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Donald E. “Skip” Eaken


Tuner for Honda factory flat track team that won three straight AMA Grand National Championships Tuner for Honda team that won 1988 AMA Superbike title

Donald E. “Skip” Eaken was a motorcycle racing tuner who worked with several AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame racers and won several AMA-sanctioned championships in road racing and flat track during his more than 30-year career.

Eaken’s teams won Grand National Championship and AMA Superbike races with several motorcycle brands, and he was part of the Honda factory flat track team that won three straight AMA Grand National Championships from 1985-1987 and an AMA Superbike title in 1988.

Eaken was born March 14, 1944, in Lodi, Ohio, and moved to Strongsville, Ohio, when he was in high school. He was a two-sport athlete in high school before and had not ridden a motorcycle prior to meeting his future father-in-law, who was an off-road racer.

After taking one short ride on one of his father-in-law’s off-road motorcycles, he bought his own motorcycle the next week and began competing in off-road events.

Beginning in 1962, Eaken competed in amateur off-road and motocross racing for the next 10 years and earned his pro motocross license.

As his racing days wound down, he found a part-time job working at a motorcycle shop to supplement his full-time work at a dairy.

In 1972, Eaken and his boss at the motorcycle shop decided to build a flat track racer, Eaken’s first foray into motorcycle building and tuning. Despite not having any formal training as an engineer or mechanic, Eaken used his intelligence and knack for figuring things out to continue building flat track racers for the next 10 years.

Eaken’s motorcycles scored their first Grand National victory in 1983 with future AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Ted Boody riding an Eaken-prepped Harley-Davidson.

Eaken's big break came later that year, when Honda racing manager Gene Romero asked Eaken to join the marque’s factory racing team in the AMA Grand National Championship for the 1984 season. Romero was familiar with Eaken’s work from racing Eaken-prepared motorcycles.

Upon joining the Honda effort, Eaken was given the choice of working with Bubba Shobert or Ricky Graham, both future AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers. Eaken chose Shobert, and the two went on to form a close working relationship while winning three straight AMA Grand National Championships and an AMA Superbike title on factory Hondas.

When Honda scaled back its factory-supported racing efforts after the 1988 season, Eaken started his own team and entered privateer Honda machines in AMA Grand National Championship competition in 1989. He hired two riders, one of whom was AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer-to-be Steve Morehead. Eaken riders finished third and fourth in the championship standings that year.

His privateer Hondas competed in 40 national and non-national races in 1989 without suffering any in-race mechanical failures.

Eaken’s teams continued to find success at the national level. His motorcycles won the Springfield Mile, with future AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Ricky Graham at the helm in 1991, and also won Du Quoin Mile races in 1994 and 1995 and both Springfield Mile races in 1996 with rider Davey Camlin.

In 2010, Eaken decided he wanted to develop Kawasaki’s 650cc parallel-twin engine for flat track racing. Eaken teamed with Ricky Howerton to design and develop the motorcycle.

Howerton grew up near Honda’s race shop in Indianapolis, and Eaken met him through Howerton's father when he was still a boy.

Eaken brought rider Luke Gough into the project, and Gough lived with the Eaken family during the years he worked with Eaken. The two developed a close bond, and Gough’s feedback was integral to the development of the Kawasaki project.

Eaken worked on the Kawasaki project until his passing in 2012, and the motorcycle he helped develop went on to claim its first national championship in 2016.

A shy and quiet man, Eaken’s success was rooted in his confidence, innate intelligence and his “just go for it” approach to racing.

He is credited with saying, “When your motorcycle goes by somebody, that’s what makes all the hours of work worthwhile.”

He had a lot of respect for riders who demonstrated a good work ethic and who worked as hard to prepare themselves for competition has he worked to prepare their motorcycles.

Eaken was also superstitious and believed having beer or peanuts in the pits or having green paint on a motorcycle was bad luck.