A small college town in Northern California’s Central Valley is home to one of BMW’s most famous vintage motorcycle racers – Ozzie Auer. Though now 76 years old, he continues to race very old, very fast BMW motorcycles at tracks all over the USA along with his son Ralph.
A VERY FAST PUGH?
Ozzie was born in Germany prior to World War II. He, and his wife Emmi (they have known each other since they were two years old) never owned a car in Germany, just motorcycles. His trade was that of an electrician, but he and Emmi followed motorcycle racing throughout Europe. Back then, as now, it was very difficult to get into the paddock area at the races. To get into the inner circle of motorcycle racing, Ozzie formed a racing team. He obtained a 125cc Pugh two stroke racing motorcycle. Ozzie would remove the passenger compartment of his side car, mount a rail, and along with Emmi on the back with a duffle bag and the Pugh next to him, travel to the various races. His reputation as an expert motorcycle racer and two-stroke mechanic spread quickly throughout racing circles in Europe.
GERMANY’S LOSS IS OUR GAIN
In 1961, Ozzie and Emmi moved to the New World to spend a few years with his sisters in Chico, California. It was not their intention to stay but rather to visit. He and Emmi spoke no English. Within weeks, he obtained a job as an electrician but was soon known as a top mechanic for both two-stroke motors and BMW motorcycles.
Ozzie began racing a Yamaha 125 two stroke, given to him by the local Yamaha dealer in Chico. He hooked a side car to it and, later, to a 350 Yamaha that he built himself. Next, he built a sidecar using a kit purchased from England and a 1965 Kawasaki Mk III, 3 cylinders two stroke motor. The Kawasaki was a “kneeler” with no seat for the pilot. His passengers were either his brother-in-law, Bob Cummings or his friend Walt Garnet. Son Ralph was too young.
Ozzie got into motocross dirt sidecar racing in California. He was followed by helicopter at Sears Point Raceway for the movie “On Any Sunday” but sadly his role did not survive the editing.
OZZIE’S BMW CENTER IN CHICO
Soon he was fixing the 4 or 5 BMW’s in Chico and purchased a new BMW R65 from the local Schwinn bicycle dealer. He insisted that the dealer delivers the motorcycle in the crate so that Ozzie could properly set it up. He also acquired 4 or 5 used BMWs. The closest legitimate BMW motorcycle dealer to Chico was a Honda/ BMW dealer located in Carmichael near Sacramento. The Honda dealer referred Ozzie to the BMW importer in Los Angeles and promised to close his BMW shop if Ozzie could obtain a franchise.
1977, Ozzie and Emmi wrote the largest check of their lives and opened their BMW dealership in Chico. At first, Ozzie continued as an electrician during the day and Emmi ran the dealership. would set up motorcycles and do maintenance and repairs at night. Today, they have a full-service shop with 7 employees. Their shop is not the usual modern, white coated mechanic, rug on the floor, stay in the front type of shop but rather an unusually customer-friendly store where you can actually speak with the mechanic who works on your motorcycle. Lillie, his lead salesperson, is as knowledgeable as any BMW salesperson and seems to instantly know what model BMW a new customer should purchase. Incredibly, Ozzie’s business card has his home telephone number on it in case a customer gets stranded on a Sunday or Monday.
As Ozzie worked on BMWs, he amassed a large inventory of older BMW parts, motors, transmissions, etc. Those were the motorcycles he knew best, and he had the knowledge to rebuild the older motors to produce more horsepower than the original race bikes from the factory. Among his secrets for creating very fast motors, at least those that he will admit, include smaller valves rather than larger valves for quicker mid-range, special US built alloy pistons, newer clutches that can handle slippage off the line, and custom built transmissions.
Currently races 4 motorcycles, all vintage 500cc custom bikes. Custom because he has built, rebuilt, fabricated and massaged almost all the vital parts. He will be racing all bikes next at Miller Raceway in Utah this October. The sidecar is a 1954 BMW 500cc RennSport factory bike with desmo valves. This model was only built during 195354 and only 23 motors were built. Ozzie purchased it in Germany about 4 years ago and now races it only in exhibition races, as it is too valuable to race competitively.
White number 467 bike is a rare 1939 R51 SS. It is one of only 17 built and, according to legend, was buried underground in Holland during World War II to keep it safe. This bike is fast and has won a number 1 plate 3 times. Both Ralph and Ozzie race it.
The yellow number 467 bike is a 1959 BMW R 50 sportsman custom racer. It is Ralph’s favorite bike as it is fast and handles well.
The faired bike is a 1960’s BMW R50 GP custom bike. The frame and fairing were purchased, and Ozzie built the motor. It has raced internationally and in the USA, often with Ozzie’s friend and German champion Willie Bertsch at the controls. When Ralph races it, he is usually number one or in the top 3.
THE SECRET TO WINNING
As with most motorcycle racers, Ozzie’s secret to winning has to do with superstition. At the start of each race (and any time he mounts a motorcycle) he puts his left glove on first, always.