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Don Brymer brought motorcycle racing to Madison Square Garden

Don Brymer was known back in his day for being a wild and crazy promoter who made motorcycle history. Most fans have long forgotten his feat or have died. He was a little known promoter that brought motorcycle racing indoors to Madison Square Gardens in New York in 1971.

Brymer is 80 years old now, and is reflecting on this event because he wants to celebrate the 50th anniversary by bringing the noise of motorcycles back to Madison Square Garden in six years.

By then he will be 86 years old.

Although this event happened 44 years ago, the memory to Brymer is still accessible, he just needs to be prodded a bit to get his brain going.

He would remember the event and start talking about it and then he would recall something else and start talking about that, but he remembers.

Brymer was raised in Southern California and was a hardworking young man with just a high school education. He lived mainly around Los Angeles.

He wasn’t at all afraid to work hard. He married his high school sweetheart, LuLu at age 15 and started working in the oil fields.

From there he went to working in a wrecking yard. It was in the wrecking yard where he was introduced to assembling motorcycles for Honda, and then Yamaha.

The bikes would come over from Japan in pieces and he would put them together and then ship them to the dealer. At first he started off small, but then eventually moved over to a large warehouse where he had 40 people working for him.

It was at the warehouse where his crew would test the assembled bikes inside the warehouse. The crews often would race in the warehouse on the slick concrete floor.

Brymer thought this was entertaining and he got the idea to bring the show to the then newly constructed Long Beach Arena.

That was back in 1968 or was it 1966, Brymer doesn’t remember and what is a few years? The important thing is he learned how to fill a venue.

He said this was his first promoting job and that basically he was self-taught.

“I didn’t know what I was doing at the time,” he said recently at his home in Pahrump. “I just went to all the dealers in the area. I did ads in the newspaper and flyers. This worked out well. I had at least 2,000 people show up and we made money. Promotion of an event is like you throw everything up in the air and you hope it comes down and you come out ahead.”

At the time, he and his partner, Bob Dowis, were working up in Fish Valley in Nevada doing some gold mining. Dowis would supervise the mining part of the business and Brymer oversaw the motorcycle operation. He said his partner wasn’t any real help except he helped the partnership be profitable.

Brymer says he just went up to him one day and said they were going to do Long Beach and that was that.

“My partner really didn’t think I was serious,” he recalled. “And when I told him it was a go, he was really surprised.”

Brymer then did three Long Beach shows, where he learned the basics of showmanship. At one Long Beach Arena event he brought in a little girl to do some flips during halftime show. The crowd went wild. Little did they know they were watching a future Olympian.

“This girl was pretty good at doing flips,” Brymer recalled. “Her name was Cathy Rigby, who later on went on to the 1968 Olympics,” Brymer said.

Rigby later became the first American woman to medal at the Olympics (silver) in gymnastics.

Brymer just had a knack at the showmanship. He would also bring in bands and anything else he thought would be entertaining.

“I just wanted to please the crowds,” he remembered. “I brought in the extra acts so people would talk about the races, and this worked.”

He also got some help from Yamaha with Long Beach on the promoting end and forged a good relationship with this company, which would prove useful later on.

In his first promotions, he had to make some money. He said the money didn’t come easy for the purse. The purse came from the attendance and the back gate. If he didn’t draw enough of a crowd then the money he said would have had to have come from his own pocket. Lucky for him he never had to do this. Call it dumb luck or call it sheer genius.

The purse back then was about $1,500, which was pretty good for those days.

He did Long Beach three times and then he went big time. If he had not had his early success at Long Beach, Madison would never have happened.

In an interview with Cycle Magazine in September of 1971, Brymer said he did well in Long Beach but he was having problems with Bill Berry of the American Motorcycle Association. He alluded that this was the reason he ended events in Long Beach. In addition, he said the money was not there.

“Long Beach had just worn itself out,” he said.

He said he came up with Madison Square Garden while he was doing Long Beach.

“I knew I had a successful show here with the motorcycle races,” he recalled. “I just needed some help.”

The help would not come from the AMA, even though the AMA takes a lot of credit for the event and gives little to Brymer. The AMA was all about organizing motorcycle racing.

Madison Square Garden was the Yamaha Silver Cup. This was because at the last minute, Yamaha stepped in to help Brymer out and sponsored this event, more dumb luck.

Brymer said his first sponsors backed out and this is how Yamaha came in. This happened because Yamaha was interested in changing the way mainstream America perceived motorcycle riding.

Many say his event brought motorcycle racing into the mainstream. Back in the day in the late 1960s riding motorcycles was something a Hell’s Angel did. Everyday people did not ride Harleys and this event changed the way people thought about riding on two wheels.

He said that the event at the Madison Square Garden brought motorcycle racing to the forefront and made cycle racing respectable, and it had a value to the motorcycle distributors as well.

This is why Brymer had the complete support of Yamaha.

Brymer then upscaled his showmanship. He brought class acts to Madison Square Garden. Actress Carol Channing and novelists Mickey Spillane and boxer Joe Frazier were part of the show and presented the trophies.

“Can you believe these people (Channing, Spillane and Frazier) all did this event for free,” Brymer said 44 years later. “They were more than happy to come to me and do this. I never had to approach these people.”

Brymer was a bold promoter and paved the way for others to follow. He was bold because he risked more of his own money back then than any other promoters did at that time.

He said at the time, “I probably risked more money in my two events than any five of the national championship promoters did.”

He said people thought he was not right in the head back then.

“People actually thought I was nuts for even thinking of such an event. They said, ‘Who would want to watch motorcycles at Madison Square Garden,’” he said recently.

The industry said it couldn’t be done and Brymer changed all that. He did Madison two more times, in 1972 and 1973. From there he had a long run promoting cycle racing at Syracuse, New York, the Laudon track in New Hampshire and finally at his own track in Coos Bay.

The event attracted over 17,000 people and packed Madison Square Garden, and the people that packed the arena were everyday middle class people, not bikers.

Brymer hopes to do one more but now at his age all he can do is put the word out and hope that a younger guy comes along to promote this event.

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