Vol. 3, Issue 13
Person of the Week: “Where Are They Now”: Chip Solley
By Keith S. Kizer
Person of the Week “Where Are They Now”: Chip Solley
Born April 13, 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland, Donald C. Solley, Jr. grew up oddly enough outside of Solley, Maryland. When Donald “Chip” was in junior high he got his restricted permit and soon purchased a new 1966 Honda CL90 to help facilitate delivering newspapers on his paper route. He only had the bike six months before a friend wrecked it putting it out of commission but he managed to log sixteen thousand miles before its demise. One day while hanging out at a local motorcycle shop, Chip was looking at the dealer’s Italian trials bikes. The owner told Chip to take one for a spin. So he fired it up and crossed the street to an empty lot with dirt piles and concrete debris. Within 30-minutes Chip was doing some pretty crazy things with that motorcycle so the shop owner signed him to riding contract to help promote trials competition.
Chip started his official race career bracket racing at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida and was a top money winner prior to Dick Moroso purchasing the facility and changing the name to Moroso Motorsports Park. Soon Chip started racing in the Dragbike USA series and accumulated multiple records from 1976-1979 in the Ultra Stock class. Ultra Stock was basically a Pro Stock bike with a stock head and a heavier weight break. Chip’s record of 9.91 was eventually retired. During that period, Chip match raced his Ultra Stocker against Pro Stock legend Superbike Mike Keyte at PBIR and won. In 1980 Chip stepped up to Dragbike’s Pro Stock class and raced only part-time riding customers’ bikes and still won Rider of the Year.
The inaugural NMRA series event was in 1981 at Gainesville Raceway where Chip beat TV Terry Vance in the Pro Stock final on Chip’s birthday. Chip said it made Terry so mad he threw his helmet and he thinks TV may have said a cuss word too. Just to get to the final round he had to take out Bob Carpenter and Superbike Mike. It was Chip’s best birthday ever.
At the 1982 NHRA Gatornationals Chip rolled out of the trailer with a new bike and ran an 8.54 @ 154.10mph matching Terry Vance’s current NHRA record to the thousandths on both ends, which was thought to be untouchable. Chip said that was his favorite moment in all his years of racing because it was his first attempt to race an entire season. He secured a sponsor for the IDBA series and was only at the NHRA race to help fill the field and used it as a tuning session. Chip said no one except maybe George Bryce knew on that record pass that the bike didn’t shift into high gear. On the next run the chain broke and killed the motor.
Later that same year at the IDBA 1/8th mile event in Louisville, Kentucky Chip qualified a disappointing sixth due to Elmer Trett worrying him about how short the track was. Maybe it was short for Elmer but not so much for a Pro Stocker. By Sunday Chip got the mental block out of his head and figured how to get the bike down the track. In the process he managed to set and lower the 1/8th mile record with every pass. That became Chip’s second favorite all-time race that resulted in total domination. He said, “There is no feeling like that when preparation meets all expectations.” And he’s pretty sure the feat has not been repeated in almost thirty years until last season in ADRL when Ashley Owens ran under the current record and quicker each round lowering the record with each pass and winning the event. Chip remembers the IDBA record being 5.66 entering the event and 5.46 in the final. It seems his only disappointment in the season was running an 8.47 at Edgwater Park that IDBA never credited him for. Politics I’m sure. Either way, Chip went on to win the IDBA Pro Stock championship that year and was named Pro Rider of the Year.
After the IDBA season was complete, Chip went over to a local race at Palm Beach that November to help his crewmember Jeff Reel with his B-Gas bike. After a run Chip went to the top end on his pit bike to push Jeff back. As they were coming up the lightless return road another racer who had just lost a match race was racing back to the pits when he crashed into Chip at over 100mph. Chip was only wearing shorts, a t-shirt and deck shoes. He took the full impact of the 400lb GS1100. Not only did the return road not have lights, the track did not have an ambulance. Chip laid on the return road for nearly an hour before an ambulance arrived. Jeff suffered a broken ankle and was treated and released. The kid who caused the accident was in full leathers and helmet, landed in the grass barely banged up. I’m sure more emotional scars than physical. Without going into the gory details, Chip underwent over 100 hours of surgeries over the next several months. In the amount of time that it takes to conceive, grow, nurture and deliver a new human life, that is the amount of time Chip spent in the hospital. You might say by the time Chip saw the light of day he was a new man.
The crash at Palm Beach was a life changing experience for Chip. Like they say, that which does not kill you makes you stronger. Chip says that his doctor, Dr. Kantor, and his operating room nurse Kim along with the entire hospital staff took really good care of him in the nine months he spent in the hospital. During his stay he remembers Pizza John Mafaro and his wife Liz traveling down from New Jersey to see him. He said if you can imagine hearing Pizza John in the hospital halls proclaiming to everyone that Chip was in the mafia and they had no idea who he was. As embarrassing as it was, it really lifted Chip’s spirits. Chip said the recovery was a long hard road but definitely worth it. The biggest disappointment is he would never get to defend his title nor return to the sport for two years.
In 1988 Chip built a large shop with Jim Dodich running the mechanical end of the business and Louie Lubliner building chassis components, which brought everyone’s game way up. Chip also had just started work on a new Kawasaki Pro Stock bike. The new shop included a dyno and helped them find some serious horsepower. They had been working out some slider clutch issues for MTC and once they were solved the results found them testing much quicker than the current Pro Stock record. As they set out for the next IDBA race they were planning on setting the world on fire.
The event was at the new Memphis track and the first pass was intended to be a shake down run with a freshened up motor in preparation for the big weekend. On that first pass something weird happened as Chip shifted to 4th gear. The front wheel dropped causing the rear wheel to spin like a Top Fueler doing a burnout. The rear end came around and high-sided Chip to the ground as the bike hit the wall bars first and flipped high into the air and over the guardrail. Having one of those slow motion moments, Chip had the presence of mind to roll to his back and was able to avoid hitting the wall himself, sliding to a stop. He hopped up and jumped over the wall to assess the damage. Upon inspecting the bike back at the shop they found small pellets in Chip’s riding gear and just laying around inside the trailer. So they assumed it was lead shot used by someone as ballast to make weight. On further inspection they found part of a canvas bag. After asking around they found someone who had filmed the crash, which showed a white puff coming from the front wheel just before he went down. To this day no one ever admitted wrong but it seems clear that a shot bag was laying in the track when Chip’s front wheel came in contact with it washing the front end out from under him. Now you know why shot bags are against the rules.
Chip took a long departure from riding. It wasn’t until Jimmy Adams partnership with Pingel before Chip started riding again. Jimmy owned the bike and Chip rode. At one event Jimmy’s motor wasn’t ready so Chip took the same motor from his crashed bike from three years earlier and put it in Jimmy’s chassis. That’s the same motor they ran in the 7’s for the first time.
When I asked Chip what some of his favorite memories were from the racing years, he said one of his favorites was traveling to Gulfport, Mississippi for IDBA’s season opener in that magical and tragic year of 1982. This was one of those typical trips when they would leave work; drive all night, without sleep, straight to the track in time for qualifying. On this trip Carl Nyberg of C&W Racing was following Chip. Carl knew Chip was all amped up because he was really fast in testing. So as Chip was exiting the highway at a speed above the posted limit as he let off the gas pedal he noticed the van was not slowing down. He started applying the brakes and nothing changed. His heart was jumping out of his chest and he was freaking out when he noticed that Carl was sitting on his bumper pushing Chip past the exit ramp causing him to drive 23 miles out of the way to get back. Of course Carl made the exit.
Chip said his first pro race was an IDBA race in Memphis. It was also Tony Lee’s first race as the new owner of IDBA. Chip said Tony was the announcer and knew absolutely nothing about bikes or the sport. “It was very amusing, there was a wet t-shirt contest in front of the tower and a burnout contest where PeeWee Gleason went to the 1000’ mark.” Chip thinks we should have at least kept the t-shirt contest.
Another question I always ask racers from the good old days is their view on racers of they day. In no particular order, Chip said Elmer Trett was a very cool guy and the absolute best. Chip was fortunate to get to work with Elmer following Chip’s recovery from his ’82 accident. With Elmer’s help, Chip got serious about his business making better products. Chip had purchased the Mike Brusso famed company called Power Enterprise, where Chip also worked. He changed the name to Race Techniques and eventually added the sister company of SolleyValves.
It was Terry Vance and Superbike Mike Keate that inspired Chip to be as dominant as possible. His biggest accomplishments were when he would beat either one of them because they had very big reputations and very big egos. Mike Murdock of MRE was just getting started when Chip was getting started in Pro Stock. The first race Chip raced Pro Stock was at the old Memphis track where he tested and ran the first ever air shifter for Mike. He qualified sixth and made it to the semi’s. Other Pro Stock greats included Sid Pogue, Hamp Osborn, Gary Tonglet, Dave Schultz (although he remembers Dave as a Sportsman first on his 350 triple), George Bryce and of course Bob Carpenter. Bob and Chip where a lot alike. Both were very single minded, focused, technical, micro managers and both had really hot wives. He said competitors called them Boobs and Cheeks. He said to this day Bob sees things nobody else does, a very cool dude. Chip says they did use the word “dude” back then. When Dave Schultz began his pro season, Chip devoted a lot of time in the second half of the season working with Dave, helping with his riding. Chip spotted him on the line and coached Meredith on how to help Dave better. Dave and Chip were also the first ones to use Racepak systems in Pro Stock.
Chip’s favorite Harley guys from the 70‘s were Elmer Trett and Marion Owens. The Funnybike guys were Mike Brusso, PeeWee Gleason, and Terry Kizer with Mo Parsons, and John Ball with Jack O’Malley’s Orient Express team (Chip expected them to be oriental guys.) Top Fuel guys were Sam Wills, Bo O’Brocta, and Russ Collins on that scary Sorcerer.
Chip said he has to mention Carl Stieffenhofer and Greg Guarinello, the perennial tech master and the picture man respectfully. They weren’t racers but both helped the racers get better and see the bigger picture. Chip became great friends with both and both helped Chip in many ways. Greg designed the Race Technique / SolleyValves logos and type set. Carl spent a lot of time fixing ground clearance issues, which was a good thing for the sport. The other racing official that meant a lot to Chip was Jim Harris of NMRA. Chip credits Jim as someone who was a very big deal to all motorcycle racers.
Over his career Chip would race with Dragbike USA, IDBA, NHRA, NMRA and Prostar. Before his racing career would end, Chip would suffer another non-injury but memorable crash at the 1993 Prostar World Finals in Bradenton, Florida. He was only ten points out of the championship going into the finals. He qualified in the top three with a 7.90. In the last round of qualifying he was not running for a better number but breaking in a new tire for Sunday’s eliminations. As he was shutting the bike down (unknown to Chip) the fork dampening bolt broke allowing one of the bottom fork legs to try to fall off as he carried the front wheel down track. The net result was the front wheel was leaning top to the left and the motorcycle thought it was turning. When the front wheel made contact with the pavement, that thing went so hard left his wife Sherry’s video of the run only took 3 frames from the tire smoke until the bike hit the guardrail. Just like the crash in Memphis, Chip was able to get off quickly rolling onto his back and sliding to a stop. The impact was so violent the entire front end of the bike was left wedged in the guardrail and the remainder of the chassis and engine tumbled to a stop.
Chip continued to race for the next two years always finishing in the top three in points. He did it with Race Technique equipment including motors. Most likely the 1994 Prostar Pro Stock championship would have been his if not for a transmission issue at the World Finals. They were running very well with 7.70 passes helped some by being the first to use Mickey Thompson slicks. Chip was pulling 1.10 60 ft times almost 20 years ago. Chip’s specialty was fabrication and chassis engineering, but Louie Lubliner figured out how to build it all and Carl Nyberg, Boris Murray and Mike Murdoch were his secret allies that made his racing successful.
His exit from drag racing came as his son Donald got into motocross as a small child. Today, Donald owns DSMX school, a 40-acre training school in Florida. Although Chip’s motorcycle business evolved into SRE,LLC which is a construction management company, his pride and joy is Donald’s motocross school. If you have the desire to hang out with an old drag racer and take your kids or grandkids to a motocross training facility, call Donald today to book your time. His phone number is (407) 494-DSMX or dsmxschools.com.
Other Areas of Interest
Spouse’s Name: Sherry Solley
Children’s Names: Donald Solley III (age 22) and Katyna Solley (age 16)
Occupation (at time of competition years):
Fabricator and sales at power enterprises 1980-83
Owner Race Technique SolleyValves (now SRE LLC)
SRE LLC Management and Construction Management
DSMX Schools (complete with 40 acres training facility)
Home track (at time of competition years): Bithlo Motor Sports Park
Team Names (at time of competition years): Race Technique
Crew Members (at time of competition years): Jeff Reel, Jimmy Bivens, Louie Lubliner, Larry and Cheryl Tuxbery, Steve Lother and wife Sherry
Sponsors (at time of competition years): Power Enterprises, MTC, MRE, Suncoast Cycle, Falicon, Kip/Race Cams, Kosman, RC Components, Del West, Cosmopolitan Motors, and Pizza John.
History of racing bikes and classes:
Bracket racing cars and bikes
Misc. amateur classes I won every event I went to and set records usually
Ultra Stock records and class wins
ProStock Bike original IDBA #377 NHRA 2377
Championships: 1980 Dragbike Pro Stock Champion, 1982 IDBA Pro Stock Champion, Prostar perennial top 3 or looser always went to finals with a shot never worked it out (But to be fare, that was the Dave Schultz and John Myers domination years.)
Interest outside of racing: Anything competitive but with kids mostly teaching life’s lessons though competition, preparation, communication and teamwork.
First motorcycle: 1966 Honda CL90 black with squeegee grips.
If you are interested in being featured as person of the week, contact Dave Schnitz