Vote for Steve Johnson for BMX Hall of Fame

Last week, the American Bicycle Association (ABA)  started asking for nominees into the BMX Hall of Fame. Each year, the ABA adds the names of those who significantly contributed to the sport. Nominees in the categories BMX Pioneer Racer (1979 or earlier), BMX Racer (1980 to modern day), BMX Industry Member and BMX Freestyler are voted on by the public, a public that has forgotten the contributions of many of those who were at the forefront of the sport when it was still in its infancy.

One of those pioneers is Steve Johnson, Torker’s president from 1976 to 1984. Steve has been on the list of nominees for years, but he and his groundbreaking company and race team apparently are all but forgotten. The role Steve played in the early years of the BMX industry and racing was as revolutionary and vital as those played by other revered industry legends whose names are uttered and written almost daily in conversations and on the Internet by BMX collectors and fans who reminisce about the good old days.

Last year, I voted for Hall of Fame inductees for the first time. As I scanned the list of nominees, I was shocked by the number of people I assumed were already in the Hall. Steve Johnson was among them. He immediately got my vote for BMX Industry Member. I also attended the induction ceremony in San Diego where I ate dinner with Hall of Famers Bobby Encinas and Eddy King. As Eddy and I chatted, he noted that he, too, thought  there  were a lot of people who deserved to be in the Hall who weren’t. Steve Johnson was first on his list. We agreed right there to get him into the Hall of Fame.

And so, my campaign to get Steve in the BMX Hall of Fame begins here, today.

Although I have never met Steve, I have spoken about him with his father, racers who were on the legendary teams he put together in the 1970s and 19980s, as well as others who worked with him back in the day. Everyone I’ve spoken with liked and respected him. Spend a little time reading through old issues of BMX magazines from the 1970s and 1980s and it’s clear that he had a huge impact on the sport. It’s also clear that the industry recognized his impact, even then.

In the November 1980 issue of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine, Bob Osborn wrote the following about Steve Johnson.

One of the neatest things about the Great Lakes National was the way Steve Johnson, the young owner of Torker, handled the sponsorship of this race.

The Torker gang arrived early and hauled buns all week long to assure that the race, as well as their sponsorship, was a success. You might say they were max-imizing their investment as sponsor.

In the past, some sponsors have forked over their fee, stuck up some banners, and suggested that the race announcer give them a mention now and then.

Steve Johnson decided to go full boat. During the week he visited as many local shops as he could, to pump up the race and Torker products.

Borrowing from Grand Prix tradition, he set up a Torker hospitality area where the press, shop owners, and public could meet the Team Torker racers. And sodas and sandwiches were available to cure any rampant munchies among the VIPs.

Steve also prepared assorted promotional blurbs for the race announcer, Merle Mennenga of the ABA.

Torker banners were placed strategically where the pro photobugs would most likely be shooting pics for their publications. Then the blank spots were filled with other banners and posters.

Promotion wasn’t the only thing on Johnson’s mind. Saturday saw him and his Torker lieutenant, Karsten Berg, manning the shovels and working with the race officials to make sure the rain drenched track was prepared as well as humanly possible.

In taking such total and dedicated control of the promotional aspects of the race, Steve Johnson established a guideline, a new standard for sponsors wishing to get their money’s worth out of an event.

What Torker did in Lansing was demonstrate just how much goodwill and publicity for a sponsor’s products can be realized by jumping in feet first and doing a super job that benefits not only themselves, but everyone attending or participating in a national.

Steve Johnson (Left) with BMX Hall of Famers Eddy King and Sandy Finkleman. Steve co-sponsored Eddy with Sandy, owner of Wheels-N-Things, before he launched the Torker Factory Team in 1978.

Between 1976 and 1984, Steve took Torker out of the family garage and built it into one of the BMX’s best-known and best-selling brands during the sport’s first big boom.

He had a knack for identifying and signing some of BMX’s all-time best riders, allowing him to build and manage one of the BMX’s most dominant and successful race teams. Torker’s First Factory Team earned the rank of National Number One in 1979.

The list BMX Hall of Fame members who flew the Torker colors at one time during their careers is impressive. It includes Eddy King, Clint Miller, Tommy Brackens, Kevin McNeal, Bob Haro, Mike Miranda, Richie Anderson and Mike King. Other notable Torker Team members include Doug Davis, Jason Jensen, Doug Olson, Kathy Hannah, Kelly McDougal, Willie Huebner, Dave Marietti, Craig Bark, Jennie Zeuner and Todd Corbitt.

Steve was a talented promoter. Besides using racer and event sponsorship, he developed strong relationships with the media. Between 1977 and 1984, the Torker logo appeared on hundreds of magazine pages. In addition to his role as brand builder, Steve, with his mother Doris, father John and brother Doug, ran Torker and Max while overseeing the Torker factory in Fullerton, CA. He also had a hand in designing Torker’s celebrated frames and components.

Here’s a timeline of Steve Johnson’s tenure at the helm of Torker

  • 1976: Steve takes control of his father’s small, contract, MX frame production company, Texon. He renames it Johnson Engineering and buys the company’s first production tooling. Johnson Engineering builds early frames for Peddlepower (later Powerlite) as well as the first Torker frames.
  • 1977: Steve renames the company Torker, using the word torque as his inspiration. He introduces the first  Torker frame, an all-4130-chromoly, air-craft-quality, heli-arc welded and stress-relived frame that was designed with the aid of structural engineers, metallurgists and aircraft welders. The technologically advanced frame was met with rave reviews from the media and was an instant success. He shows an eye for picking talented riders and signs Kevin McNeal to ride for Torker.
  • 1978: Torker redesigns its frame to better meet market demands and adds a variety of new models as well as a fork. All are well regarded in the media as well as among racers. He signs Eddy King and introduces an Eddy King Replica frame, one of the first racer replicas. King, one of the fastest amateur racers in the world at the time had been cosponsored by Torker and Wheels-N-Things. Torker sponsors numerous local, regional and national races.
  • 1979: Steve builds one of the all-time great teams in BMX history. Among the racers  of the team were Eddy King, Jason Jensen, Mike Aguilera, Doug Davis and Doug Olson. Clint Miller joined Torker later in the year. The Torker Factory Team hits the road in an RV on a national tour. The team earns the National Number One title. Torker continues to heavily sponsor races as well as bike shop teams and local amateur racers. Torker introduces two bike models. Sales boom.

    Steve Johnson (Right) with the 1979/1980 Torker Factory Team

  • 1980: Torker riders continue to dominate their respective classes while Steve continues to promote and build the company, adding products and getting press for Torker racers, products and sponsorship of national race events. (See BMXA article above.) He sponsors freestyle pioneer Bob Haro. Max clothing and accessories is added to the Torker family.
  • 1981: Despite losing Eddy King and Doug Davis to Diamondback, Steve continues to garner huge amounts of press with Torker products and the racing success of Jason Jensen and Clint Miller.
  • 1982: Steve adds Kelly McDougal and Dave Marietti to the Torker Team. The company, its racers and products continue to get massive exposure and positive reviews in the magazines. Responding to market demands, Steve takes the company in a new directions with lower-cost complete bikes. New products continue to hit the market. Clint Miller dominates the Pro Cruiser Class on Torker’s new 24” cruiser. Torker begins producing frames and forks for Bob Haro’s Haro Bikes.
  • 1984: Steve attempts to bring new glory to Torker by building another team of star racers. The team has impressive results and brings new attention to Torker. Steve compares the team to the original Factory Torker Team of 1979. The team includes Mike Miranda, Tommy Brackens, Richie Anderson, Craig Bark, Willie Huebner, Jason Foxe, Jennie Zeuner, Todd Corbitt and Jason Theodore. Sadly, after years of losing money and despite Steve’s effort to save Torker, the Johnson Family decides to close the company’s doors. Torker and its assets are sold at auction. Steve quietly retires from BMX racing and the bike industry. He takes a job at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, CA, where he works for 20 years until his retirement. He also was a volunteer for various organizations.

Today, Steve enjoys spending time with his kids. His hobbies include photography and computers. He remains a deeply private person. —Michael Gamstetter

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20 responses to “Vote for Steve Johnson for BMX Hall of Fame

  1. Great piece Michael. I am with you and Eddy on getting Steve and maybe the Johnson family into the HOF. Let me know what I can do to help. For now I am going put this page as a link on my FB page…

  2. Thanks Doug. We’d love to have your help. Eddy or I will let you know when/if we need you and what we need. Much appreciated.

  3. let me know if there is anything i can do to help
    i have always loved Torker bikes. And what Torker did for bmx

  4. Pauline Aguilera

    We are here for Steve Johnson!!

  5. Mike Aguilera

    Steve has my vote he was a great sponser TORKER 4 – EVER …

  6. Michael, Here is a direct paste from the ABA announcement for the “2010 BMX Hall of Fame nomination applications now being accepted”

    The BMX Hall of Fame is accepting new nominations in each category that will be considered for the class of 2010.

    “All new nominations that are accepted will be added to the list of nominees from last year’s ballot. Individuals that were on last year’s ballot may submit a new nomination application for the purpose of updating or enhancing their bio information.”

    So he should be on the ballot!!!!

  7. Doug,

    Eddy and I had planned to write a nomination for Steve back in the spring. Later, Eddy said he was told there was already a nomination(s) in for Steve and we didn’t need to write a new one.

    Last month, I got a reply to my Vote for Steve thread on VintageBMX.com, from Shannon at the ABA saying the nominations they had were not very strong and that I made a MUCH better case for Steve. He suggested I send in a nomination. I did, as quickly as I could.

    Unfortunately, Shannon had written that note a long time before I read it. As a result, I got my nomination in to the ABA one day past the deadline.

    It’s very unfortunate that he missed out this year. I feel horrible about it. But, there is always next year. And, I think, we have some good momentum we can build on for 2011.

    Also, and this I just learned recently, the public no longer votes for the new members. The public nominates; a nomination committee of BMX HoFers and the like then selects those who will be on the ballot; and 500 selected HoFers, industry insiders and others casts the final votes.

    I think this actually favors Steve since many of those people knew him personally and understand and are aware of his many contributions to BMX.

    A post I made regarding Steve to a thread on the new HoF voting process on BMX Society got a little ugly, I thought. Check it out: http://bmxsociety.com/topic/48547-public-not-part-of-2010-aba-hof-voting/

  8. Wow, that post did get ugly… sorry ’bout that.

    My point, from my previous post, is that Steve should be on the ballot by default based on the ABA’s own PR (5/12/10) on the HOF nominations.

    When did the ballots come out? I will call BA and Shannon and find out WTH happened and see if they will honor a write-in campaign.

    My bigger concern is that I am not sure if John will make it to next year and if he doesn’t Steve will be in no mood for the BMX HOF.

  9. I was worried about John, too. I sensed some urgency.

    The deadline to vote is July 27, so I’m sure it’s too late. I got my ballot a couple of weeks ago. I know Toby sent his back right away. I still need to get mine in.

    I thought the way the ABA promoted the whole thing was pretty poor. I had no idea they changed anything until I got a ballot sent to me. Until Shannon asked me to send in a nomination, I assumed the people would be voting from the same huge list as last year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t communicated very well.

  10. I would definately vote for Steve. He worked tirelessly for bmx and deserves recognition.

  11. I stayed at the Jonson familys house during the West coast swing for weeks at a time what a great family. I miss going to Max and making my on jersey with Doug and Doris. If we cant get the family in lets atleast get Steve in.Got my vote

  12. I remember you Jeff. At least I remember you from the mags. And someone mentioned you to me when I was researching the Torker article I wrote. Thanks for chiming in.

    Sadly, it looks like this year is out. If there’s a bright side to that, next year, I’ll nominate the whole family. It only seems right.

  13. Their are liars, thieves and charlatans in the current HoF. I know: I worked for several of them. Steve Johnson was none of the above. The man consistently rolled the dice on unknown, unproven talent and turned those individuals into winners. More importantly, he helped the best of them grow into real people. I probably wouldn’t have worked in the bike industry for the previous 31 years if the Johnson family hadn’t taken a chance on a loud-mouthed kid from Florida in 1979. If Steve Johnson doesn’t get into the HoF in 2010, everyone who still cares about old-school BMX should stop wasting their time with the ABA, the HoF nominating committee, and the concept in general. Seriously: what higher purpose does the institution serve, save to diefy a cadre of dinosaurs most of whom either got out while the getting was good, or slithered into the weeds when their day in the sun was over. It’s been my privilege to work for TWO benevolent businessmen and BMX philanthropists during my career: George Esser and Steve Johnson. Neither man needs the endorsement of a clique to remain righteous in my book. Thanks to Michael Gamstetter for taking his quest to the masses, and thanks to all my fellow Torker alumnus for speaking on behalf of all the Johnsons.

  14. It was late and I was tired when I wrote that. I still stand by everything I said, but I feel like an idiot for spelling “there” incorrectly. Sorry for the typo, Michael. Good luck righting this travesty.

  15. Glad you caught that. It’s one of my biggest misspelling (poor grammar) pet peeves. I kid.

    Good stuff, McGoo. I agree. But there are some real deserving folks in there, too.

    2010 is a lost cause as far as I can tell. I spoke with Shannon a couple days after he got my nomination. He said it was too late, period. And, the “board” has long since voted on who would be on the final list. That list was sent out a few weeks ago. Voting ends soon. Maybe at the end of this week.

    I wish I’d known of the new rules/system prior to a few days before the nomination deadline. I also wish I’d known that the nominations that existed for Steve were old and poorly crafted prior to a few days before the deadline. But I’ve moved on and will do my best to make sure the Johnsons get in next year.

  16. Update 2011: The ABA is currently accepting nominations for the 2011 HoF.

    I spoke with Shannon a few months ago and he told me he still has my nomination and I had no need to resend it. But, if anyone else wants to send their own nomination for Steve Johnson, I urge you to do so. The more support the ABA nominating committee sees, the better.

    And, if you’re one of the 500 who receive ballots, please consider voting for Steve Johnson a true standout in the history of Bicycle Motocross.

    Cheers,

    Michael

  17. steve is a standout in my book! why the hell isnt he allready in?

  18. THE FOLLOWING IS A REPRINT FROM A COMMENT I POSTED WHEN EDDY FIRST ASKED, “IS THIS STEVE JOHNSOHNS YEAR????
    i spoke to a man one time that thought since his company failed when “things changed” that he “wasn’t” a bmx success,…..the effect that the man had in my life was nothing short of great.
    he was polite and spoke with and listened to a youn…g messed up kid as if he was an important person in a world where it is all too easy to feel unimportant. obviously i “was” that KID,…………whether or not i ever see another TORKER bicycle, i will always remember and appreciate the part that this man had in my life,………and be grateful and thankful to have known him for the short time that i did,………….
    there are many different ways to measure success in this life,….i measure mine by who a person is, more than what they have accomplished,(ALTHOUGH STEVE IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF BOTH!!!)……….
    this man’s picture is above,…………………god bless you steve,……and, thanks for caring,…………………….to me, you are and always will be a “SUCCESS!!!”,……………………..

    ON ANOTHER NOTE,……IT IS NICE TO HAVE THE ABA HALL OF FAME,………….VERY NICE,…………..BUT AFTER SPEAKING WITH MANY OF THE GUYS WHO HELPED TO CREATE AND BUILD THE SPORT OF BMX RECENTLY,……IT WOULD SEEM TO ME THAT THERE IS AN “OPEN DOOR” FOR A “NEUTRAL” (MEANING NOT AFFILIATED WITH SANCTIONING BODIES/ORGANIZATIONS) BMX HALL OF FAME!!!!!!!!
    WITH ONLY FIVE INDIVIDUALS BEING INDUCTED EACH YEAR, (IN THE ABA/HOF) FACT IS, MANY OF THE “MOVERS AND SHAKERS” WILL NEVER STAND A CHANCE OF GETTING TRUE RECOGNITION FROM THEIR PEERS!!!,……….CUZ WE AIN’T GETTIN ANY YOUNGER,…………and the clock is tickin
    IF THE RIGHT INDIVIDUAL (OR INDIVIDUALS) GOT TOGETHER,
    THOSE THAT MAY “SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS OTHERWISE” MAY GET THERE STORIES TOLD!!!! AND THERE ARE SOME REALLY GOOD STORIES OUT THERE!!!!!!!!
    I SPOKE WITH TWO INDIVIDUALS WHO NOW WORK FOR GIANT BICYCLES (EX BMX RACERS!!!),….AND BOTH OF THESE GUYS HAVE SOME GREAT STORIES TO “STILL TELL!!!!!” (quality guys like these would be perfect to begin something like this!!!!!!!)
    who knows???????, just a thought,………………………………………

  19. NOT TO MENTION WHAT A REUNION/PARTY THIS COULD/WOULD BE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. I had the pleasure of building wheels for Steve back in the day, he is one of the nicest and smartest people, ever to be involved in BMX, everyone that was associated with Torker, was always striving to make the sport better for all, definetly a yes vote from me!

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