Farewell to Ernie Kicklighter.

In the early 80’s Jacksonville Florida motorcycle scene, Ernie Kicklighter was kind of our local motorcycle legend. There were other guys. Drag racer Ron Turner was doing well in those days on his lightning quick Suzukis. Even started his own dealership. But Ernie was different. He was the guy with enough talent to be “approved” by Kawasaki (at least that’s how we told the story) and secure a REAL Kawasaki ELR with all the factory goodies. Those of us who followed such things were all abuzz when we heard about it. Hot damm! Ernie had an ELR and was going racing with it. He’ll show em what he’s got. Just wait!

At the time, I had just started a lifelong friendship with the brother-in-law of the local Kawi shop manager known as “Maico George” Masdea (who sadly also passed back in 95 or so). Well anyway George was good friends at the time with Ernie and got us lots of behind the scenes info so we always felt like we were getting some inside scoop whenever we talked to him about it.

As these things go, I just got the word today that Ernie has passed. He’d been in a bad offroad riding accident quite a few yeas back and had been in rough shape since. It finally got the best of him.

It’s a strange feeling because thinking about it now, I’d only met him maybe a few times and really only heard stories about him second hand but his local legend status from my youth never left me. He was THE guy who didn’t just talk the talk. He went out, had the talent and freaking DID IT. He actually Raced Daytona and banged bars with the giants and the greats. No, I didn’t “know” him but he will be missed all the same.

Anyway, I did some searching around the web and there isn’t much on him. I did find a blurb here and there like this post over on Rider Files that confirms his racing status in a weird way. There are pictures of his bike and a caption mentioning that he’d been “hit on the starting grid of the F1 race by the speeding Marty Roth. It was claimed that the throttle stuck on Roth’s machine causing him to plow into the back of the F1 grid.”

Here’s the shots of the bike. It was a bad day for Ernie.

There were also some blurbs here and there like this one that talk about another rough weekend of racing.

I’d love to tell you more but details are scarce. I don’t know how much actual bar banging he ever did with the greats. I don’t know when and how he left racing or what his career record was. These things have a way of fading from view as you turn the corner into your 20’s towards other pursuits like girls and cars and generally always being broke.

But hey, if anyone has any details and could clue me in on any of it’d I’d be very grateful. I’m sure there’s a few old racers out there who might know a guy who knew a guy.

Thanks. And Godspeed Ernie. I hope you’re banging bars again.

Thanks for the ramble..

Update: I’ve found a few posts on message boards from old timers commenting on him here and there like this one in a thread on OMC outboards of all places that touched on ATV racing:

“One of the best ATV racers in the day of 3wheelers was a guy from here named Ernie Kicklighter,He turned Honda’s offer down for a factory ridein atv’s and superbike cause he didn’t want to move to California.He did ride for the local Kawasaki shop owned buy Bill Gettz.Bill built an experimental Tecate with a Rotax engine to take to a national race.When Ernie rode it in the heat race he almost lapped Marty Harts(#1 in the world) Honda and everybody started crying foul.To keep from going through a bunch off bitching Ernie pulled the practice bike out of the trailer and took 2nd overall on sunday.He said he couldn’t use all the hp the rotax made because of tire spin and picking the front end up.They would be a formidable competition in the outboard world.They wouldn’t let a world record go uncontested for 15 years thats for sure.:cool: :cool:”

Yep. Sounds right, Bill Gettz was the shop owner at the time.

And from what I’ve found he was still racing as lat as 1993 in CCS

“Expert U.S. TWINSPORTS Pos Laps Number Bike Size Name
1 1 210 KAW 750 ERNIE KICKLIGHTER, JACKSONVILLE, FL. Regency Kawasaki, Regency HD, Enco “



    1. I went to high school with Ernie..if anyone can provide me more info on this I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks

      1. Ernie lived in Folkston, Ga. There will be a Celebration of Ernie’s life on Tuesday 01/24/2012 at 6pm At Grace Chapel Baptist Church,in Folkston. Check Florida Times Union for Obituary

      2. I remember Ernie Kicklighter from when I was a kid growing up in Jacksonville Florida …… He had a little shop at the end of the road where I lived on Ashland Street ….. I would go down there and sit and talk about motorcycles and his racing …… They showed a picture of his motorcycle after he was hit from behind ….. I remember him bringing that thing home I remember him working on it after he was able to get around a little ….. I remember him riding his motorcycle up and down the road on one wheel like it wasn’t anything to him …… He had a Kawasaki 1000 if I’m correct and he was kind of scared of it because of the power it had something about it wouldn’t hook up I just wanted to spin …… I remember he had a Kawasaki 250 dirtbike that he would ride willies on next to a chain-link fence and not ever touch the chain-link fence …… He was probably the coolest guy knew back then ….. I remember looking at him and thinking he was too short to be able to ride one of those motorcycles …… But he would do it with ease I was invited to go watch him race several times and never got to …… I wish I had of …… I remember a buddy of mine getting a new Honda 250 3 wheeler and he let Ernie ride that thing and Arnie was doing things on earth that I will never tried riding willies ….. I mean when he was on a bike or even an ATV it was like he was part of the machine …… but when I heard of his passing it really shocked me …… There should been more about his career than what there is because he was good at what he did …… I’m just glad that I got to meet him and hear some stories …… He will be missed

  1. I went to sandlewood with Ernie. I rode on the bike with him (on the street) told him to go faster ,he said “really Vic?” “yea! “I yelled. he opened it up & we hauled butt! I will never forget that. Watched him race a few times. He was fearless!

    1. he once to my husband hunting on horseback when they were 18, needless to say a gun was fired and my husband’s horse took off and he was dragged quite a ways and then into a tree stump! Ernie grabbed him up and put him in his truck and rushed him to the hospital. He felt so bad but he was a hero!! we had many fun and crazy times together and we will miss him!

      1. Hey Cathy

        Long time no see. Just thought I’d say hello. I see John on a daily basis. I work in the engineering department at Westminster. Take care.



  2. I had met Ernie Kicklighter for the first time at Robling Rd. Raceway in Pooler Ga. 1991. He was getting back into Road racing on a ZX 750 after a well accomplished carreare on ATV 3 Wheelers. And once again at Moroso Motorsports Prark, W.Palm Beach, Fl. He was on his ZX 750 with the support of Regency Kawsaki and a Harley 883 Sportster with the support of Adamacs Harley of Regency. I Had the pleasure to talk with Ernie at Regency Kawasaki during that year of our race season. He was a veary nice and tallented guy. Ernie you will be mist

  3. Ernie was one of the “coolest” guys I ever had the pleasure of knowing. Got to ride with him quite a bit – he was awesome. I was very close to his sister Linda and spent alot of time with their family. My heart goes out to his wife and all the family.

  4. Ernie and I shared some great times from riding dirt bikes, racing dune buggies in the sand dunes behind Regency Square, or just hanging out. We lost touch following graduation, but the memories live on. Knowing Ernie he’s probably laughing and having a great time right now.

  5. I grew up in Ernie’s neighborhood. I guess you could say he was my hero growing up. We would always try to chase him down on our bicycles to see him ride. If he wasn’t popping wheelies down the street or dragging his knee around a corner, you could find him at the 3 wheeler track in the neighborhood. He was just awesome to watch ride. We all dreamed of riding like him. My Dad would take my brother and I down to Daytona to watch him race. I remember him blowing up his engine one year. As I grew older, I would stop by and just talk to him about life. He always had positive things to say and made me feel a little better every time I talked with him. I’m very thankful I was able to see him last March. We all will miss him.

  6. Hello All: Linda Kicklighter Shutterly here (Ernie’s sister)…just wanted to drop you all a note to let you know how much all of the memories you shared meant to our family. I can almost see Ernie doing some of the thing you mention, on the motor with Susan on the back, the horse back ride when Jeff N. got hurt, and Jeff B. of course all of the good times with your family.

    Once again, thank you all so much, and as long as stays in our hearts and minds he will live on forever… RIP Big Ern.

    1. Was talking to the sales manager @ Honda of the Avenues the other day, he asked if I knew Ernie @ Sandalwood, and we shared a few stories about him. It was good to see your post, and the memories it brought back after so many years. Good luck to you and your family. Dale Moore

  7. I had the honor of knowing Ernie in the early 90’s when I brought my GSXR to him for some work. He kept my bike for almost 3 weeks ( which I didn’t mind) and soon after he decided it was time to start racing again. We became very close friends and I traveled with him to all the races in the Southeast. Ernie was a great friend and I miss him everyday.

  8. I could send you some pictures of him racing that you won’t find on the Internet, if you’d like. He was one of my dads best friends since high school and like an uncle to me growing up. He was not only a great racer, but a great man. He is deeply missed by his friends and family!

  9. hello there I rember the kicklighters Lynda paul paula ernie we all went to sandalwood high school back in the mid 1970s wow how time flies by well I live right across the street from sandalwood high school summertrees been here since 1979 tommy my older brother was in sandalwood at that time also anyway R.I.P. ernie say hello to tommy upstairs lata peaceout 1970s style rules s/s f.t.w. !!!!!!!!!!!!

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