Larry Coleman is the most successful sidecar roadracer in the United States, winning three AMA national championships and competing around the world in one of motorcycle racing’s most endearing disciplines. Piloting his own machines, first with passenger Wendell Andrews, and then with Mark Bevans, Coleman raised awareness for and the promotion of sidecar roadracing in the North America.
After a successful racing career, Coleman went on to work in the motorcycle industry with his own consulting business while continuing to pursue land-speed racing records on sidecars on the Bonneville Salt Flats. His efforts resulted in several records over the years.
After getting his start on a Cushman scooter when he was 15, then moving up to a Triumph TR6, Coleman’s interest in sidecar racing started when he was stationed in German with the military in the late 1960s.
“I was the kind of guy who would go to the front gate, and if all the GIs were going to the left, I’d go to the right,” Coleman remembers. “I started to go to the races, and I got really infatuated with sidecars. I bought an R69S and put a sidecar on it, and started going to speedway races and hanging out with a friend who was a German sidecar champion.
“At the 1969 Grand Prix at Hockenheim, I watched the sidecars and was hooked,” he says. “I went back to the base, took off the body of the sidecar, welded on a piece of flat steel in its place and I’d go up to the mountains and play roadracer.
The attraction, he says, is simple.
“It’s the teamwork, I think,” he says. “Maybe it’s just always thinking outside the box because it’s different. I’m fascinated by the necessity of teamwork between the two people. I always say that being a successful racer takes 100 percent effort, but that means that being a successful sidecar racer takes 200 percent.
Upon returning to the States, Coleman raced a Kawasaki 500 H1 sidecar owned by Ossie Auer of Chick, Calif. With passenger Wendell Andrews, the team saw immediate success in AFM and AMA racing. The team narrowly missed the AMA Championship in 1973 at Laguna Seca by finishing runner up. In 1974, Coleman/Andrews imported a state-of-the-art sidecar racing chassis form England and installed Ron Grant-prepared GT750 Suzuki engines. With this machine, the team dominated both AFM and AMA racing for the next several years.
During the winter of 1976-77, Coleman and Andrews traveled to New Zealand with Ron Grant for the Marlboro Series. This winter series was very popular with European and Australian racers. This was the first time that American sidecar teams had traveled to New Zealand, and Coleman/Andrews finished second in the series. Meanwhile, the team continued to dominate in the U.S., winning two AMA national Championships in 1976-77.
At the end of the 1977 season, Andrews retired from racing and Coleman teamed up with Mark Bevans to form a very successful team to contest the AMA Championship in 1979. The team built a new chassis for 1980 that was technically one of the most advanced machines of that time. Powered by a TZ750 Yamaha and sponsored by Kal Gard lubricants, the team became instrumental in increasing the visibility of sidecar racing in the U.S. Winning the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1981 put the team on the cover of Cycle News, as well as earning them articles in Cycle World Magazine, American Motorcyclist and other national and international publications.
At the end of the 1981 season, Coleman retired from full-time sidecar racing to pursue a career in the motorcycle industry, where he held sales manager positions with Kal Gard Lubricants, Supertrapp Industries, and K&N Filters. Since the mid-1990s, Coleman has owned L.C. Sales and Marketing, representing aftermarket companies to the motorcycle industry.
Along the way Colement has also enjoyed success as a race announcer, and he continues to compete at the Bonneville Salt Flats with a racing sidecar.
“The land-speed racing at Bonneville started in with me watching Bob Bakker racing in 1987, and I was immediately hooked,” he says. “I went back the next year and started competing—and I’ve been competing ever since. I took a kneeler to the AMA BUB racing event, and I’ve got a couple of records now. At one time I had as many as four, one of which stood for 17 years. The top was 174 mph.”
Being named to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, he says, is an incredible honor.
“I’m really in awe, Coleman says. “This award belongs as much to Wendell Andrews and Mark Bevans, as to me. They’re as much a part of this as I am.
“I’ve been to Pickerington and stood at that wall and looked at all of the Hall of Famers,” he says. “Being in the company of all those people is such an honor. I don’t think there’s a higher honor than to be recognized by your peers.
Larry Coleman was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2010.