"Airborne" Al Wilcox was a fixture at motorcycle races for more than five decades. As one of the sport’s most legendary starters, he was an enduring ambassador for motorcycling throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
Born in Trenton, N.J., in 1919, Wilcox began riding motorcycles in 1936 and, following military service during World War II, began racing in 1947. His race career spanned 19 years—from 1947 to 1966—and he held national No. 49. In addition to being a successful speedway racer for four years, Wilcox also finished well in TT, dirt-track and hare scrambles races over the course of his long career.
Wilcox began flagging races in 1959, increasing his duties after ending his racing career in 1966. He went on to flag the famed Daytona 200 motorcycle race for many years with AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame flagger Duke Pennell, and also performed flagging duties for WERA roadraces for decades.
Wilcox became known as “Airborne Al” because of his unique flagging style, which involved jumping up in the air at the end of a race during his 50-plus years of flagging.
Wilcox also was a race promoter from 1965 through 1974. He died Feb. 3, 2011, at age 92.
“I think it’s great! I really do,” says Wilcox’s daughter Joyce Markulec. “I just wish my dad was alive to see it. He would be on cloud 49. It was his true love, besides my mother. He had 70 years of involvement with motorcycles, riding, racing and flagging. My father was a true legend, not only with the motorcycling community but with his family as well. Rest in peace, dad.”
Former racer Roger Lyle, who operates the Motorcycle Xcitement track days and roadracing school, had a longtime association with Wilcox.
“He lived motorcycle racing right up to his 92 years on this earth,” Lyle says. “Al dedicated 70 years of his life to motorcycle racing! He was my hero, best friend, Motorcycle Xcitement’s official starter emeritus, ‘Motorcycle Racing’s National Treasure,’ AMA national No. 49, `Starter to The Stars,’ race promoter, racer, family man, and so much more.
“I would always leave time at our riders meetings for Al to tell us a story,” he says. “It was my way of history class for our riders to show them what you can achieve from riding and racing motorcycles. Every story was glorious, and we hung onto his every word.
“Being in his 90s he knew what he was talking about,” Lyle says. “He had seen history made and repeat itself.”
Al Wilcox was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2012.