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Colorado 500 founder headed to Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Joel Stonington
Mark Fox/The Aspen Times Basalt resident Wally Dallenbach poses in front of a motorcyle at his Basalt home Saturday. Dallenbach is being inducted into the motorcycle Hall of Fame.
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Aspen Times Staff WriterBack in 1974, soon after Wally Dallenbach Sr. moved to Basalt, he and his son Wally Jr. took a ride on a motorcycle from his ranch up on the Fryingpan out to Ouray. It was so enjoyable and they had such good memories from the trip that Wally Sr. invited one of his friends, Sherm Cooper, to do the ride again the next year. That second year, a ride with just two people was the inaugural Colorado 500.2006 marks the 31st annual ride, with around 300 people and a dozen support vehicles, numerous sponsors and thousands of dollars donated to charity. “It’s a delicate balance of man, machine and mother nature,” said Dallenbach. “We try to keep the balance on the good side of all those things. We’ve been very fortunate over the years.”Back when it first began, Wally Sr. was racing Indy Cars. He drove in 180 Indy Car races between 1965 and 1979, winning five times. And he nearly won the 1975 Indianapolis 500, when he led for half the race, but blew a piston on lap 162.

He wanted to keep riding motorcycles as a hobby, though at times he thought about racing them. The Colorado 500 dirt bike ride, however, has warranted induction into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame this fall.”The big thing is the contribution I’ve made relative to riding motorcylces off-road,” said Dallenbach, who will be inducted in Pickerington, Ohio. “The Colorado 500 started with two of us, then nine of us, then 38 of us, and on and on.”The Colorado 500 is not a race, but more of a way for a motorist to care for the land. “It never seems to get old with the riders,” said Dallenbach. “The combination of the Colorado rockies and the environment that we’re able to come into, Ouray and Crested butte and places like that, it’s priceless.”In 1976, the ride was only nine people, many of whom were big names in the racing world, such as Bobby and Al Unser. With all of Wally Sr.’s connections to racing, the first few years were mostly industry insiders and racers who wanted to come out and ride off-road for a week in the summer or early fall. As in the beginning, the event has always been passed along by word of mouth and it continues to be by invitation only. With very few exceptions, a rookie has to be invited by someone who has already done the Colorado 500. “The fact that it’s invitational keeps the caliber of people at its best,” said Dallenbach. “The various people who have been on the ride would fill a book. Anyway, it turned into one of the most cherished rides there is.”

As more people joined on to do the rides, the event began to take on a life of its own. Two other rides have spawned out of the Colorado 500, a sister event designed to allow wives and girlfriends to bond, as well as a Colorado 500 Road Bike Ride that takes place earlier in the summer. Perhaps more importantly, a major charity emerged.Now the ride is called the Colorado 500 Charity Invitational Motorcycle Ride. It has donated more than $1 million since 1981, when the philanthropy side of the ride first began. “This year we gave our 14th $10,000 scholarship and gave three other scholarships with it,” said Dallenbach, referring to the 4-year $10,000 scholarship they have been awarding a Basalt High School student each year since 1993. “We give donations throughout the areas we go. Some of these towns are so small they don’t even have a budget for soccer or hockey uniforms. We become quite friendly with the towns for that reason.”Rather than getting involved nationally or internationally, the charity side of the Colorado 500 meets local needs, from mountain rescue and fire departments to public schools, helmet programs and youth organizations. One other side of the charity is the Colorado 500 legal defense fund, where $123,860 has been allocated to fight for motorized use on trails. Since 1999, the White River National Forest Travel Plan/Master Plan has been closing motorized use many of the trails the Colorado 500 used in the past. “The environmentalists would like to close every trail in the world and leave it to the butterflies,” said Dallenbach. “We’re not asking to open new areas. There has been a lot of stuff that has turned into wilderness all around us. So be it. There has to be a middle ground. Without the legal defense fund out there doing something about it, we probably couldn’t pull off the road to park.”The Colorado 500 has an environmental motto called “stay the trail,” which tries to keep riders focused on not going off trail. Further, they have stringent noise regulations on motorcycles that are in the ride.

For Wally Dallenbach Sr., however, the most important part of the ride is the people. “Once you’re on it, you get a real feel that people care for each other, for the environment, for the ride, for the image they create,” said Dallenbach. “It becomes something that people just pick up on. We have these riders who give checks along the way. Even if you’re a rookie it doesn’t take long to realize that people care for the event, people care for each other.”Dallenbach hasn’t ridden in the dirt bike ride in about 15 years, but he does go along in a chase truck and take part in festivities. And he’s still riding motorcycles, ever since he got hooked on that first one, at the age of 15, when he got a 1937 Indian Chief.”It was well used, an ex-police motorcycle,” said Dallenbach. “From there I went to a 1940 Harley, then into Triumphs and Hondas, the whole gamut. The first time I got on a motorcycle I never got off.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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