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Steve McQueen, a 1912 Indian, and Dan and Kathy Rouit's Clovis Flat Track Motorcycle Museum
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By Dean Kirkland
Published 2 weeks ago on
July 2, 2024
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(GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

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I recently had the privilege of spending an afternoon at the Dan and Kathy Rouit Clovis Flat Track Motorcycle Museum in Clovis, California. My guide for this journey through motorcycle racing history was Kenny Thiebaud, a longtime friend of the museum’s namesake and a wealth of knowledge about the sport.

Dean Kirkland Portrait

Dean Kirkland

Central Octane

As I pulled up to the unassuming building on a quiet Clovis street, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But as soon as Kenny opened the doors and I stepped inside, I knew I was in for something special. The museum is a treasure trove of flat track racing history, packed wall-to-wall with vintage motorcycles, memorabilia, and the tangible passion of those who lived and breathed this high-octane sport.

Kenny, a retired Harley-Davidson mechanic, greeted me with a warm smile and an enthusiasm that was contagious. “Let me tell you about Danny,” he said, his eyes lighting up as he began to recount the story of his friend and the museum’s founder, Dan Rouit.

As we walked through the museum, Kenny painted a vivid picture of the flat track racing scene in the 1970s. He pointed to a 1969 Bultaco, a Spanish-made dirt bike, and explained, “This is where it all started for Danny and me. We were just kids, really, when we got into racing.”

1912 Indian Board Track Racer Motorcyle
The acquisition of this 1912 Indian board track racer led to the start of the Dan and Kathy Rouit Clovis Flat Track Motorcycle Museum in 1978. (GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

A Friendship Born Racing at Chowchilla Fairgrounds

Kenny’s story of meeting Dan was like something out of a movie. “It was May 7th, 1972, at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds,” he recalled with remarkable precision. “My first race, probably Danny’s third or fourth. I showed up without a number on my bike, and Danny lent me some tape to make an ‘X’ for my number plate. That’s how we became friends.”

Visit the Museum: 309 West Rialto Ave Clovis, California 93612-4331 Call for open hours: 559-291-2242

As we moved through the museum, I was struck by the progression of the bikes. Kenny explained how the sport evolved, pointing out bikes without brakes from the 1960s, then showing how brake technology was introduced in the 1970s. “Can you imagine?” he chuckled. “Racing at those speeds with no brakes. It was a different time.”

But the heart of the museum, and of Kenny’s story, was Dan Rouit himself. As we stood in front of a pristine 650 Triumph, Kenny’s voice softened. “This was Danny’s favorite bike, the one he was racing when the accident happened.”

The accident Kenny referred to wasn’t on the race track as one might expect. In 1978, Dan fell from a cliff in Jose Basin while out hunting, resulting in a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. It was a turning point in Dan’s life, but as Kenny told it, it was also the catalyst for something extraordinary.

Steve McQueen and Dan Rouit talk flat track motorcycle racing
Movie star and racing enthusiast Steve McQueen, left, and Dan Rouit in 1978. (Clovis Flat Track Motorcycle Museum)

The 1912 Indian Steve McQueen Coveted But Didn’t Get

“Danny was always a collector at heart,” Kenny explained. “Even when he was in the hospital, he was thinking about motorcycles.” He recounted how Dan, while still in recovery, purchased a 1912 Indian board track racer for $3,800. “That bike over there,” Kenny pointed, “that’s where this whole museum really started.”

“Bob Stark, the seller, decided to let Danny have (the 1912 Indian). Steve (McQueen) even came to see who was getting the bike. Can you believe it?” — Kenny Thiebaud, Clovis Flat Track Motorcycle Museum

The story of that 1912 Indian included an unexpected cameo from Steve McQueen, who apparently also wanted the bike. “But Bob Stark, the seller, decided to let Danny have it,” Kenny said with a hint of pride. “Steve even came to see who was getting the bike. Can you believe it?”

As we continued our tour, it became clear that the museum was more than just a collection of motorcycles. It was a testament to Dan’s indomitable spirit and the community that rallied around him. Kenny showed me how the museum grew from a makeshift display in Dan’s house to the impressive collection it is today.

“Danny had this ramp built so he could get up to the second floor of his house in his wheelchair,” Kenny explained, describing the early days of the collection. “He just wanted a place to put his bikes and share them with people.”

The annual open house tradition, which began in 1992, was a turning point for the museum. “Danny sent out flyers, invited everyone to bring their bikes and have a hamburger,” Kenny reminisced. “It just grew from there. Pretty soon, we had racing legends showing up, donating bikes and memorabilia.”

As we walked, Kenny pointed out bikes donated by famous racers, jackets hanging from the ceiling, and walls covered in race posters and number plates. Each item seemed to have a story, and Kenny knew them all.

Grassroots Support for the Museum

What struck me most was the sense of community that permeated every aspect of the museum. Kenny described how people rallied around Dan’s vision, donating money, time, and artifacts to help build the collection. “Our goal was to get 100 people to send $200 a year,” he explained. “That gave us enough to keep it going, run the events, maybe buy a bike or two.”

Dan Rouit took a tragic accident and turned it into a legacy that continues to inspire and educate.

The museum expanded over the years, with new buildings added to house the growing collection. Kenny showed me how local construction workers, many of them racing enthusiasts, volunteered their time to help build the structures.

As our tour neared its end, we stood in the center of the main room, surrounded by decades of racing history. Kenny’s voice took on a reflective tone. “You know, Danny never complained about his accident. He was always looking forward, always thinking about what he could do next.”

The Dan and Kathy Rouit Clovis Flat Track Museum is more than just a collection of motorcycles. It’s a living tribute to the spirit of flat track racing, the resilience of the human spirit, and the power of community. Through Dan’s vision and the support of countless friends and racing enthusiasts, what started as a personal collection has become a vital archive of flat track racing history.

Kenny Thiebaud and a 1969 Bultaco flat track motorcycle
This 1969 Bultaco has a long flat track racing history. It was purchased from Wilson’s Motorcycles in downtown Fresno and taken to the track. (GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

Turning Tragedy Into Legacy

As I prepared to leave, Kenny said something that stuck with me. “I’m pretty sure this museum wouldn’t be here if Danny hadn’t had his accident,” he mused. “I hate to say it, but I think that’s true. It wouldn’t have come along like this.”

It’s a bittersweet thought, but one that underscores the unexpected paths our lives can take. Dan Rouit took a tragic accident and turned it into a legacy that continues to inspire and educate.

The Dan and Kathy Rouit Clovis Flat Track Museum is a hidden gem, not just for motorcycle enthusiasts, but for anyone who appreciates stories of human perseverance and community spirit. As I drove away from Clovis that afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the passion of people like Dan Rouit and Kenny Theabaud, who ensure that the rich history of flat track racing will be preserved for generations to come.

If you find yourself in Clovis, California, do yourself a favor and visit this remarkable museum. You’ll come away with more than just knowledge about motorcycles – you’ll be touched by a story of resilience, friendship, and the enduring spirit of flat track racing.

Kathy and Dan Rouit in the Clovis Flat Track Motorcycle Museum
Kathy Rouit shared a deep love of flat track bikes with her late husband Dan. (Clovis Motorcycle Museum)

About the Author

GV Wire Producer Dean Kirkland is the founder and director of Gas and Gears, an independent film production company that has produced numerous television series and feature films, including the award-winning documentary “Racing Through The Forest” (2014).

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