The King Of Steeplechase: Skip Van Leeuwen

Skip Van Leeuwen was considered the best TT Steeplechase rider in AMA history, and over his highly successful career as a Triumph rider won multiple AMA nationals and numerous West Coast regional championship titles.

Van Leeuwen was born in Iowa in 1938, but his family moved to Los Angeles in 1940. In high school, Van Leeuwen met and befriended Dick Hammer, who would himself go on to become a legendary racer and fellow AMA Hall of Famer. The two were both Triumph riders, and would watch motorcycle races at the local tracks, speedways, and on the nearby island of Catalina. They would be so excited after watching the races that they would jump on their bikes and race all over town for the rest of the night.

After high school, Van Leeuwen and Hammer bought Triumph 650s and started entering into races at the local speedways. Initially, Van Leeuwen was content to just watch the races and admire his heroes such as Joe Leonard, George Everett, Dick Dorresteyn, and Dick Mann. But after Hammer competed in the Catalina Grand Prix and did well, Van Leeuwen figured that if he could do it, they could both do it.

They then bought Triumph Cubs from Ed Kretz’s Hollywood dealership and started honing their skills in the weekly AMA District 37 scrambles races.

It didn’t take long until Van Leeuwen was good enough to start competing in Expert races. He originally told his mother that racing was just a temporary thing he did for fun and that he would quit once he made it to the Expert ranks, but when he entered into his first Expert race and lined up with a number of the heroes he grew up admiring, and then won against them, there was no turning back.

Van Leeuwen then received sponsorship from Triumph and went pro in 1962.

Initially, he did very well regionally, but wasn’t met with the same success at the national level. Between 1967 and 1969, Van Leeuwen learned to temper his thirst for speed with control and began to win more regularly. However, he typically didn’t chase after the national series, but decided to compete primarily around the local Southern California tracks. He never excelled at flat track races, and after the deaths of several major professional racers including George Everett, he decided to focus primarily on TT races.

In 1967, Van Leeuwen won his first AMA national: the Ascot TT at the legendary Ascot Park, his local track.

In 1968, Van Leeuwen won the Castle Rock TT and defended his Ascot TT title. In 1969, he won the TT at the Houston Astrodome before 47,000 fans. He considered this the biggest thrill of his career.

Van Leeuwen retired from racing in 1972 to pursue his business interests. Van Leeuwen Enterprises grew from using his garage as the company warehouse to becoming one of the biggest motorcycle accessory companies in the country.

Van Leeuwen is still involved in motorcycling by promoting racers and races, and was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1999.