Ron Wood, just 90 years young and another great legend in flat track racing has been chosen as the Grand Marshall for the upcoming West Coast Dirt Track Series, Digger Helm Memorial race weekend, May 4 & 5, 2019, at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California. An event no one will want to miss with edge of your seat excitement for 2 solid days of racing on a fast well-groomed 3/8 mile cushion track featuring many AMA Grand National Riders as well as many old pros aboard gorgeous vintage bikes!

Ron Wood was born in South Pasadena, California.  His dad was a general contractor as well as being educated in animal husbandry at UC Berkeley.  During the second world war construction dried up leading the Wood family to moving to a 20 acre hop yard farm in Oregon where his mother kept a victory garden and young Ron learned all about the farming of hops, working on the farm after school and on the weekends.  It was there that Ron’s passion for creating things was born.  Ron’s creative fabrication journey began with roadsters and coupes.  He built and raced a 1927 T V-8 that his folks didn’t know about.  When they found out they made him sell it and at 18 he bought his first motorcycle, an AJS 500 brand new, black and gold single, built in England, that he used for transportation.  With that bike he discovered his passion for motorcycles and at age 20 he moved back to California due to the hay fever he suffered with in Oregon.

Ron went to Ascot to watch the races and while sitting in the stands he got the idea that it would be fun to build a flat track race bike. He built a Ducati 250cc for the local tracks.  His bike was a regular on the podiums.  In the meantime, he had opened a 50,000 square foot warehouse, named his new company Wood Lighting, and created custom lighting for both commercial and residential applications.  He produced lighting for 25 years with 100+ employees.  While creating lights Ron decided to build a bigger bike and used a part of the lighting warehouse to begin his new projects.  He built his first Norton and Eddie Mulder set fast time in qualifying on it at Ascot.  Wood Lighting was sold in the mid 70’s and Ron began his full-time adventure building bikes.  He built a couple more Nortons and a Ducati V Twin.  Over the years Ron had the pleasure of providing rides for 40-50 pro racers and won his first AMA Grand National at Ascot with Alex Jorgenson aboard the only Norton twin to ever win a Grand National Flat Track event.  The Norton win with Jorgenson put Ron in the spot light.  Jorgenson consistently won at Ascot, also winning the season Championship there.  Prior to the season championship win with Jorgenson, Rob Morrison, also aboard Ron’s bike won the Ascot Championship.  Ron then decided to purchase a couple of Harley Davidsons for AMA competition that were piloted by Ricky Graham but Ron didn’t really care for them and sold them 2 years later.

Still looking to build the best and fastest flat track motorcycles, Ron got involved with Bombardier and Can-Am in Canada, they were building 2 strokes and eventually a 500cc bike that led to him receiving a call and being asked to build bikes to run the Grand National races.  He went on to build about 500 500cc and 600cc bikes for Can-Am with Rotax engines and was very fortunate to have some of the best riders aboard them winning many AMA Grand National events.  When Can-AM Canada decided to discontinue building bikes Ron contacted Rotax in Austria, and began dealing with them directly.  He imported the engines, built the frames and sold the bikes complete without the rear sprockets and tires.  Ron’s Wood Rotax bikes became famous and dominated in Grand National competition from the early 1980’s until the AMA banned them from competition in the 1990’s.  However, that didn’t end Ron’s passion for building fast race bikes. 

In 2016 AMA Grand National #23, Jeffrey Carver showed up to the Eddie Mulder West Coast Dirt Track Series race at Willow Springs with Ron and a Wood-Rotax mono shock bike that Ron built.  Carver won, beating a field of top Grand National Riders.  Ron and Jeffrey will team up again at the Digger Helm Memorial race with Carver twisting the throttle in hopes of repeating another victory.  At the end of our interview Ron said “winning includes 3 components, a good rider, a good bike and luck”.   Today at 90, Ron is still building bikes in his shop, playing golf every now and then for fun, and he still attends some of the races in Southern California, Arizona and Sacramento. 

Wood Rotax motorcycles continue to be very fast and winning races across the nation commanding a good price when being sold.

Digger Helm – Another Legend lost

Digger was born in Bakersfield, CA on 11/3/38  to Ed and Lucille Helm.   Digger’s father, Ed was the founder of Greenlawn Mortuaries and Cemeteries in Bakersfield California.  His craft was making headstones and he owned Bakersfield Monument. While delivering a head stone at one of the cemeteries he decided that Bakersfield needed a cemetery.  He approached several investors and got the money he needed to proceed with that plan.

He accepted what ever you had to offer, jewelry, cars, money, and or gifts to afford a regular funeral for a loved one in your family.  He passed in 1952 when Digger was only 13.  Digger inherited the corporation and the businesses were run through a trust at the local bank.  All but 4 of the original investors were paid off before his father’s death. Digger did not actually participate much as an employee in any of the business.  The corporation basically paid him to stay away.  As the company made money the remaining loans were repaid.   At 30 Digger owned the corporation 100%.  That allowed Digger to help others all throughout his life.  He was never a champion, but he was a racer, and won a lot of local TT and short track races during his days.  He always placed well and did hold national #57  from 1957 to 1964.  He placed in the top twenty of the national riders.  Digger raced at Daytona on the beach before the Daytona International Speedway was built.  He then crashed at the new speedway at 130 mph in the high bank as a result of a high-speed wobble, hitting the wall.  He broke All the bones on the right side of his body, arm, leg, thumb and knee knocking him out and he consequently spent 30 days in a coma in Halifax Hospital.  That pretty much ended his riding career, however, his passion for motorcycles never ended.

Following the recovery from that crash he concentrated on music.  He was an accomplished musician playing the trumpet, trombone and French horn.  He had a band in SF during that time playing night clubs very close to the SF Airport.  Digger’s music began as a grade school student while going to military schools.  From the 5th grade through his high school years he went to military school, and played revile and taps daily during his last year of high school.

In 1969 through 1977 Digger promoted speedway racing in Bakersfield.  Sunny Nutter, Mike and Steve Bast, Bill Cody, Mike Konley, Doug Farrell and so many more old-time speedway riders were regulars at Digger’s events.  Digger provided the purses for those events.  At that time speedway was in it’s hay day with speedway races five nights of the week in Southern CA.  Bakersfield, Ventura, Irwindale, costa mesa and san Bernardino – during the last years Digger promoted racing they also included team racing at the speedway events. Digger owned the speedway team called the Bakersfield Bandits.  His team was Jeff Sexton, “Dangerous” Doug Farrell, Brian “Thumper” Short and Steve “Loopy” Nutter and the “Scottsman”, Bert Harkin among others. No one thought Digger’s team could win. They were known as the team of misfits and they won the team championships.

In 1977 Digger decided that he was going to race cars at the new local track, Mesa Marin. He bought an open comp stock car and his first race was his first victory.  He won coming from the middle of the pack of a 30 lap main after getting tangled with Joe Rutman and spun out. He was sent to the back of the pack and in the remaining 15 laps made his way through the pack for the win.  He raced cars until 1980 when he decided to go from asphalt to dirt track stock car racing.  In the early 80’s he raced pro mod at Bakersfield speedway on a 1/3 mile clay oval.  He usually placed in the top 10 there. 

Digger then left racing again and went back to playing music.  He played all the local hot spots into the 90’s in Bakersfield. Digger always said the hardest job he ever had was promoting the speedway races.  He handled all of the promoting for them including, advertising, programs, announcing, track personnel and riders.  He loved to promote the second division riders.  He always gave the newbies a chance to race and gain skill.  In the late 90’s he started sponsoring local stock car racers.  That led him to going to a couple of flat track motorcycle races and becoming involved in dirt track motorcycles once again.  He then realized motorcycles were still his passion and he began sponsoring AMA National riders, Johnny Murphree, Joe Kopp, Kenny Coolbeth, and eventually Jared Mees, Sammy Halbert and more recently Clayton Williams as well as many others whose programs he supported.  His biggest kick was to sponsor the Eddie Mulder West Coast Dirt Track Series Races. The WCDTS changed and grew with Digger’s sponsorship to a whole different dimension bringing AMA pro riders from around the nation. He had known Eddie since Eddie was 12 years old, when Eddie passed him on a little TT track in Ridgecrest, California in 1956, both riding Triumph Cubs.  From that day on Eddie was “12” or “Bub” to Digger. They remained friends throughout his life. Eddie wanted to give Digger something special for his years of participation in the WCDTS a few years ago so at a hometown WCDTS race in Bakersfield, Digger was presented with a Golden Honda pictured below that remains on his back porch today.  He was thrilled with his new bike.

 And, his biggest thrill and joy on race day was to tell the 50 and 65cc riders on the line that if they won the race the $100 bill in his hand was theirs.  He loved the little kids.  His greatest passion in racing was helping the young up and coming racers in whatever division they were in to chase their dreams.  It didn’t matter what class they were in.

One of his lifetime greatest accomplishments included being inducted into the trailblazers hall of fame in 2004.  However, the thing that he felt the proudest about and thought of as his absolute greatest accomplishment was being inducted into the AMA hall of fame.  Dave Despain was an integral part of that for Digger. 

Digger stepped away from the big purse sponsorships a few years ago after many years with Eddie when he realized his age, and his concern for his corporation staying within his family when he passed, became a priority.  That took away the funding he was using to sponsor the races.  However, he continued supporting a few individual riders until the day he passed.

Rest in peace Digger.  Give those boys hell and keep them laughing like you always have!

Funeral arrangements are as follows:  April 4th, 2018 at 1pm services will be held at Greenlawn Southwest Mortuary/Cemetery in Bakersfield, CA.