Norm Nelson pictured at the Bonneville Salt Flats on his 1928 R52 485cc flat twin. He rode this bike to a second place finish in the coast-to-coast Cannonball 2014
Norm Nelson, Naval aviator, Delta Pilot, Cannonball competitor, 6 time Daytona winner and patriot. That is just the tip of the iceburg. Norm Nelson’s history in motorcycling is, to say the least, impressive. He and his late wife, Maggie Nelson, owned BMW Motorcycles of Daytona. They built that business the old fashion way by treating every customer as a friend. That’s how I met Norm. One beautiful fall day when I was vacationing in Daytona from my home in Kentucky, I pulled the 95 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic into the parking lot at the dealership. Out the door walked Norm with his hand extended. We became instant friends from that day forward. What I didn’t know that day was that Norm Nelson was an amazing man with a rich history in the sport of motorcycle riding and racing as well as dealership owner.
In 1971 he acquired his 1958 HD Sportster in boxes. Frame, engine and oil tank side covers were about all that he had bought. Six months later it was a running machine that carried the then 40 year old Norm to Alaska from Conyers, Georgia. He went all the way to Fairbanks on the Alcan Highway. It rained every single day while he was in Alaska. Thinking about the Alcan Highway for days in the rain is enough to make others turn around and head South but not Norm. I could quit writing this story now. Point made. Alas, there is much more to the man than that so I press on.
Norm and his 1958 Harley-Davidson Sportster today.
Fast forward 24.5 years when Norm was having a glass of wine and thinking about his ride to Alaska 25 years ago. How would he commemorate the occasion? Boom! Let’s do it again! So, at the age of 65 years young in 2008, Norm rode the ’58 from San Marco, Florida to Alaska again to celebrate the anniversary of his first trip. Both trips were not without issues with electrical challenges. In a way, both issues were partly of his own making. Careful preparation does not always eliminate problems on the road especially with a 50 year old machine that was never designed for that type of touring duty. That is the rest of his story. He recognizes the limitations of a machine but never gives in to those limitations. You could say he pushes the performance envelope of every motorcycle he has ever owned including his 2009 Piaggio BV250 scooter with 75,000 miles of mostly Interstate travel! The second Alaska trip he encountered snow at the end of a long day in the Colorado Rockies but pressed on into the night despite a couple of inches of still falling snow! Like the first ride, the second Alaska round trip was completed but the idea of long distance touring had been planted like a seed from a Live Oak tree and there would be more vintage long distance touring in his future…and vintage racing.
Norm Nelson has been a class winner seven times at the world famous Daytona International Speedway. Six class wins on a 1950 Norton Manx and one victory on a BSA Gold Star DBD 500! At the time Norm was racing AHRMA the class was loaded with talented men on fine vintage machines. In short, he had to ride to win.
Norm with his 1929 BMW R11 744cc flat twin pictured roadside at Muskegon, Michigan about to board the ferry for Milwaukee for a police escorted trip to the Harley-Davidson Museum.
ENTER THE CANNONBALL
Norm and I belong to the Historic Motorcycle Society. It is an eclectic combination of individuals who gather every Monday evening in Jacksonville, Florida for dinner and lively conversation about everything from Aprillia’s to Zundapp’s. Within that group are so many amazing people who have accomplished things in the vintage motorcycle community that most people can only dream about.
The HMS logo apologetically similar to a famous motorcycle brand from the past. We don’t care…we just like the design.
I digress. At some point in 2010, some of the guys in the group decided that forming a team and competing in the 2012 Cannonball coast to coast ride would be a fun (albeit expensive and time consuming) thing to do. So they did it. Team 23 was formed and Norman Frederick Nelson was logically chosen to twist the grips, pull the levers and do whatever else it takes to ride a 1929 BMW from Newburgh, New York to San Diego, California. They finished 3rd in the 2012 Cannonball.
As the Cannonball happens every other year, it was decided that third was not good enough and another campaign was organized to compete in the 2014 Cannonball. Again, Norm was chosen to ride and the motorcycle was a 1928 BMW R52 485cc machine. Jack Wells, Bill Robinson, Chris Alley and others began the task of preparing the motorcycle and Norm began the mental preparation to ride a motorcycle that was not designed for this type of work across this vast country. They finished 2nd.
Your guess is right. Norm is in the planning stages to compete in the 2016 Cannonball. In ’16 the motorcycles are required to be 100 years old and older. At 73 years young Norm will compete aboard a 1911 Reading Standard 516cc single speed belt drive single with no brakes. Well…almost no brakes.
Norm Nelson pictures with his choice of motorcycles for the 2016 Cannonball coast to coast ride. The amazing 1911 Reading Standard 500.
Hmmm. Third place in 2012. Second place in 2014. I wonder what he is thinking about for 2016?
Ride on motorman…ride on!