Photo courtesy Chad Murphy: Dale Yamada of Mad Jap Kustoms with two of his hand-built machines.
The motorcycle and hotrod community in Calgary is rallying support for Dale Yamada, a retired motorcycle racer and active custom bike builder.
A fundraiser dubbed High Noon is being held for Yamada and his wife, Michelle, and their two young children. The event, to be held at the Car Crazy warehouse and parking lot is scheduled for noon on Aug. 10. High Noon will offer an all makes and models (cars and motorcycles) show and shine, entertainment with bands such as Crossfire, The Hard Tails and Thunderwood, a silent auction and door prizes.
Yamada, 42, was seriously injured the evening of June 18 in a motorcycle/vehicle collision downtown at 8 St. and 5 Ave. S.W. He had just attended bike night at the A&W in Airdrie, and had made his way back to Calgary to visit the hotrods at another A&W, this one at the corner of Macleod Tr. and Glenmore Tr.
He was heading home northwest to Hidden Valley via the downtown core when he tangled with the front end of a car.
“I remember the hit, how I flew, everything,” Yamada says during an interview from his hospital bed at the Carewest Glenmore Park facility. “I remember hearing the fire truck and the ambulance coming, and seeing all of the feet and people around me. And I remember seeing the damage to myself and feeling the pain — I was screaming. I’d never felt pain like that before in my life.”
Yamada broke his pelvis in four places, his lower vertebrae (L 5 and 6), and there were multiple compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula. He also suffered serious internal injuries.
One year ago, Yamada started his custom bike building business, Mad Jap Kustoms (www.madjapkustoms.com).
“The business is named after my (late) dad,” Yamada says of his company. “All of his friends used to call him the Mad Jap. (When I started) I didn’t know what to call the business, and the name just came out of the blue as a way to honour my dad. I didn’t really care what people thought of the name.”
Yamada was born in Nanaimo, and raised in the Lower Mainland. As a youth he was around custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but never had his own bike until 1996. At that, the bike was as far away from a Milwaukee made V-twin as it could have been. Yamada, a licensed mechanic, was managing a brake and muffler shop when he splashed out cash on a 1991 Suzuki GSXR 750 sport bike.
“I bought all my helmet and all my gear at the same time I bought the bike,” Yamada says. “I rode it out of the dealership with all of the price tags still on all my stuff.
I was so severely hooked. I said this is my life.”
He’d fearlessly raced BMX and mountain bikes, and had played with cars and 4x4s, but motorcycles really ignited something in Yamada.
“At the first set of lights (after riding out of the dealership), a guy on a red Honda CBR900RR nodded at me and said ‘nice bike’. When the light turned green he took off and did a stand up wheelie.”
Of course, Yamada was so impressed he said he had to learn how to pull the same stunt.
“I started learning at the next light,” he laughs. Yamada rode hard on the street, and crashed more than once. He admits he was out of control, and it was a mechanic at a dealership who told him to get off the street and onto a track. With that, he bought a 1996 Suzuki GSXR 750, taped up the headlight, removed the signal lights, and went to Portland, Oregon to participate in his first ‘beginners’ race.
“I remember being nervous, and I’d crashed during practice,” Yamada says. “And my friends were there telling me to stop looking down — look ahead; that’s how green I was.”
Yet, with 40 other racers, Yamada lapped the field and finished first. “I’d just pinned it and passed everything I could pass.”
Yamada went on to quite a career as a privateer racer, participating in club events. That’s what brought him and Michelle to Calgary in 1997. His life was working and racing, until 2004 when there was pressure to move up to the Nationals.
“I said I couldn’t do it. We’d started our family, and I’d started a new business,” Yamada says. He’d begun PDQ Hot Shot services, but sold that and quite a few of his toys to fund the start up of Mad Jap Kustoms in 2007. An accomplished mechanic and tuner, Yamada had never built a custom motorcycle until just last summer. His first build was based on the choppers he remembers from his youth, but with a creative twist thrown in the mix. Yamada’s bikes, when shown at the King of Customs motorcycle show in Calgary in May, captured the eye of Jesse James of West Coast Choppers — and that’s quite a nod to the novice builder.
Ironically, he doesn’t build bikes using Japanese motors or components; they’re all American v-twin engines in his own frames. He does all of his own welding, machining and painting. The only parts sent out of his shop are items for chrome plating.
After the accident, Yamada wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep his lower left leg. So far, he’s been progressing and beating a lot of the odds.
In the meantime, he says he’ll move up, forward and on.
“I’ve had a lot of time to just think,” Yamada says of his days in the hospital. “I’m building bikes in my head for now until I get back to the shop.”
He has orders, and one bike on the bench that’s about 90 per cent complete. But he can’t finish it yet, and without him working there’s no money being earned.
So his friends have put in motion High Noon.
Jay Ringland, owner of Dolce Salon in Market Mall, says of the event: “We’ve got to do something to help get his family through the next year.” Ringland also owns the first custom bike built by Yamada.
High Noon is at Car Crazy, 4303 9 St. S.E., from noon until 6 p.m. on Aug. 10. All vehicle entries are welcome by donation, and the event is free to the public. Silent auction items include artwork donated by Artists of the World, tattooist Rick Wilson of Strange World and airbrush artist Crosseyed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 403-815-6548 for more information.
Photo courtesy Chad Murphy: Dale Yamada of Mad Jap Kustoms.
First published in the Calgary Herald Driving section, July 18.