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 “