Later this month, the 2015 edition of the Grand National Championship will come to a close in Las Vegas. After a season of ferocious racing, most of those flat track ‘pros’ will have little to show for risking their lives. Prize money has certainly not kept pace with inflation, but even in the GNC’s heyday, when racers were occasionally seen on Wide World of Sports, it was a tough way to make a living. That’s why quite a few successful racers quit if, through racing, they make the connections they need to actually earn a decent living.
One guy who got out while the going was good was Eddie Mulder. Over the summer, I checked in with a guy who has always got a great story (or three) whenever a journalist cracks open a notebook.
There’s been at least one TT race in every Grand National Championship series since 1954. In the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Eddie specialized in the discipline, winning five ‘Nationals’ and finishing as high as fourth in the overall standings, despite the fact that he rarely competed on the faster Mile and Half-Mile ovals.
Eddie Mulder has been a Triumph guy almost from the beginning of his racing career.
Eddie, now 71, still lives in the high desert north of Los Angeles, a few miles from where he grew up. He and his wife, Jody, have 40 acres, 5500 feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains where the summers are (just) tolerably cool. She’s got horses and he’s got a 1600 square-foot shed where he builds replicas of the Triumphs he used to race, for a handful of well-heeled customers every year.
Eddie’s dad had a Triumph, BSA, and Ariel dealership in Lancaster in the 1950s. His customers were pilots and aircraft technicians from the nearby Muroc Air Force Base (now known as Edwards Air Force Base) – the place where Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier.
Eddie’s godfather was another future AMA Hall of Fame racer, Ed ‘Iron Man’ Kretz. So, the kid was born to race. His dad gave him a Triumph Cub when he turned eight. He seemed destined for stardom when, at 16, he beat the legendary Bud Ekins in a desert race. “We came up to this rocky ridge,” Eddie remembers, “and I hollered ‘Get outta’ the way!’ Bud stalled and I got past him and hauled ass, man.”
Around that time, Eddie’s dad closed his shop, and became the parts manager at Bud’s thriving Triumph dealership. Meanwhile, Eddie picked up a sponsor, Mel Dineson, who owned a Royal Enfield dealership up in Bakersfield. That’s how Eddie came to be riding an Enfield when he scored his first major win, in the Big Bear enduro. Not long after that, Kretz and Ekins put in a good word at Johnson Motors, and Eddie was back on Triumphs once and for all.
That was a great investment for Johnson Motors. The kid was handsome, charismatic and never met a reporter he didn’t like – though journalists had their work cut out, editing the ‘s#*t’s and ‘f@%k’s out of his quotes.
Eddie had the speed to back up his bombast. He switched from desert racing and scrambles to TT racing in 1962 or ’63. There was a TT track inside the Ascot Half-Mile oval in Gardena, and they raced there once a month. There was a track in El Cajon, east of San Diego, too. Eddie could race three or four times a month without leaving SoCal. “You’d pick up $400, $500, $600 in an evening,” he told me. “That was pretty good money.”
Back then, a stock Bonneville did the job. Eddie put on stouter Girlings and had heavier fork springs custom-wound; his motors breathed on by Jack Hately at Triumph of Burbank, but otherwise the machines were raced almost as delivered.
In 1966, Eddie was one of the three riders Bud Ekins recruited to help him beat the unofficial record for traveling the length of the Baja peninsula. (Bud’s brother Dave set the first record, on a Honda. Bud hated Honda with a passion, and was determined to beat Dave’s time on Triumph.) Eddie was bringing up the rear when all three of the guys in front of him crashed on spilled diesel fuel.
Although when you say “Eddie Mulder” people think of Triumph Twins, back in the day he sometimes raced a hopped up Cub Single, as he did at this indoor short track. Judging from the checkered flag he’s carrying, it worked well.
They patched a hole in Bud’s primary case with duct tape, and bought gas in the middle of the night from turtle hunters on a beach. Eddie and Bud were the last two still going when Bud’s primary seized. Eddie straight-legged Bud’s bike, and pushed him for what he remembers as 100-plus miles into La Paz. After 39 non-stop hours, they beat the Honda time by something like eight minutes. In the process, they inspired the organizers of the first Baja 1000, which took place the following year.
Eddie was the high-points TT rider at Ascot eight years in a row. There were races on the Half-Mile track every weekend, and he could’ve made even more money, but his dad didn’t like the idea of riding without brakes. (Brakes were finally allowed on the flat tracks in 1969.)
Eddie did, occasionally, score points in short track Nationals, and rode a Triumph Trident to a top-10 finish in the Daytona 200. But he didn’t like the idea of living out of a van for months on end, and never seriously chased the AMA #1 plate. In 1973, he got another favor from Bud Ekins, who introduced him to Kerry Lofton – the stunt coordinator for Magnum Force (the sequel to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry).
Eddie’s first stunt was a lulu – jumping a motorcycle between two aircraft carriers in the Oakland harbor. “We made some ramps on carriers. I practiced it, and cleared it by 15 feet. But between the practice and shooting it, the tide moved the boats apart,” he told me. “They hollered ‘Roll cameras’ and ‘Come on, Eddy’. I was in the air and thought, Holy shit. The front wheel just cleared the edge of the ship, but the rear wheel hit the edge and was completely destroyed.”
To make matters worse, Eddy had to repeat the shot in different clothes, as the second actor in the chase. At the end of the day Eastwood (who traveled with his own TR6 on the back bumper of his motor home) walked up to Lofton and asked how much he’d paid the motorcyclist. Lofton told him, $10,000. Eastwood simply said, “Double it,” then turned to Eddie and said, “Nice work, kid.”
That made an impression. Eddie raced his last National in ’75, and spent the next 30 years doing stunt work – first motorcycles and then precision car driving – which paid a hell of a lot more than racing motorcycles. “I worked ‘til I was 65,” he told me. “By then, I’d maxed out my pension with the Screen Actors Guild. Getting into the picture business was the best thing I ever did.”
He had five kids from his first marriage, including twin girls. (“I used to take a Sharpie and draw a flower on one of them, so I could tell them apart.”) His first son, Eddie Jr., definitely had the motorcycle gene. The low point in Eddie’s life came, however, when Eddie Jr. died of a drug overdose.
Recently, British Customs issued a limited edition ‘Eddie Mulder’ Bonneville. Although he is sure that getting out of racing and into ‘the pictures’ was the best thing he ever did, he’ll always be a Triumph man.
He raced at Pikes Peak until they asphalted the entire course. And, for the last few years, he’s promoted his own West Coast dirt track series for vintage bikes.
“I’ll tell you what,” he told me with pride. “There’s no better feeling in the world than seeing some guy my age come off the track with a big shit-eatin’ grin.” After putting on as many as six races a year (“That’s a full-time job”) he’s cutting it back to a couple of races this year. But his events still pay a lot bigger purses than today’s AMA Nationals.
Nowadays, his main motorcycle fix comes from building $40,000 replicas of ‘Triumphant’ – the Bonneville that he raced at the end of his TT career. Jeff Cole, of C&J fame, builds his frames (which are copies of Triumph frames made with better materials). Eddie uses ’70-’73 750cc motors that are tuned by Karl Krohn. The forks are Ceriani motocross forks and the brakes are Brembos. The tank and seat are carbon fiber.
“If I’d had this bike when I was racing,” he says, “They’d have never seen me.”
Although he’s not racing any more, he still goes down to Mexico a couple of times a year to ride off-road at Mike’s Sky Ranch. Mostly, he tools around in hot-rodded ’40 Ford pickup. He’s been such an ambassador for Triumph in the U.S. that they still drop off a new machine every now and then. Once in a while, he rides down into Lancaster for breakfast on either his new Bonneville or an 800XC.
All in all, you might conclude that retirement’s good for Eddie Mulder, and he’d be the first to agree. “It’s like walking through cake, buddy,” he told me as we discussed the merits of a pension from the Screen Actors’ Guild. “I talk to the Grand National guys who I raced against and these days, most of them don’t have a pot to piss in.”
That’s Eddie: Still Triumph’s man, still telling it like it is.