Monday, October 08, 2007

Bud Ekins passes into Off Road History

Bud Ekins, 1930-2007
By Paul Carruthers

Bud Ekins, one America’s pioneering off-road motorcyclists, died on October 6. He was 77 years old.

Ekins’ racing career spanned from the days of desert and mountain endurance runs to the modern era of scrambles and motocross and he was one of the first Americans to take part in the World Motocross Championship in Europe in the 1950s. He also earned gold medals in the International Six Day Trial. Following his racing career, Ekins went on to become one of Hollywood’s leading stuntmen and his most famous stunt was the motorcycle jump scene in the 1963 movie, "The Great Escape," starring another famous motorcyclist, Steve McQueen. Ekins also went on to be one of the country’s leading collectors of vintage and rare motorcycles. At one time, his collection numbered over 150 motorcycles and was considered to be the most valuable in the country.

In 1955, Ekins won the Catalina Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious races in the country, taking almost 10 minutes off the race record time while riding a Johnson Motors Triumph. He also won the Big Bear Run three times during the 1950s, including the 1959 victory in which he completed the 153-mile course over half an hour ahead of the second-place rider - despite suffering a flat tire and breaking a wheel. For a period during the late-‘50s and early-‘60s, Ekins was easily the most dominant racer in desert events. He was also a founder of the famous Baja 1000, making record runs down the Mexican peninsula in the early-1960s.

Ekins’ greatest accomplishments came in the International Six Day Trials. In 1964, Ekins, his brother Dave, and Steve McQueen raced in the ISDT in Germany and the team led the international competition before McQueen was involved in a crash and Ekins later broke his leg. In all, Ekins won four gold medals and a silver medal during his seven years of competing in the ISDT during the 1960s.

: By the mid-1960s, Ekins owned a Triumph dealership and had become something of a hero to Hollywood’s young movie actors, who would often hangout at his shop. One of those actors was McQueen. Ekins helped McQueen learn off-road racing and the actor became an accomplish racer.

Through his association with McQueen, Ekins began his career as a movie stuntman. In 1962, McQueen asked Ekins to come to Germany to do some stunt riding for the filming of "The Great Escape." Ekins was in Germany for more than four months working on the film and it was at the end of shooting that McQueen and Ekins came up with the now-famous jump scene.

Ekins continued doing stunt work until he was in his mid-60s, his stunt career spanning some 30 years.