Larry Lawrence | September 17, 2019
Archives: The Wizard of the Harley KR
When Harley-Davidson first launched its KR competition model in 1952, San Diego Harley dealer Leonard Andres got one of the first bikes from Milwaukee and he immediately went to work seeing what he could do to improve on the bike.
Archives: The Wizard of the Harley KR
That head start, combined with Andres’ decades of building race motors paid off. Before long Andres was building some of the fastest KRs in the country, in fact when it was all said and done, an argument could be made that Andres may well have been the Dean of all KR builders. The bikes he built helped riders like his son Brad Andres, Ralph White, and Cal Rayborn become among the winningest riders of the 1950s and ’60.
Leonard Andres was a famous racer during the 1930s, a respected tuner during the ‘50s and ‘60s, and a prosperous motorcycle dealer from the 1940s to the 1970s. He also served on the AMA’s competition committee during the early 1960s, helping to guide motorcycle racing’s rules and regulations. Andres’ son, Brad, was the only rider in the history of AMA Grand National racing to win the championship in his rookie season. Leonard built his son’s bikes during that championship-winning 1955 season.
Andres was born in Eureka, California, on March 19, 1912. As a youngster he got an old junked motorcycle running and began a hobby that would turn into a passion and career. Growing up in Stockton, Andres and his brothers started racing motorcycles around the dirt tracks of Northern California. Speedway racing was his favorite and he rode J.A.P. speedway bikes to numerous regional Class A short track victories during the 1930s.
By the middle ‘30s, Class C racing was gaining in popularity and Andres began racing a Harley-Davidson 45-cubic-inch model. The biggest victory of his racing career came when he won the 1937 Pacific Coast TT championship in Hollister, California. That race was the first-ever AMA national TT held on the West Coast.
The Andres name became very well known in racing circles. Not only was Leonard winning races, but his brothers Gene and Roy were coming up through the ranks on their way to becoming top West Coast racers as well.
Andres retired from serious racing in 1938 after he opened a Harley-Davidson dealership in Modesto, California. The business grew and he was able to buy two more dealerships in the coming years, one in Sacramento and another, later, in San Diego. Andres recruited his brothers to help him run the growing family business.
By the 1950s, Andres’ son Brad began showing a lot of promise as a racer. The elder Andres helped his son by making sure he always had very well-prepared equipment. By 1955, Brad was ready to turn pro. With his father doing the tuning, 19-year-old Brad completed the most impressive rookie season in the history of AMA Grand National Series, winning five of the 13 races (including the Daytona 200) en route to the national championship.
Andres’ reputation as a top engine builder was solidified in 1956 when his son’s bike blazed down the beach at Daytona in qualifying at 126.31 mph. That was over two-miles-per-hour faster than the next-fastest machine, Joe Leonard on his Tom Sifton-built Harley. Third fastest was Rich Dorresteyn’s Triumph, which clocked in at 121.62 mph.
Andres’ work on Harley’s KR helped Harley-Davidson return to the top of the heap after the British invasion of the late 1940s and early 1950 or Triumph, BSA and Norton presented Milwaukee with a new challenge at the same time that its former rival Indian was beginning to fade out.
Andres’ engine-building services were in heavy demand. In later years, Ralph White and Cal Rayborn would win AMA nationals with engines tuned by Andres.
After Brad retired from racing, the elder Andres continued to build engines for other riders and he also served on the AMA competition committee during the early 1960s.
By the early 1970s, Andres retired from building racing engines. He ran his San Diego motorcycle dealership until selling that business in 1976. That marked the end of nearly 40 years of Andres running motorcycle dealerships. For the last 20 years of his life, Andres worked with his son Brad in the family’s property management business. Andres died on Christmas Day in 1996.
Leonard Andres was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. His work on developing the KR into a wildly successful racing machine etched his name among the all-time greats in the history of builders in American motorcycle racing.