Baja Racing News.com EXCLUSIVE!
Baja Racing News.com was at the Bud Ekins Celebration at Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood on Sunday, December 2. The amazing event celebrated the incredible life of off-road and motorcycle legend, Bud Ekins.
Buds eternal line, "Ghost Riders In The Sky", is an insight into the great life of Adventure of America's greatest Off Road Hero, Bud Ekins.
Bud Ekins, a Pioneering Champion off-road motorcyclist and a veteran stuntman who doubled for Steve McQueen on the famous motorcycle jump in "The Great Escape," was celebrated on December 2, at Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood. Bud lived a full, adventurous life to 77. Bud passed October 6th, of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A 2006 inductee of the Trailblazers Hall of Fame and winner of the Hammer Award, the "American Motorcyclist" pinnacle. He was also an inductee of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, in 1999.
Ekins was one of the first Americans to compete in the World Championship Motocross Grand Prix circuit in Europe during the 1950s. And by the mid-'50s, he was the top scrambles and desert rider in Southern California and had been district champion seven times. Ekins doubled for Steve McQueen in the 1963 film "The Great Escape" to perform this now-infamous jump over a wood-and-barbed-wire fence on a Triumph motorcycle; using that bike was no mistake, because Ekins owned a Triumph shop in So Cal's San Fernando Valley, the unofficial hang-out for all of Hollywood when it came to motorcycles).His friendship with fellow motorcyclist McQueen, whom he helped teach off-road racing, launched Ekins' career as a movie stuntman.
Over the years, he amassed numerous stunt credits including the TV series "ChiPs" and films such as "Diamonds Are Forever," "Earthquake," "The Towering Inferno," "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers."But Ekins' most famous stunt work was on his first job: doubling for McQueen in the climactic motorcycle jump over a high, barbed-wire fence in the 1963 World War II prisoner-of-war movie "The Great Escape.""Steve could have done it himself," said Bob Hoy, a stuntman friend of Ekins. "He did the lead-up to it and rode the bike wherever he was running in that escape, but Bud did the jump. It was a tough jump. You only can do that kind of thing once; you either make it or you don't make it."Susan Ekins, the stuntman's daughter and an executive film producer, said her father was "very proud" of the spectacular jump, which was shot on location in Germany.She said her father and McQueen dug out a ramp in the dirt and practiced jumping the motorcycle over a rope to see if it would be able to clear the fence."Steve was a very capable rider, but my dad did the jump because they wouldn't let a star do a jump of that nature because they couldn't afford to have him hurt," she said.
In the 1968 crime drama "Bullitt," Ekins also did stunt work for McQueen when his detective character drives his green Mustang in a high-speed chase with the bad guys in a black Charger over the hills of San Francisco. His leathers read: "Bud Ekins Triumph - Tarzana", in reference to his motorcycle shop in So Cal's San Fernando Valley. Note the "#1" plate; The city of Tarzana borrowed its name from the title of a book written by a local resident, "Tarzan of the Apes", by Edgar Rice Burroughs). But that wasn't all Ekins did on the hit film."One of the great things Bud did in the picture, he laid a motorcycle down on the blacktop during [the chase]. It was a hell of a shot," Hoy recalled.
"Anything mechanical -- cars, motorcycles -- Bud was a perfectionist doing stunts. He could
blueprint an accident and make it look real."But, Hoy added, "Bud was an all-around stunt man. He could do fistfights and hold his own, he could say a couple of lines as a heavy and do a fall and what have you."All in all, he was a good friend and a wonderful man."Ekins was born into a working-class family in Hollywood on May 11, 1930. As a teenager, according to a biography on the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum website, he spent nearly two years in reform school after he and some friends were caught joy-riding in a stolen car.
Hooked on motorcycles after riding his cousin's 1934 Harley-Davidson, Ekins bought a used 1940 Triumph and began spending his spare time riding all over the Hollywood Hills.After entering the Big Bear Endurance Run in 1949, he bought a 1950 Matchless and, according to the biography, immediately began winning races. In 1955, Ekins won the Catalina Grand Prix, one of America's most prestigious off-road motorcycle races. During the same decade, he won the Big Bear Endurance Run three times.
His most prestigious accomplishments on the international level came in the 1960s when he won four gold medals and one silver medal during seven years of competing in the International Six Day Trial (now called the International Six Day Enduro). (In 1964, Ekins, his brother, David, and McQueen were part of the U.S. team.)
Ekins, who owned two motorcycle shops in the San Fernando Valley over the years, also was a founder of the Baja 1000, and in the early '60s he made record runs down the Baja California peninsula. He later became one of the country's leading collectors of vintage and rare motorcycles; at one time his collection included more than 150 motorcycles. Recalling her father's motorcycle shop, Susan Ekins said, "It was a hangout. My dad taught Warren Beatty how to ride; he taught everybody how to ride motorcycles."Producer Jerry Weintraub, who knew Ekins for 30 years and described him as "a man's man," agreed."He taught most of the movie stars in this town how to ride motorcycles," Weintraub said. "If somebody wanted to buy a great motorcycle . . . they'd go to Bud Ekins. He was an icon."
In addition to his daughter Susan and his brother, Ekins is survived by another daughter, Donna Ekins Kapner; his sister, Vivian Gorrindo; and two granddaughters.
The Day Of Celebration
The day of celebration started in Pasadena in the shadow of the annual New Years Day Parade of Roses at 36 Colorado Boulevard at Johnson Motors, a hall of on-road and off-road memories and dreams of wheeled adventure. A large group of passionate moto-folks mingled and then rode to the Warner Brothers Studio event.
The day was perfect, after all the rain from the end of the week, So-Cal was crispy clean and cool. The ride was in intense sunshine, much like that of the desert sun Bud Ekins sought out. At the Studios, an incredible display of the Bullitt Mustangs and the Ekins famous Warner Brothers bikes.
Although everyone knew that the Memorial Service for the late, great Bud Ekins was going to be special, it turned out to be much better than that. Held through the good auspices of Warner Brothers at their Burbank Studios, some 400 to 500 people were expected. In the event the large cinema that was supposed to show a short film of his life had to be emptied and refilled so everyone could see it on a second running.
Over a thousand friends, fellow racers, admirers, and all of his family enjoyed a perfect blue sky afternoon. One of the Warner bros. Main Street, USA sets was so bulged with motorcyles, they went around another 2 blocks. Hundreds of them. Modern American machines, of course, but also some delicious antique stuff that were Bud’s favourites.
Triumphs (he was their most successful dealer in California) all over the place, Matchless, Vincent, Velocette, BSA, Norton, in abundance. Flying Merkel, Henderson, Excelsior, and even a 1915 Harley-Davidson with a chair to represent the very first antique machine that Bud ever bought. This was a man who had won Gold Medals representing the USA in the ISDT. A man who won the exhausting Big Bear marathon 3 times. Not to mention dozens of other races including the Catalina GP. A man who was the father of Motorcross in the USA. A man who became one of Hollywood’s most able stunt men. Whether he was leaping barbed wire in The Great Escape or drifting and yumping a Mustang around San Francisco in Bullit, Bud just turned in a professional performance to help his directors do a better job.
The good and the great were out in force for Bud’s goodbye too. Neile Adams, Steve McQueen’s first wife, gave an emotional address as did Bud’s daughter’s Susie and Donna. His like will never be seen again. He was a very tough man. And so were some of the others present. We’d better all enjoy them whilst they’re still here.
Stars like Jay Leno attended.In the theatre, a great video presentation of Bud's screen life started the event. Speakers made emotional and moving points, telling how Bud Ekins truly is the living King of So-Cal Adventure
. From begining to end, the event was tasteful, exciting and a stirring motivational call of the wild, to more road and off-road adventures.
Off-Road Hall Of Fame
Year Inducted: 1980
Bud Ekins is a pioneer of of-road motorcycling. He has raced from the deserts of California and Baja to the muddy motocross tracks of Europe. He used his expertise he developed through racing to become a great Hollywood stuntman. While considered a motorcycle specialist he also raced four wheeled off road vehicles with great skill and enjoyment.
On May 11, 1930, James Bud Ekins was born in Hollywood, California, the eldest of five children. Most of his family worked in the movie business, his mother as an extra and his uncles training animals. His father owned a welding shop. Ekins purchased his first motorcycle as a teenager after riding his cousin’s Harley-Davidson and getting the speedometer stuck at 65 miles per hour on his first ever ride. He purchased a used 1940 Triumph and riding it as much as possible, he learned the back roads and trails of the Hollywood Hills. As he rode he met other riders, and they raced for fun doing hound and hare runs.
In 1949 he participated in his first official race, the Moose Run and won it, a trend which would continue throughout his career. Once he started racing he kept at it for nearly the next two decades.He raced scrambles and desert races every weekend around Southern California throughout the 1950s. He earned the state title seven times. Having proved his skills in the states, Matchless Motorcycles offered him a spot on their factory team to race motocross in Europe in 1952. He would continue to race in Europe for the next ten years. He took part in the International Six Day Trails (ISDT) and weekly motocross races.
He won the ISDT four times and place second there once in the seven year period he took part in the race. He would spend months at a time living in Europe, renting apartments in cities such as London and Paris. The Europeans paid their athletes for their efforts and while there he made a good living racing.He took the success from his European experiences and applied it hid life in the States. He monetarily applied it and opened a motorcycle shop in Hollywood in 1955. By then he had switched his sponsorship to Triumph Motorcycles and as result became a Triumph dealer. Triumphs at the time happened to be the motorcycle that the movie stars of the day desired and he was in the perfect location to sell them the bikes. His customers and friends included Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.
Ekins ran the shop for 18 years when he focused his energies on performing movie stunt work.The Hollywood connections made through his shop along with the incredible respect he had earned as a skilled rider landed him in the stunt business. He preformed motorcycle stunts and also took on the occasional stunt out of his area of expertise. He is best know for the work he did as McQueen’s stuntman in “The Great Escape,” landing the now famous 65 foot jump in one try. In the movie “Bullit” he laid his bike over in front of a speeding truck.
He worked with John Bellucci in the “Blues Brothers” crashing over 100 police cars. He also did stunt driving and even took on the rare team of horses.Ekins adventures continued outside of the studios. Prior to the organized Mexican 1000 a number of men took on timed runs for speed records across Baja. Dave Ekins, Bud’s brother did one such run in 1962 for Honda Motorcycles shattering all previous records. Bud sat the run out because of his sponsorship agreement with Triumph. In 1964 he joined his brother for an attempt to break Dave’s earlier record. They did break it, however they only broke it by eight minutes, crossing the Baja in 39 hours and 48 minutes, the whole time filled various mechanical difficulties. Their speed record proved an inspiration and challengers followed in buggies and trucks. A challenge on their time by Ed Pearlman lead to Pearlman’s epiphany that an organized race needed to take place there and the Mexican 1000 was born.
Ekins would go on to race Pearlman’s Mexican 1000. In addition to racing motorcycles Ekins raced four wheeled off-road vehicles. From racing the motorcycle he understood how to read the terrain and the transition to vehicles was not difficult. He worked with fellow Hall of Fame Inductee, Vic Hickey to build the Baja Boot. He raced with Hickey for five years. He drove three races for Steve McQueen. Drino Miller, a Hall of Fame Inductee and he co-drove “The Thing” in numerous desert races. During the 1980s and 1990s Ekins owned a second motorcycle shop in Hollywood that had one of the most extensive collections of working vintage motorcycles in the world.
Interview with Bud Ekins, July 2006
Baja Racing News .com EXCLUSIVE!