Welcome to the second installment of “Let’s Have a Motorcycle Conversation.” Today I am going to be talking with the legendary Lewis “The Godfather” Clark of Rocky Mount and yes there will a part of this conversation where we will talk about how he got that name. Lewis is an avid motorcyclist but he is also heavily involved in the motorcycle community in not only the eastern part of North Carolina, but he also ventures out into Virginia and South Carolina to organize and sponsor motorcycle events. I first met Lewis several years ago when we were both involved with Ray Price Capital City Bikefest. I really appreciate everything that Lewis has done for me because he is always willing to pass out my motorcycle towels for which I am very grateful.
Gary: Hey, Lewis. How are you doing?
Lewis: Fine, Gary. How are you today?
Gary: Good. So let me start out. Do you remember the first time that you ever drove a motorcycle?
Lewis: Yes, Gary. The first time I ever drove a motorcycle, my brother-in-law Randy bought a 350 Kawasaki dirt and street bike and he realized it was too small for him. He went out a couple weeks later and bought a 750. Well, at that same time we had a mini bike that his son and I would share and ride it. One Saturday, Randy and I were about to ride and he said no you are not going to ride that mini-bike. I thought I had done something but I couldn’t think of what I had done wrong. He pulled out the 350 and said this is yours. It was an old kick start. I couldn’t even kick start it at the time. I was probably around 11 years old and toes just did touch the ground. I’m 57 now so that tells you I’ve been riding for a long time. That was my first experience on a real motorcycle … a Kawasaki 350 1969 model dirt and street.
Gary: That is a pretty big bike for an 11 year old because I remember being about that age and riding a Honda 70 and my neighbor’s Suzuki 90 and those seemed about right. I can’t imagine being on a 350 at 11 years old.
Lewis: Yeah my feet couldn’t touch the ground. Just my tip toes. I rode around the house the first year for probably about 2 or 3 months before he told me I could change gears. That’s what I learned on.
Gary: So is that when you got hooked on riding or was it before that or after that?
Lewis: Yeah that’s when I got hooked. For me it’s a family thing. I ride, my brother-in-law, my nephew, cousins. It’s just a family tradition. We all have motorcycles. A lot of us have them.
Gary: So you were given that bike. Do you remember the first motorcycle you ever bought on your own?
Lewis: Yes. I bought a … at that time I guess I was stuck on Kawasaki. I bought a 1973 Z1. That’s the first year they ever allowed that bike to come in the United States, a 900 Kawasaki. In fact, Gary, I still have the bike.
Gary: How old were you?
Lewis: I was 23 years old and I still have the bike. That was the first bike I ever spent my money on. I am restoring it now. It’s in great shape and the best bike I’ve ever had.
Gary: Do you remember how much it costed?
Gary: (Laughing) I think that’ll buy you a set of pipes these days.
Lewis: That might not buy pipes.
Gary: What’s the most challenging ride that you’ve ever been on?
Lewis: You know I think the most challenging ride was on that particular bike because I would ride from Virginia to Washington, D.C. and Maryland. At that time, Maryland had a no helmet law and this was a 73 model. There were no comforts. I got caught in the rain on that bike one weekend. It was a short ride. It was only about 4 hours, but I ran into a lot a lot of rain getting into Maryland, I then missed the turn and ended up going all the way around the beltway and so I’m in rush hour traffic on a motorcycle with no helmet on in the rain. So, to me that was probably the most challenging ride I’ve ever had. Fun but it was challenging.
Gary: What’s the last motorcycle you purchased and why do you like it?
Lewis: I have a ‘14 Victory and I know all the Harley fans are booing right now. But I’ve had 2 Victories and they’re bullet proof. I have had no issues, no oil leaks, no major issues, maintenance is cheaper, strong bike. I just enjoy the ride.
Gary: I know that you are heavily involved with the motorcycle community in terms of sponsoring events or even heading them up. When and how did that come to be.
Lewis: Well in 2009 I was approached to help in Myrtle Beach for the Memorial Day Weekend Bikefest. It is really called the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, but people have given it other names like Black Bikeweek and things of that nature which really don’t fit because the event is for everybody. But, the event was horrible and when I mean horrible, that particular promoter was charging people to come into venue and so vendors didn’t make money. It was just a horrible event and I said to my wife … this has got to change. She looked at me in her normal tone and said so you’re the one to change it right? And it took me 3 months to meet with the town of Atlantic Beach … their town manager and we met for really a full day. We talked about bike week and I explained, I’ve never done this before in my life, but I am a biker and I know what bikers like to see. He said, well, what is that? I said bikers want to talk to people who work on bikes, the custom builders. They want to talk to the manufacturers and they want to see entertainment around bikes, stunt shows, things of that nature. So in 2010, I became the Atlantic Beach Bikefest coordinator and that was for 2010 and 2011. It went off … it was probably the largest bikefest they’ve ever had especially in 2011 and we are talking 300,000+. We were able to get all the major manufacturers … Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, BMW, they were all represented and then we were able to bring in Icon and they did some fantastic stunt shows and we went from early afternoon until 1:00 in the morning … it was truly a bikefest. Then, I was able to connect with Kris Weiss (marketing and promotions manager) at Ray Price Harley-Davidson. Let me back up just a second. Harley, because of my work with Atlantic Beach, did a feature in their Iron Elite about me and my work with Atlantic Beach Bikefest. After that, I connected with Kris Weiss and Ray Price Capital City Bikefest, which is a great event but not a lot of, for lack of a better word, Urban or African American riders were attending. Once we got involved it totally changed and helped that event to grow to what it was a few years ago. So, I won’t say I had any plans to do any of this. It just kind of fell in my lap and I ran with it.
Gary: Why don’t you remind the audience out there what is Iron Elite?
Lewis: Iron Elite was Harley’s tribute to African American riders. They wanted to showcase different people and I just happened to be one of those because again I’ve been riding forever even though I feel like I’m young 57. I tell anybody really quick if you stop me from riding a motorcycle just dig my grave because that is something I love doing.
Gary: At some point in time you got the name Godfather. Tell us how that came about.
Lewis: About 18 years ago there was a club in Wilson called Queens of Chrome. They are still in existence. All female club. They were having an event, and it seemed like everything they tried to do something was wrong – a generator wouldn’t work – this or that wasn’t working. They were having a hard time. So I just walked over and I made a few suggestions and they took those suggestions and things started to come back into place. The President said we are going to call you Godfather because you just walked in and saved the day. That’s how I got the name the Godfather and I have worn that ever since.
Gary: I know that you have put together the Godfather’s Motorcycle Stunt Show. When and how did that come about?
Lewis: It came about because I was really disheartened. I was dealing with stunt shows and I was paying an absorbent amount of money upwards of $5,000.00 a weekend for a stunt show and I didn’t feel like I was getting bang for my buck. So several stunt riders who were out there got together. We sat down and I said I am going to create a stunt team and one young man in fact he rode for me at Bikefest in Atlantic Beach in 2010 and he and I have been together for the last 6 or 7 years and we try to bring on new and young and upcoming riders. In fact, in Myrtle Beach next year we are doing what we call a Godfather stunt competition, for lack of a better word right now. We are going to bring in some of the best amateurs from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia and let them compete for the top stunt rider in the area.
Gary: I know that you were recently made a member of the Street Soldiers Motorcycle Club out of Rocky Mount in Greenville. How did that feel?
Lewis: It was great. These guys we’ve been around each other for so long and when the word got out that I was possibly dying – which fortunately is no longer true, I have a new doctor and I’m doing great – they came to me and they said well, Godfather, we always talked about you being a Street Soldier. Now is as good time as any. So I was honored by that because they are such a good group of guys and they really are in tune to supporting each other and the community. I think a lot of clubs are getting away or have gotten away from that and it is just nice to see or be a part of something that is a little different from everybody else.
Gary: Is there some aspect of motorcycling or even the actual motorcycle themselves that you feel has drastically changed over the last couple of decades maybe.
Lewis: I truly think the manufacturers, and my pay grade is not high enough to do anything about it, but I truly think the manufacturers have lost touch with the consumer. The best advertisement for selling something is people being able to touch, feel and talk about it. I see corporate … the manufacturers, not reaching the consumers that I think will buy their motorcycles. I think it is unfortunate. I’ll give you an example of why it works. We were in Daytona and my cousin looked at me and he said, “Let’s go to Harley and test ride what they’ve got.” He said if I test ride one, I’m going to buy it. We did. We test rode all the Street Glides, Electra Glides. We test rode just about everything they had and a year later he bought a Street Glide. So, you know, I think the manufacturers have lost touch and I know budget and everything else but I think they need to better pick where they are going and the consumers that they are going to. I will give you another example of how it works in their favor … Camtech is one of my sponsors and vendors at some of the events I do. Two years in a row Camtech sold motorcycles that were worth over $30,000.00 to individuals at the event. That is well worth going to. You spend roughly $1,000 for your vendor spot and then you sell a $30,000.00 motorcycle. That’s not a bad day. But my thing is I would just like to see the manufacturers do more to be in places like Bike Week and things like that. I would love to see them do more.
Gary: So, somebody from Rocky Mount comes up to you interested in riding. Here is your chance to convince them to look into actually doing it. What would you say?
Lewis: Well first I would inquire had they ridden before. If they haven’t I would suggest the class whether at the community college or at the Harley dealership … just taking the class. Then I would also try to help them … it’s funny you asked that. One of my colleagues went with me to several events in 2019 and was so excited with being around motorcycles. He actually went through the class as I had suggested and bought his first motorcycle about a month ago. He went to a dealership and they want you to buy something small. I advised him because of his size to get something a little bigger and he’s in love with it. He’s in love with it and we get together and ride periodically. He’s doing very well and so my encouragement is to first take the class, then see if it is something you really want to do and then make the investment.
Gary: We’ve been talking about motorcycles and motorcycling throughout our interview. What is something outside of motorcycling that people might find surprising about you?
Lewis: Probably a couple of things. One I’m the minister of music at my church. Second, I am an avid rider of horses. That was my first love. Still is one of my loves. But my dad when we were going up he would break horses for other people and we had our own horses and I can ride a horse … my mother used to say I could ride a horse better than I could walk. So, those are 2 things that I don’t think people really know about me and I actually used to have quarter horses that ran in Louisiana and I had one horse that I bought that actually became a 2-time World Champion.
Gary: Wow. Well good things that I didn’t know. So I’m going to finish up here with what I am going to call the rapid fire round which is questions that will just be 1 or 2 word answers or a phrase. Alright here we go.
Gary: Favorite movie?
Lewis: Shawshank Redemption
Gary: Favorite band or singer?
Lewis: The Temptations.
Gary: Favorite child. I’m just kidding. We won’t do that one.
Lewis: (Laughing) I wasn’t going to answer that anyway.
Gary: Where is the furthest you’ve gone on a motorcycle – not necessarily on a day trip but the eventual destination?
Lewis: Little Rock, Arkansas.
Gary: Since it’s Christmas time, favorite Christmas song? It could be religious or secular.
Lewis: Silent Night, the Temptations.
Gary: Give me the name of a person you’ve met who people would know because they are famous or they might not know their name but you really respect them and in your world they are famous.
Lewis: There are so many. One of the guys I probably respect the most in the motorcycle community is Robert Fisher with Roaring Toyz. He owns Roaring Toyz. We are very close. Also Tim Southerland who owns Indian of Charlotte. We are very close as well.
Gary: Alright Lewis. I appreciate you spending some time with me today and I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
Lewis: Thank you, Gary.