Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Flat Track & Road Racing Loses Another Icon of the Sport: RIP Skip Eaken, the Brains & Brawn Behind Eaken Racing & The Man Behind the Motors for the Bryan Smith/Crosley Radio/Howerton Motorsports Rocket Kawasaki
The sport of AMA Pro Flat Track (and motorcycle road racing, too) was dealt another blow within the last 24 hours when it was learned that long-time tuner/wrench to the stars and master motor builder, Skip Eaken, had passed away late yesterday due to complications due with a congestive heart failure illness that had just most recently flaredup at the Knoxville Half-Mile a few weeks ago.
Eaken, who was the man behind the Honda flat track effort in AMA Pro Flat Track in the early-late '80s that saw Honda come into the sport long-dominated even in those days by the Harley-Davidson factory and it's omni-potent XR750 purpose-built mount, had most recently been campaigning his own version of a hot rod Kawasaki with help from his nephew Dave and several other close friends and family, as well as being the motor magician behind the new-for-2012 Crosley Radio/Howerton Motorsports powered by Eaken Racing Kawasaki rocket that has taken Bryan Smith #42 to two wins in four events this year at the Sacto Mile and most recently at the Springfield Mile II.
Having just gotten off the phone with Rick Howerton, the man behind the building of the machine that has taken AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Twins Series racing to new heights of competition and excitement, posed some insightfull comments about the big man's passing yesterday.
"Having grown up around Skip, he was a little intimidating back in those days with Honda when I started hanging around at their shop down the road here. But if he liked you, he'd talk to you and let you know what was going on. And he always treated me great and was somewhat of not only an authorative figure to me but also almost like a father," stated Howerton. "I left him a message a couple of days ago (Howerton mentioned that after Skip's collapse at Knoxville on September 8 that they had just flown him back to the Cleveland area early last week after he had been bed-ridden and held at a Des Moines hospital just 40 or so miles out of Knoxville.) I had wanted to try and get him fired up about not only our thing, but his with Rob Pearson and even before with Luke Gough in the seat, and kind of press him for some info on the engine work."
Eaken had done all of the motor work in both of Howerton's rockets, and had most recently just before the Sacto Mile taken down the motor in the #1 bike while he was rebuilding one of the #62 motors just to check it out. According to Howerton and team stooge/best friend and team member, Jeff Gordon (Speedway Engine Developments), Gordon had just flown over to pick the motor back up just before leaving for Sacramento, and after the Springfield Mile I in late May where the new wonder made it's debut to a fine 3rd-place finish and the win in the Dash for Cash event with rider Smith in the seat, the motor didn't have a mark on it after running the weekend's events. That is a testament to the durability of the Kawi 650R-based parallel twin as much as it is to Eaken's ability to build a solid mount.
"He really made me feel good after that first race," continued Rocket Ricky. "A couple of days after I was kind of down on myself (like Howerton too-often gets after not ending an event at the top of the box, taking the load of responsibility onto his shoulders like any team owner and builder would), and Skip called me and told me we really did a great job, and that he was really proud of me. That really made me feel good hearing it from him after having looked up to him for so long. Now we're just going to have to go out to Santa Rosa and win this one for Skip and Linda (Eaken's wife)."
In the shot above, Eaken can be seen conversing with team owner Howerton and Jeff Gordon in the Howerton Motorsports pit area at round 10 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com season at the Lucas Oil Indy Mile. This was the event just prior to Knoxville, that was held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on August 18.
The first-year variation of the rocket Kawasaki that Rick Howerton started as his dream racer project in late 2010 poses along with it's rider, motor man and builder at the Springfield Mile I round on May 29, 2011.
Australian Luke Gough #62 was tasked with breaking in the new machine during the 2011 season, and was starting to get some solid top-10 results and even scored a 4th-place finish on the bike last year as well. Motor master to the stars Skip Eaken (center) can be seen smiling over another one of his fine-tuned pieces, and master builder Rick Howerton also glows over the scene the machine started to create last season, and the scene stealing it would lead to in the 2012 season.
Of note, Eaken could and would come off at times as a little gruff, but bottom line the man was focused on his art, that of building the best, most solid and fastest machines around. So to get a picture of him smiling, in itself, is golden. I hope Rick, Luke and Skip upstairs will appreciate this one.
And to that I say, RIP Skip Eaken, one of the best in the business, those upstairs with you like the late Ricky Graham will surely have some fun and fast times with you again and now, and are surely blessed to have you up there with them.
God Bless big man, and thanks for all the memories that I will cherish always, and forever!