Fred Fox founded Parts Unlimited Distributing in 1967 to distribute motorcycle parts and accessories to dealers. Today, his umbrella company, LeMans Corporation, is the largest aftermarket motorcycle, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle and personal watercraft accessory distributor in the world, employing some 1,500 workers worldwide.
Parts Unlimited serves the “metric” side of motorcycling, while Drag Specialties serves the American V-Twin industry. His house brands include Thor Motocross, Moose Off-Road, Icon and Z1R Helmets.
Fox elevated motorcycling and the sport of motorcycle racing nationally by creating a distribution system that got parts to dealers quickly and by sponsoring motorcycle racing series as well as amateur and professional racers.
This, in turn, allowed riders to quickly get the parts and gear they needed, supported up-and coming riders and pumped money into various races series to help grow the sport.
Born July 21, 1936, Fox graduated from high school at the age of 17, and his parents, who were in the business of manufacturing truck bodies, told him to go get an engineering degree because they needed engineers.
“I got through a five-year course in four years. I went to work in the factory, and I did some fun stuff. I built a better half-cab lumber truck than anyone else. I built a car carrier that would handle five cars instead of three,” Fox recalls. “One day I went to pick up a tool at a die shop and saw a go-kart. I asked to borrow it, took it home, figured out how to improve it, and that led me to go into the go-kart business. That led me to making Fox minibikes, and even snowmobiles.”
While working in Chicago, Fox met some people from Japan who wanted to bring motorcycles into the United States. They hired Fox to prep take them out of the crates from Japan and prep them for dealers. The bikes came two to a crate.
“I would get them out of the crate, service them, prepare a manual and put them in single crates for shipment to dealers,” Fox recalls. “And I became a distributor in five states. After a few years, we couldn't get parts and the dealers were furious, and we sold the company back to them. That's when I started Surplus Unlimited, buying parts from snowmobile companies that were failing and supplying the snowmobile dealers.”
Fox eventually changed the name of that company to Parts Unlimited, which branched into making its own parts and working with motorcycles. From there the company’s growth mushroomed.
“For years, we kind of wanted to be under the radar because we don't sell retail, we sell to dealers,” Fox says. “But eventually we started buying brands I was extremely proud of, like Thor and Moose. Then we created Icon from the ground up. That wasn't my stroke of genius—it's someone who had a good idea, and we had the wherewithal to go with it.”
At the time that Fox was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, he had a company warehouse that was one of the most modern in the world.
“We can ship 20,000 orders a day, and we can get them out the door in 45 minutes,” Fox says. “Just in Wisconsin, we receive inbound shipments worth $2 million to $3 million a day. We deal with 12,000 dealers, just in the U.S.A.”
Besides forming PartsUnlimited, his lifetime accomplishments include helping fuel the growth of AMA Supercross, motocross, Supermoto, off-road competition, dirt track, roadracing and drag racing through sponsorship; helping competitors and race teams through sponsorship; and serving for 14 years on the Motorcycle Industry Council Board of Directors or committees.
Fred Fox was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2011.