Grand National Championship ninth in the points ranking. He remained with Triumph in 1969 and enjoyed an impressive season, earning wins at the Santa Rosa and Sacramento, Calif., mile events, and ranking fifth in the Grand National series.
Palmgren raced with Yamaha in 1970 and won the mile event in Nazareth, Pa., becoming the first AMA racer to win aboard a twin-cylinder Yamaha. He finished the 1970 season ranked eighth in points while competing against some of AMA dirt track’s most legendary racers. Palmgren endured an injury-plagued 1971 season, fracturing his collarbone twice. The injuries and subsequent recovery time forced him to contest a limited race schedule and he finished the season ranked 18th.
In 1972, Palmgren raced while working to develop the engine and chassis of the Yamaha with help from Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. The effort earned wins at the Westbury, N.Y., half-mile, and the famed Indianapolis, Ind., Mile, and Palmgren finished the 1972 campaign ranked fifth.
Regarding Palmgren’s mechanical acumen, Hall of Fame member and fellow tuner Bill Werner remarked, "Chuck was a consummate professional, not only in how he rode, but in terms of his skill in building machinery. His dirt trackers were custom bikes made to complement how he wanted to ride. They didn't come off the assembly line. His race bikes were built to his vision.”
Palmgren and Gurney continued developing Yamaha-powered dirt-track and road-race machines for the 1973 AMA Grand National season. He entered the 1973 Daytona 200 and made the main event at nine Grand National dirt-track events, but finished the season winless and outside of the top-10. The 1974 season saw Palmgren return to the AMA Grand National top-10, where he finished the season ranked sixth.
Palmgren said that of all his racing memories, two stand out: his wins at the Sacramento Mile and the Indy Mile.
"Indy was a bit different than Sacramento," he remembered. "Indianapolis took a lot of commitment, whereas Sacramento was a slick groove, and you could race the racetrack. Indianapolis let you go other places, and that made it more wide-open, speed-wise. It was a lot quicker. There were a lot of places I liked to race, but Indy was a whole lot of fun."
Chuck’s older brother Larry Palmgren was also an AMA Grand National racer and took two wins during the 1969 season aboard a Triumph.
At the time of his induction into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Chuck lived in Calif. He remarked: “I'm happy to see dirt track represented along with the other great areas of motorcycling, from those who protect our rights to those who promote the sport and help open it up to others.”
Palmgren was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2009.