One legend introduced Jonathan Dershimer to another.
Today, Dershimer, 46, is a champion sport-bike racer from Lemont, named in October as this year’s Western Eastern Roadracing Association’s national sportsman’s champion in the A Superbike Novice class.
Twenty-seven years ago, he looked over the paddock of the Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia as a complete novice. Only his mind was racing.
At 19, he had loved motorcycles since an early age. But he was curious. A need for more speed, a notion to join the world of road racers whizzing around at 180 mph, knees scraping the track on curves like a listing catamaran hull slicing through the ocean, had drawn him down from his hometown of State College.
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So there he was, eyes wide, a $15 ticket in his pocket, wanting to be more than a spectator but at a loss.
“There’s motorcycles everywhere, fellows in leather suits, number plates on bikes,” he recalled. “And it’s loud and fast, and everybody knows what they’re doing, and I felt intimidated just watching.”
Finally, he spied an older-looking man, clearly a respected elder from the way riders sought his advice. Dershimer, emboldened by the man’s jovial demeanor, popped a question of his own: How do I get started?
The figure turned out to be none other than Al Wilcox, a roadracing icon now in the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame. Once Wilcox learned Dershimer owned a Suzuki bike, he called out to a racer on the Suzuki factory team. Hey Kurt, Wilcox said, can you speak with this fella?
And that’s how Dershimer wound up hanging out with Kurt Hall, a multiple national champion, for the day — and got his racing career rolling.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Dershimer said. “He was just a guy that was willing to talk to me.”
Hundreds of races later, Dershimer owns a different Suzuki, a 2013 GSX-R 1000 cc Limited Edition model. This year, it served him well.
Back on the racing circuit after a 15-year hiatus, Dershimer won his championship Oct. 26 at WERA’s Grand National Final among the best riders in North America at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
His title, following four days of competition, capped a triumphant comeback from May to October.
By the end of the season, Dershimer was ranked No. 1 in the WERA Senior Heavyweight Novice, A Superbike Novice and A Supersport Novice divisions in two regions, for a total of six first-place regional championships. Logging more than 7,000 miles to 29 races in his combination motor home and mobile garage, he won 10, took second in six and placed third in seven.
Weeks afterward, despite a bruised leg from his final race, he couldn’t have been happier. His success, in light of his long break, surprised him.
“The gray matter retained the intrinsic knowledge of what to do,” he said. “The muscle memory was a complete other story.”
He also had to adjust to new technology: bikes, tires, gear, suits and tracks light-years from when he walked away from an adrenaline-charged but dangerous sport.
Fatherhood prompted his decision. His daughter, Shaundra Dershimer, was growing up, and he needed to be there for her — in one piece.
But she’s 22 now, on her own and living locally. That got his gears turning toward wheels spinning.
He went with a friend, a local racer, to Summit Point and soaked up the camaraderie, friendship and competitive spirit. In a nutshell, he said, “the bug hit me again.”
“I had been missing it, but for the longest time, my responsibilities were to raise my daughter and see that she was grown,” he said. “There’s absolute inherent risks involved with this, and they can be catastrophic for children. We do things differently as we become responsible adults.”
“Then we become irresponsible again when they move out of the house.”
Back into his passion he plunged, modifying his bike, juggling a weekend hobby with his job in the family business, Professional Equipment Centre. It’s a demanding life, both financially and physically, but he’s grateful for the second act, and appreciative of his family’s support.
“This is not a necessary thing to do in life,” he said. “This is something you get to do on the side.”
He’s the veteran now, set in motion long ago by stars like Wilcox and Hall, wiser from years of high-wire maneuvering on tracks but still as juiced by hurtling through space as the State College teenager crazy about bikes.
His end of the road isn’t coming up any time soon.
“I’m thankful. I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve fully dedicated and committed myself to this.”