Dudley "Dud" Perkins was one of America’s most legendary figures in motorcycling’s first century. A former racer and San Francisco motorcycle dealer, Perkins embodied tireless and generous dedication to every aspect of motorcycling, serving on many AMA committees and advancing the careers of many noteworthy professional motorcycle racers.
His contributions to the sport were such that the AMA named its most prestigious award in his honor. The Dud Perkins Award was established in January 1970, and first presented to its namesake. Its purpose is to acknowledge the highest level of service to the Association in any area of activity, and its recipients are individuals whose contributions are nationally recognized. It is bestowed by vote of the AMA Board of Directors.
A top-notch racer from the 1910s to ‘30s, Perkins opened a Harley-Davidson dealership in San Francisco in 1914 that would become one of the nation's oldest dealerships. Perkins found ways to keep his business alive through two world wars and a Depression and pass on the business to his son and, later, his grandsons.
Born in 1893, Perkins first took an interest in motorcycling as a 14-year-old boy living in Los Angeles. A neighbor noticed that Perkins was admiring his Reading-Standard motorcycle, so one day the neighbor generously told Perkins he could ride the bike if he liked. Perkins jumped at the chance, hopped on the bike and pedaled down the street, starting a life-long love of the sport.
Perkins moved with his family to Stockton and got a summer job working for an Indian dealership. In 1911, Perkins began his long and successful racing career by competing in local events. Once out of school, he moved to San Francisco and hung around Hap Alzina’s Indian distribution shop. Alzina helped Perkins get a job at Gus Shelane’s Indian dealership.
Perkins continued racing and won a number of West Coast races on a variety of machines. By 1913 Perkins owned his own dealership in partnership with Al Maggini. The dealership sold DeLuxe and Jefferson motorcycles. In January of 1914 Perkins bought out his partner, took on Harley-Davidson and remained a dealer for that company for the rest of his life.
By 1915, Perkins began competing in motorcycle hillclimbs. One of the biggest events in all of motorcycling in the late 1910s and early ‘20s was the national hillclimb at Capistrano Hill in Santa Ana, California. The event regularly drew crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 spectators. The steep Capistrano Hill (at some points, more than a 70-degree angle) was considered insurmountable.
For six years, riders tried and failed to top the tremendous hill. In 1920, a rider shocked the thousands of fans by becoming the first to make it to the top. That rider was Dud Perkins, riding a Harley-Davidson. That feat alone made him one of the most popular motorcyclists in the country. In 1921, Perkins topped the hill again, this time breaking the old record by more than 10 seconds, again leaving the 30,000 spectators on hand in awe. In a 1957 interview with American Motorcyclist , Perkins called that 1921 victory at Capistrano Hill his finest hour in racing. Perkins made quite a name for himself by winning at Capistrano several times during the late teens and early ‘20s.
In 1919, Perkins married Eilene Baldwin and together they raised three children.
By the early 1930s, Perkins was considered one of the veterans of the sport of motorcycle racing. In 1932, he was asked by AMA Secretary E.C. Smith to take a seat on the AMA’s newly formed Competition Committee. Perkins would ultimately become the longest-serving member of the committee and was also an active member of the Competition Congress from its inception. Perkins was well known for being an awards presenter for years at the annual AMA awards banquet.
Perkins developed into a savvy businessman and learned to survive and even prosper during lean times. During World War I, when the Army was buying up the country’s production of motorcycles, Perkins bought used bikes from the departing troops and reconditioned them for sale. During the Depression, Perkins was the primary supplier of motorcycles to the California Highway Patrol. He also helped by giving riding and maintenance instructions to the patrol. The years of World War II were some of the most prosperous of Perkins’ career. He bought up hundreds of military surplus bikes for $125 and sold them for $325 each.
After the war, Perkins' son, Dudley, Jr. returned from the service and started helping to manage the family business. When Dudley Sr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, a third generation was running the family’s business.
Perkins helped support racing in any way he could. Besides serving on the competition committee, he also sponsored racing events and racers. Among the riders who rode with Perkins sponsorship through the years were Ray Eddie, Paul Albrecht, Mark Brelsford and Mert Lawwill. Perkins was a fixture at the AMA national on the San Jose Mile. He was known to walk sections of the mile oval between races, kicking stones off the track.
Perkins died on February 26, 1978 at the age of 84. At his passing, Perkins was considered the grandest of the grand old men of motorcycling.