The “Flying Flea” receives the Trailblazers’ top award at 68th annual banquet. Photo by Mahony Photos.
In 2000, Skip Van Leeuwen, Tom Cates and Jim Feuling came up with the idea of honoring motorcycle racing legend Dick Hammer at the Del Mar Show. Hammer, who at the time was still winning a ten-year battle with cancer, had throughout his life demonstrated a rare level of “Desire, Determination and Dedication” in everything he pursued, from racing motorcycles to his fight with cancer.
A special perpetual trophy was created and Dick was the first recipient. He was surprised with the presentation of the trophy and well pleased to have an ongoing award carrying his name as a part of the popular Del Mar motorcycle event. The following year the honors went to 1970 AMA Grand National Champion Gene Romero, followed by racing great Joe Leonard.
Motorcycle racing ended at Del Mar in 2002 however, so the idea was presented to the Trailblazers to make it a part of our annual banquet. It has not only been a part of the Trailblazers annual banquet ever since, it is the club’s highest award.
For 2012, the Trailblazers Board of Directors considered many candidates, but unanimously agreed that Sammy Tanner best lived up to the Hammer’s “Desire, Determination and Dedication” criteria and we are proud to present him the award this year.
Tanner was born in Houston, Texas in 1939. He started riding motorcycles at age 14 and soon was riding and racing Triumphs on the midwest county fair circuit. 1958 was his rookie year in AMA Pro Racing and he scored the top ½-mile points in the country, and was 6th overall in National points. He moved to California and in 1959 scored his first AMA National win at Ascot Park riding a Triumph 500 twin.
Sammy later switched to a BSA Gold Star and went on to repeat victories at the 8-Mile National three more times, as well as wins at Elkhorn, Wisc., Heidelberg, Pa. and the famed Springfield 50-Mile National in 1964. He continued racing into the 1970s, including a stint in Speedway racing, before hanging it up and devoting full time to his Sammy Tanner Distributing Company that he continues to operate today.
On Saturday, April 14th, Tanner received his award at the club’s 68th annual banquet, which drew over 600 attendees. The program also included a toast to legendary race builder and tuner Shell Thuet, who passed away in July of 2011, as well as the Trailblazers Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Jim McMurren, Dan Rouit, Eddie Lawson, Sam & Gene Dempsey, Steve Scott, Ray Tanner, Bob Sirkegian Sr. and John Rice.
The date for the 2013 Trailblazers banquet will be announced here in the near future.