Doug Domokos was better known to his legion of fans as "The Wheelie King." Domokos' uncanny ability to balance and ride a motorcycle on its rear wheel, and his natural showmanship, earned him a worldwide reputation as one of the premier motorcycle performers of the 1980s and ‘90s and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Domokos was born in Niles, Michigan on December 31, 1955. Like many kids of his era, he started riding dirtbikes from a young age. Doug acquired his first bike at about age 15. After school and on weekends, he would pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some water and head for an abandoned railroad roundhouse terminal grounds near his home and ride for hours. He became a solid motocross racer. Domokos' first job out of school was working as a mechanic in a motorcycle shop owned by Gene Ritchie, who promoted the motocross national at Red Bud in Buchanan, Michigan. Often, after working on a bike, Domokos would take it out and 'test ride' it by doing long wheelies.
Ritchie recalls that at the motocross events at Red Bud, Domokos would get on his bike and wheelie around for fun. "He ended up with anywhere from a dozen to a 100 people out in the parking lot watching him," Ritchie said. "He loved crowds. If he could get four people to watch, he’d perform."
It was Ritchie who suggested that Domokos and his buddies, Raymond Ritchie (Gene’s son) and Rex Thwaits, do wheelie shows at the races. After a couple of years, his friends lost interest in performing, but not Domokos.
Domokos continued to perform and racer Jimmy Weinert and factory mechanic Steve Johnson brought Domokos to the attention of Kawasaki's Bryon Farnsworth. In 1978, Farnsworth arranged for a Kawasaki-sponsored bike and a Toyota pickup for Domokos to travel around the country doing wheelie shows at motocross tracks. His first show with Kawasaki was in Rhode Island. Kawasaki had sent him a new bike and he didn't have time to open the crate to prep it. So he took the bike in the crate and opened it at the track. Barely getting ready, he had just about 15 minutes to get familiar with the bike. Despite the late preparation Domokos put on a great show and the fans loved his stunts.
In the late 1970s, Domokos began performing at Supercross events in stadiums as well as the outdoor national motocross events, and he began being featured in motorcycle magazines. He soon gained national recognition and his ability to ride a motorcycle on its rear wheel took him from putting on a show in front of a few people at the races or the shop to a thriving career.
"I thought I would travel the country, have a good time and meet a lot of people," Domokos said of his early days of performing. "I never thought it would grow to the point that I'd never have to work a job for the rest of my life. It was phenomenal how quickly it all happened."
In 1981, Honda hired Domokos. Engineers at Honda, headed by Dix Erickson, helped to set up the bikes to wheelie even better. They redesigned the bike front wheel with a two-speed, DC electric motor to keep it spinning while he wheelied, and attached a mercury switch that shut off the power to the small motor when the front wheel was on the ground.
Domokos traveled to Japan, England, Netherlands, France, and many other countries for Honda. In Japan, he performed before the Emperor. In the Netherlands, he performed at a race on the ocean beachfront. He also performed his show in Aruba, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Puerto Rico.
Domokos' success spawned a host of copycat performers, but one thing that set Domokos apart was his innovative stunts and flair for the dramatic. He constantly looked for bigger and more unique challenges. Not content to wheelie dirt bikes and ATVs, Domokos performed his tricks on all types of road bikes as well. One of the most famous magazine covers featured Domokos riding nearly vertically with the front wheel crossed up on Kawasaki's new KZ1300 six-cylinder sport-touring bike. In 1983, he performed what was dubbed "The world’s tallest wheelie" atop the Empire State Building. A year later, he won a $10,000 bet with Supercross promoter Mike Goodwin by wheelying a complete lap of the Anaheim Stadium Supercross track.
Domokos even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by setting a wheelie record of 145 miles at Talladega Speedway in Alabama in 1984. He also held world records for wheelying with eight passengers on a three-wheeler and six passengers on a four-wheel ATV. His 145-mile wheelie in 1984 set a Guinness record that would stand for nearly a decade.
He once led a Labor Day parade in Durango, Colorado, which covered a downtown street course for three miles, all the while doing a wheelie on his 250cc ATK, holding an American flag with one hand.
Hollywood saw a great opportunity in Domokos and his stunts were featured in movies such as Cannonball Run, On Any Sunday II and Megaforce. He also was featured on the popular television show 'That’s Incredible' for wheelying his bike up and down the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco.
Domokos wrote a book, "Wheelyin' with the King," and did numerous how-to articles in motorcycle magazines. A video was also produced about him and his stunts. While Domokos made a handsome living with his stunt riding, he also tried to give back to society in any way he could. He often did special exhibition rides to raise money for charities such as the New Orleans Children’s Hospital, the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation. He even once did a special ride to raise funds for the U.S. Olympic team.
Domokos tragically died on November 26, 2000, in an ultralight aircraft accident in Murrieta, California. Domokos' flight instructor was also killed in the crash. His fiancée, Michelle Kennington, and Doug had a son, Nikolas.
"Doug was unique in that he could appeal to different people in different ways," said renowned announcer Larry Huffman. "He was a genuinely nice person who always went out of his way to be with his fans. His appeal to little kids was amazing. I once went with him to a children's hospital and it was absolutely beautiful. The kids went crazy. He went from bed to bed, talking with the children and letting them try on his helmet. He was a very down-to-earth hero."