On Father’s Day, 1988, Lee Block was entering the second lap in a race at Loudon riding a Honda VF Interceptor when he experienced the worst crash of his professional career. He broke both wrists, a leg and had several other injuries.
He went home a few days later and once he was out of the casts, he went through months of physical therapy. At one point, his girlfriend Michelle, who would go on to become his wife, had to do everything for him…and we mean everything. That’s some serious love and dedication!
Some people might give up racing after that, maybe even more. Others keep going and get more determined. Count Lee among the latter.
The crash happened three years into Lee’s racing career. He’d go on to race three more years and ride in over 150 races before putting his racing gear away. All except the gloves – he still has the pair he wore when he crashed.
“When my first daughter was born in ‘91, I decided to quit racing. I didn’t want her to grow up not knowing who her father was. But I never stopped riding motorcycles.”
Lee’s dad might be the one you could point to as having started it all. When Lee was 10, Mr. Block bought Lee a Rupp mini-bike. Little did Lee’s dad know what kind of future that little Rupp would create for his son. But as a rider himself, he probably didn’t think about.
A dirt track where Lee and his buddies had raced each other on their banana-seated bikes became the perfect place to bomb around on the Rupp. A year later, the mini-bike was replaced by a small Enduro, and Lee never looked back. What’s crazy is Lee and the guy who had that bike as a kid are still friends to this day.
But none of that bombing around in the dirt would lead to an immediate career in racing. Lee went to college, majored in air transportation management, then found himself working at a Honda motorcycle dealer in Connecticut. This was the time when the Honda Interceptor was out and was a favorite track racer.
“That was such a cool bike and parts were relatively cheap. So I decided to set up a business selling these spare parts. I was initially working out of my mom’s garage, and the business was called Connecticut Cycleworks. I eventually got a vendors license and began selling and installing parts in the paddocks at Loudon Raceway (now New Hampshire Motor Speedway).”
What made it work is that Lee focused on supplying the guys racing in the stock class. Parts were both easy to come by and install, so selling and installing at the various tracks where this class raced was relatively simple.
Sometime in 1985, Lee made his way out of the paddock and onto the track. Thus would begin his racing career, which took him to most of the major venues on the East Coast including Talladega, Daytona, Road Atlanta, and Bridgehampton in Rhode Island.
At one point, he was ranked in the top 10 at Loudon’s AMRR racing organization, which included piloting the Honda VF 500 Interceptor, and later a Honda 600 Hurricane and a 500 Superbike. The Hurricane is what he was riding when he crashed in ’88.
A lot has changed in racing since the 80s. Classes have come and gone. The technology in the bikes is far more advanced; so is the gear. And racers are pushing themselves and the bikes in ways they really couldn’t 30 years ago. Does Lee miss it?
“I was always kind of scared when I raced. It was definitely exhilarating, and I really loved the faster tracks. Other than Loudon, Daytona and Bridgehampton were probably my favorite. But I often thought about what would happen if I crashed. When I had my accident, it was a big wake up call that took me three more years to answer.”
When Lee left racing he went back to running Connecticut Cycleworks about three more years, followed by a stint at a sportswear company, then Fox Racing. Both jobs must have shown him he had an affinity for everything from marketing to sales to the ever-exciting world of inventory management and supply chain operations. Not nearly the adrenalin rush of dragging a knee on asphalt, but the guy had a growing family to support!
After a few additional positions at companies related and unrelated to motorcycling, Lee found himself in 2010 as head of operations for Element Case, Inc. This is the company that introduced the Vapor Case for the iPhone that was current at the time, and still makes some pretty interesting cases for the current models.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this he also had a dirt bike rental company called Monterey Motorcycle Rental Company, and he started building quite a stable of bikes that now includes the following:
- ’97 Honda Z50
- ’04 TTR 125 (Sarah’s)
- ’08 WR250F
- ’00 XR650L
- ’75 CB400F
- ’83 VF750F
- ’86 SRX600
- ’97 TZ250 GP bike
- ’02 GS1150
- ’13 CBR300 RR (former Ari Henning championship/lap record bike)
Life, according to Lee, was pretty good. Then it took a slow, but ugly, sweeping turn.
“In 2012, Michelle was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was commuting from Gilroy to Redwood City (California), which was about 3 to 4 hours or more a day. I wanted and needed to spend more time with her.”
It didn’t help that Lee’s mom had passed away a year earlier, and by this point Lee and Michelle had been married for 26 years and known each other for 35. This was the woman who took care of him after he took that crash at Loudon, and they had two daughters entering early adulthood. That Bay Area traffic was the last thing Lee needed to deal with.
So Lee came upon an opportunity to meet with the folks at Roadrider who was the U.S. importer for RacerGloves out of Austria. They introduced him to the parent company and he took it from there.
Lee opened up the RacerGloves USA office a few minutes from his home, and put all of that prior marketing, merchandising, sales and related experience to work expanding the company’s presence in the U.S. He built the backend of the website, focused on just carrying the company’s premium line of products, and came at the product line from the standpoint of the rider. But when he turned on the site…nothing happened.
“It was a couple of months before any significant traffic started coming to the site and orders started coming in. I’d just sit there waiting for something to happen. We eventually did okay that first year, and this year is off to the best start yet. It’s off the hook. But those first few months were tough.”
Meanwhile, Lee’s wife continued to fight cancer, but she eventually succumbed last year. Anyone who’s lost a loved one or friend to this messed up disease can relate to how Lee must have felt. He no doubt has had his moments, but rather than dwell on his loss, he seems to be circumspect about the outcome.
“We had a great life together and I’m glad I made the decision to be able to spend the time with her.”
Since Michelle’s death, Lee fills up his days with plans on how to expand his business and what new lines to add, hitting a track day once a month when he can, and thinking of the future. He and his daughter Sarah ride together on occasion. His other daughter Lauren is more into bicycles.
Given his background and the varied events that have made up his life, it seems appropriate to ask Lee what, if anything, racing has taught him. His answer has none of the requisite ideas of freedom, wind in the hair, go your own way, but they fit a man who believes he now has more at stake.
“It taught me discipline, the ability to fix things, and responsibility. I know the consequences of going too fast, so I don’t have to do the crazy stuff any more. I’m far more about self-preservation and good thinking.”
As far as what Lee’s riding future looks like, his favorite bike is that ’02 GS 1150 sitting with the others in his garage, and his dream is to ride something like it across China. That’s a long way from that race track in Loudon, New Hampshire, but patience seems to be something else Lee has probably learned. Eventually, he’ll make that trip and it will somehow fit just fine with the life he’s led so far.