American Speedway  

In Memory
R. I. P.

Ken Maely
Ken and Hans Nielsen at practice for the World Team Cup Final in Long Beach.
Photo by Scott Daloisio

Ken Maely

1925 - October 9, 2003

(Below is from the AMA Hall of Fame)

Ken Maely, the "Shoe Man," is best known for making steel shoes for almost all of the top AMA Grand National and world championship speedway competitors from the 1950s to present. Maely's steel shoes are famous for fine craftsmanship and durability. Some veteran riders have worn the same Maely-designed shoe for nearly 30 years.

A former racer, Maely was much more than just the best-known steel shoemaker in the country. He also ran a flat-track training facility in Southern California and designed engines that are used in Chinese scooters and motorcycles. On his ranch, he also grew Oriental vegetables used in Oriental restaurants and groceries across the country and raised prized race horses.

Maely was born in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin to a racing household. His father was a farmer and motorcycle racer during the 1920 and '30s. After the crop was planted in the spring, Maely's dad would head off for the fair circuit, racing all summer at tracks across the Midwest.

As a young boy, Maely often traveled with his dad to the races. He remembers his father donning a canvas helmet before heading out to the track. The racing machines Maely's father owned naturally attracted boys of the farm community to the Maelys' home. At the age of 10, the temptation became too great for Maely and, in front of an enthusiastic audience of his buddies, he began riding his dad's race bike around the farm fields on Saturdays when his dad would go into town.

In the late 1930s, Maely, like his father, began racing the fair circuit during the summer months. After World War II, Maely moved to California and took up speedway racing and got the opportunity to compete all over the world in team and individual speedway racing competitions. Maely recalls with great fondness his days of racing with speedway greats such as Wilbur "Lammy" Lamoreaux and the Milne brothers, Jack and Cordy.

It was during this time that Maely began making steel shoes for himself. Like most other dirt track racers of the time, Maely used the end of automobile bumpers purchased from junkyards for 50 cents. The problems with the bumper steel shoes were that they were made out of soft steel and would wear out in only a couple of weeks of racing, not to mention that they weighed a hefty eight pounds. Maely fashioned his steel shoes from band saw blades and the result was a lighter and more durable shoe.

"Other riders would borrow my steel shoe and I practically had to fight them to get it back," Maely recalled. He started making the special shoes for friends and, through word of mouth, Maely's shoes became highly sought-after items. In 1951, Harley-Davidson approached Maely about making steel shoes for its factory team members and, in a matter of a few short years, Maely's hobby had become a thriving business. Maely proudly pointed out that every AMA Grand national champion since 1952 had worn his steel shoes, as well as a dozen or so world speedway champs. Three generations of dirt track and speedway riders have worn Maely's shoes. Over the years Maely, refined his shoe-making process by using rare metals and a special tempering process.

Maely retired from racing after 1950, but for a brief return to speedway racing in the early '60s. He turned his attention to modifying speedway racing bikes. This eventually led to building speedway frames and, ultimately, entire bikes. His engine-building skills led to a Chinese manufacturer approaching Maely about building engines for its motorbikes. Maely-designed engines are produced in various displacements for the domestic Chinese market in the hundreds of thousands. Maely frequently traveled to China to oversee the production of these motorcycles and scooters. He met his wife, Rose, in China (she managed one of the manufacturing plants) and the couple settled on a ranch in Corona, California, where they raised a niece from China.

When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, Maely, nearing 80, was still as active as ever making steel shoes every day, overseeing the ranch and running his training facility. Many of the top dirt track, speedway and road racing elite from all over the world trained at Maely's facility. Maely spoke fluently in five languages and riders from such diverse countries as Japan, England, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Spain trained at his ranch. Over the years, he also served a valued advisor to many of the top racers.

(October 9, 2003)
Sad news friends, Ken Maely passed away this afternoon. We have lost a legend and a dear friend to all.
Dave Galvin #10

(October 9, 2003)
This sad news will put a dark cloud over the Nationals this Saturday. I am very proud to have known this man who helped so many Speedway riders around the world and was a friend to so many youth riders. A moment of silence in Ken's memory would be very appropriate Sat night.

(October 9, 2003)
Its a very sad day in California, USA, Ken Maely a steel shoe Specialist and track specialist, friend, former racer and legend Passed away today. Anyone who has ever raced anything on two wheels in the USA knew who Ken Maely was. All the current and former speedway riders and flat track riders have all grown up on the Maely's Ranch. I am very thankful for the time that my family spent with Ken. He was truly a great person.
May God bless Ken and his family
Gary Gomez
Hesperia, CA

(October 9, 2003)
Hello fans, Yes it is truly a sad day. My thoughts and prayers are with Ken's family and friends.
Peace, Gene the Machine

(October 9, 2003)
We went down to Ken's ranch to speed a speedway weekend last year. He was very generous to my boy's (RJ and Jesse) the whole weekend. He hung around, watched video's in the van with my wife ( at least that's what he said he was doing...LOL) and was the best story teller! We spent a great weekend and I made it a point to take a "family" picture for our memories. I have that picture prominently displayed with all our other wall photos. He will be missed by our family. SoCal'ers were lucky to be able to see and meet him a lot. Our deepest sympathies to his family and to all who's lives he touched.
Rudy, Kathy, RJ and Jesse
Northern California

(October 9, 2003)
We will miss you.
Dylan and DeWayne
Hope you get a soft seat on your new tractor.

(October 9, 2003)
When my boy was 3 years old, I took him to the cemetery to see my parents resting site... On the way home he told me my parents weren't really dead. I assured him that they were, but he stated to me...." that they really aren't dead because we still remember them, and they are in our heart forever"
Truer words were never spoken.......
Ken, I only knew you for a short time, but your true love for watching the young ones grow up was obvious to everyone. Thanks for sharing your ranch to so many for so long.
I hope some of you read a post a while back suggesting we all send get well cards to Ken.... I'm sure he had a hoot reading them....
To the Maely Family, Thank you for everything, and take comfort in knowing how many lives Ken touched......
Bob Higginson

(October 9, 2003)
He made my first "hot Shoe" and built a carburetor for me in the 80's...bless his heart and those hearts he touched..rem: the "maely motor" ?...as well
..love from Jeff, Sterling, and Cary"

(October 9, 2003)
As we all reflect on the memories we've shared at Maely's Ranch...
From numerous practice days, to the junior training schools and the special events-In the heat of the summer to the cold/wet/muddy winters... Thanks Ken for the memories! Thanks for all your hard work from track preparations to opening your house and letting us all swim in the pool after long hard days on the track... Thanks for your dedication and devotion to speedway! We have you to thank for the many Champs that have come from your track!!!
Rest in peace Ken...
Our thoughts and prayers are with your family...
The Hancocks

(October 9, 2003)
Very sad news I'm so glad I stopped by on Sunday and got to chat with him and get a mini-tour.
Malcolm Roe

(October 10, 2003)
As part of the Speedway family for over 20 years, I am extremely sad to read the news of Ken's passing. Ken has been one of the most influential in my life, and the lessons we have all learned from him will go with us all our lives.
My parents made me spend my summers at his ranch when I was 12 and 13. Talk about hard work, and lessons learned the hard way. He made me his little slave boy until 2pm everyday, doing the most miserable jobs a 12 year old can imagine. But, after 2, I got his speedway track all by myself until my parents picked me up at 5:30 or so. I must have done a million laps on that track! (It was much deeper in the canyon then.) Now, I realize the lessons Ken taught me out there. That hard work would always be rewarded. That being a man was far more than just being male.
He also showed me about compassion. He would do anything for people as long as he knew they appreciated it. Now, I realize how much I appreciate all the things he has done for me.
If there is a heaven, Ken's is a carbon copy of his ranch. And you can bet that he is up there with his overalls on right now. I think he appreciates our sympathy, but would want us to keep his legacy of speedway and dirt track alive, and not spend too much time not working on it's future.
Thanks Maely......... I will never forget, and you will never be replaced!

Kelcey Gordon

(October 10, 2003)
Beautiful tribute Kelcey, you really hit a home run with that one. I only met Ken a couple of times at The Ranch in the late 70's, but the fact that his involvement hadn't waned and, in fact, increased over the past 25 years is truly a testament to his dedication and involvement with the sport... especially the juniors.
Steve Graham

(October 10, 2003)
I regret that I waited until this past year to make it out to Maely's ranch and finally meet Ken on his own ground. I had seen Ken at the races over the years but never got to know him.
Howie took me to Maely's Ranch to shoot some video of Hamill's Youth School. When I met Ken, he was sitting on his dirt bike. Midway through the introduction his hat-phone rang and he took a call. Next thing I know, he gives the bike's starter a kick and he's off, full-blast, wheelying up the hill to his shop. Since I can't hear worth a damn, Howie explains the call was apparently from a guy in Australia, that had lost or damaged his hot-shoe and asked if Ken could make and ship a replacement right away as the guy had a big meet in a couple of days. That's the kind of guy Ken was, he'll drop everything to help a racer. Even one on the other side of the planet.
I did eventually get to spend a little time getting to know Ken and it was enough to know we have lost a big person. The guy lived a big life. He had more energy than the juniors and didn't know how to goof off. Talk a bout a work ethic! The doctor told him complete rest, so he jumped right back on his bulldozer. That's Ken. His stick-to-itiveness and vision should be inspirational to us all. Generous, loving, responsible, what a guy.
I bet Ken's already moving dirt around, up there.
I know people are sad to lose Ken, I am too. But I have to say this; I bet Ken would hate for his passing to put a damper on the CM Nats!He'll want you all to be enjoying every minute of Costa Mesa's finest hour of the season.
I'm just going to pretend that Ken's in the stands with us as usual, having a great time, enjoying the sport that brings all of our lives together.
More beer! And more guys like Ken Maely!
Cheers, Andy

(October 10, 2003)
I was informed of Ken's passing late last night while talking to Josh Larsen. I am always sad to hear of anyone passing away that I have known but upon hearing this I had a slightly different feeling then usual that is very hard to describe. I was absolutely crushed and it was almost as if time just stood still for a few moments. Kelcey Gordon's words really hit the spot and I was moved by them. I had the pleasure of going to Ken's quite a few times with Kelcey and it was obvious that the two of them shared a unique relationship. There is only a handful of us from the East Coast that have ever had the honor to meet Ken, and it is a huge shame because there was so much to learn from him. I truly wish that everyone could see Speedway the way that Ken did and more importantly life the way he did! Ken's ranch was Speedway heaven and history, something which will never be duplicated!! I was so very privileged to have been there many times and to be able to sit in his shop and talk to him. Several nights Kelcey and I sat on his front porch with him for what seemed like hours listening to stories. I was able to ride on both the old track and new track and amongst my companions on many trips there were people such as Josh Larsen, Billy Hamill, Chris Manchester, Bobby Schwartz, Bill Cody, Bobby Cody, Dukie Ermolenko, Ryan Fisher, Ryan Evans, Sledge Saunders, etc. . Anyone who was anyone in Speedway went to Maely's and was never too old to not go to Maely's. One story I will never forget.... In 1997 I was playing pro hockey for the San Antonio Dragons in the IHL and we had a road trip to Long Beach with a day off the first day we arrived. At the time I was property of the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL....well Bobby Schwartz picked me up at the airport and we headed out to Maely's to do some riding. Bobby loaned me one of his Weslakes which had some gearing on it which probably could have used another couple teeth on it for me at the time and I was drifting a bit wide towards the end as I got tired. One of the last times out I touched the wall and wrenched my foot pretty good under the footpeg. As I was coming off the track Ken came down the hill kind of frantically and informed me that Bill Cody just called and that my Dad and everyone were trying to get a hold of me. I asked Ken what was wrong and he told me that I had just been traded to The Tampa Bay Lightning and I need to get to the airport in a hurry because I had to play in Tampa against Wayne Gretzky and The NY Rangers the next night...I told the trainer that my foot was swelled because I got hit with a slapshot!!! So it was Ken who told me of one of the biggest changes in my life! Ken would always give me cucumbers before I left the ranch as I am sure he offered everybody else. It wasn't just about Racing though with Ken, he was truly one of the most interesting people you could ever meet. I thank god that I was able, after many failed attempts to talk Ken into selling me one of his famed Maely bikes which is now a proud part of my collection! Although many of you know Ken better the I did, I still feel like I lost a good friend. I think Speedway has lost one of it's best friends ever! It is weird, I think back to yesterday about the time that Ken took his last breath, and I was riding Speedway at my track in Owego with some of my good mates on what was a perfectly prepared track on what might have been the most glorious sunny fall day we have had in NY in years, just enjoying our great sport and more importantly, enjoying life! Seemed to be the most fitting tribute to Ken Maely I could think of. Speedway has lost several good friends this year in Ken, George Wenn, Patrick Ahlund and others. I know what they would want us to do and I know what I will do... I am going to try harder then ever to see to it that this great sport of ours never dies. We will miss you forever Ken Maely, thanks for the memories and lessons!
Your friend, Jason Bonsignore

(October 12, 2003)
First, I would like to say Godspeed to our dear friend Ken. You have given more to the sport of Speedway than most ever have. Your love for kids undeniably meant the world to all of us. You loved and gave us so much when we were all kids. Once we had kids of our own, there was another generation who reaped the reward of the Maely influence. Now they will tell their kids about what we will forever know and love as a legend. We love you our dear friend. Godspeed Ken. Bless all the tracks in heaven because your angel has arrived!!!!!
((((((Kelcey))))))) excellent tribute and not one of us who knew Ken feels any differently.
Love, Kymber

(October 12, 2003)
I first met Ken Maely over 30 years ago... 1972 I believe. I was at Costa Mesa to give Speedway a first try. Ken spotted me in line to go out for my race and muttered something like "where's your shoe - boy" (being a motocross guy I didn't know about skid shoes yet). He pulled me over to his van and quickly grabbed a steel shoe for me to use. At the end of the night I tried to give it back to him... but he suggested that I had best keep it and practice a little.
Through the years I saw Ken a few times, but when my kid started riding Speedway six years ago we once again became regulars at "the ranch". It was kind of like going home after being away for a long time. We were there just Friday a week ago for J.T.'s (my son) first ride on a 500. Ken observed and in that special way he had said "looks good" and sealed the deal with a big smile. He made J.T. a new skid shoe that night and presented it to us the next morning. "This will last him a while" he said - as if he knew he wouldn't be around to make another one. He was in good spirits and full of stories... the same old Ken. I just can't believe that less than a week later we have lost him. It has been our good fortune to have known Ken Maely. In our sport where larger-than-life characters seem commonplace - he is simply irreplaceable. Godspeed Ken.
Tom Mabry
Napa, California

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