Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Orlando's, Dexter Campbell - Episode #4

By: David L. Morrill
@ Mototique

Updated: January 30, 2017

Dexter Campbell & Joe Luke - Dade City, FL. 1964
Denny Haven Collection
The seed for this story came from my friend Bob Castlen. Bob and I served together on the Orlando Police Department and have kept in touch since we both retired. Recently, he sent me an e mail, asking me to find out about a motorcycle racer from Orlando, FL. named Dexter Campbell. Bob's sister had briefly dated Dexter and he used to pick her up on his orange Harley-Davidson Sportster.

Now, I don't usually write stories about racers of the modern age, unless I had a direct involvement with the person in the story. I leave that to the folks who actually were involved. I do however like to find racing stories that have not been told, and bring them to light. I lived in Orlando, raced motorcycles for many years, and never heard a word about Dexter Campbell. Once I found out more about him, I figured it was a story that needs to be told.

Dexter Lee Campbell was born in Florida just before World War II, and grew up in Orlando. He was only about 5' 8 ", and slight in build, which was the perfect size for racing the small displacement motorcycles of the mid 50s and early 60s. Campbell's talent was recognized, and he began riding for Puckett Harley-Davidson on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. Puckett was a hotbed of racing, competing in dirt track, scrambles, road racing, and drag racing at both the amateur and professional levels. Dick O'Brien and Joe Luke were building racing engines at Puckett's.

Puckett Harley-Davidson - Orlando, FL. ca. 1955
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
Puckett had developed a strong reputation for modifying the Harley-Davidson 165cc engines for racing. Dick O'Brien's younger brother Jesse and Dexter Campbell both rode for Puckett. They competed around the state of Florida on Puckett prepared Harley 165s in scrambles, short track, and roadracing. This continued until the end of 1957, when Dick O'Brien left Puckett to take a job as Director of Racing for the Harley-Davidson factory, and his brother Jesse retired from racing.

In February 1956, sixteen year old Dexter Campbell was riding his motorcycle in Orlando, and observed a hit and run accident. Young Dexter gave chase to the fleeing vehicle , and eventually persuaded the hit and run driver to pull over. Two young girls were fatally injured in the accident, and run driver was jailed for manslaughter. The story of Campbell's pursuit of the hit and run driver, made newspapers throughout the country.

Corsicana, TX. Daily Sun
February 23, 1956

In June 1956, Campbell traveled the Port St Lucie airport to compete in the American Motorcyclist Association's Sportsman's Road Races. Campbell finished 4th in the Bantam Weight class.

St. Pierce News Tribune
June 25, 1956

In 1958, Campbell won light weight class scrambles races across Florida with multiple wins at Orlando, as well as a win at St. Petersburg. He clinched his first Florida State Scrambles Championship in the Bantam Weight class.

1959 was a breakout year for Campbell.  At Daytona, he won the Heavy Weight Sportsman Class drag race, and finished 2nd in the Lightweight Road Race on old beach circuit. He also finished 2nd in the 55ci class of the Measured Mile Speed Run with a top speed of 123.28 mph. held on the beach course ocean side straight.

Dexter Campbell 165cc Harley-Davidson
Robbie Knight Collection

Campbell dominated the lightweight scrambles class throughout Florida in 1959, on his Puckett's modified Harley 165. He won races at Gainesville, Orlando, Sarasota, and clinched his second Florida State Bantam Weight Scrambles Championship. He closed out the 1959 season with a second place finish in the open class road race at the Punta Gorda, FL.

#20 - Francis Chromczak of New Brunswick, NJ. and #104 Dexter Campbell run
neck-in neck for the win in the Open Class at the Punta Gorda, FL. Road Races.
Chromczak won the race, with Campbell finishing second.
Robbie Knight Collection
In 1960, he again won the Florida State Bantam Weight Scrambles championship, including scrambles wins at Daytona, Orlando, Winter Haven, a 165cc short track race win at Lakeland, a 250cc TT Race win at Ojus, and a 250cc class road race win at Ft. Myers.

In 1961, the Daytona Beach motorcycle races were moved to from the old beach course, to the Daytona International Speedway. Road races were run on the high banked speedway and infield road course, The drag races were held on the speedway backstretch. Campbell finished second in the Daytona Open Gas Drag Racing Class. He began to gain national recognition that year, with his win of the Florida State Scrambles Championship in Miami. This is the only time motorcycle races were held inside the Miami Stadium, with a course that ran around the outside of the baseball diamond. It was covered with a two page article in American Motorcycling, which centered on Campbell's dominant performance in two classes. Riding his Puckett's Harley-Davidson 165 in the Bantam Weight Class, he easily won his 4th Florida State Scrambles Bantam Weight Championship.

Miami Stadium Race - 1961
Robbie Knight Collection

Later that afternoon, he won the Open Class Sweepstakes race with a 100 yard lead over the second place rider. His victory was even more amazing, as he was riding the same bike he rode to a win in the Bantam Weight class. His bike had the smallest displacement (165cc), in a class open to bikes with a 1000cc displacement. Sheriff Thomas Kelly presented Dexter with the four foot tall trophy. The trophy was nearly as tall as Dexter.

Miami 1961
Robbie Knight Collection

Harley-Davidson had purchased Italian manufacturer Aremacchi, and was importing their 250 and 350cc street bikes and racers. Dexter used his 250 Aremacchi Harley-Davidson racer, tuned by Puckett's Racing Manager Joe Luke, to win the 250 class at a Dade City, FL. road race.

Over the next few years, Dexter sharpened his road racing skills. He won the 900cc and 175cc class road races at Savannah, GA in April 1963, and the 900cc class in the June Savannah race. In 1964, Dexter again won the 175 and 900cc classes at Savannah, along with two heat races, and two finals at Punta Gorda, FL. He also finished 6th in the 50 mile Novice 250cc race at Nelson Ledges, OH.

For the 1965 season, Campbell qualified 4th at Daytona Speed Week 100 Mile Amateur Race with a trap speed 125.209 mph. He dropped out of the race on lap 10. Campbell entered the 100 mile Expert race finishing 18th.

Dexter Campbell - Nelson Ledges, OH. 1964
Denny Haven Collection

Dexter also continued drag racing on both his trademark orange Sportster, and on a specially built Panhead twin carburetor Harley racer known as Big Bertha. To read more about Big Bertha:

 Campbell won his most famous race during this time. In a match race held at the Kissimmee, FL. Airport, he rode Puckett's Big Bertha Harley-Davidson against Ocala, FL. drag racing legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits in his Swamp Rat dragster. This was one of several match races held during this period between Garlits and Puckett rider's Charlie Winslow and Dexter Campbell. The Puckett riders won all of these match races.

Dexter Campbell (center) - Georgia State Drag Race
John Lapanne Collection
Puckett's also built Dexter a jet powered drag bike, using an aircraft rocket assist motor for a power plant. Dexter and his friend Denny Haven, were chosen to test the jet dragster on the roads of an empty subdivision outside Orlando. The bike was never raced. They discovered there was no way to shut down the engine until it ran out of fuel. This made running it on the 1/4 mile drag strips too dangerous.
Dexter's story fades from the national press after Daytona 1965. There is no mention of him competing in any other national race in 1965. He's not listed among the participants at the 1966 Daytona races, or any other national race, until May 1966. 

Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway
"Indy of the South"

In May 1966, Campbell entered the AMA professional dirt track race on the 1 mile oval of Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, GA. On May 15, while leading his heat race, Dexter lost control of his bike. He was thrown into a guardrail, and then struck by other riders. He died of his injuries at the age of 27.

Professional Dirt Track Memorial Page
Dexter Lee Campbell was buried at Highland Memory Gardens in Seminole County, Florida.

He was survived by his wife, Lucille Campbell Gatewood, and his daughter Dana Campbell Haley, born shortly after her father's death. Dexter has three grandsons, Sean Patrick Haley, Tyler James Haley, and Spencer Thomas Haley.

Dexter Campbell was among a breed of motorcycle racers from the 50 and 60s, who competed regularly on both dirt and pavement. Shortly after his death, Lucille donated over 500 of Dexter's racing trophies to the area Boy's Club. We can only wonder, what Dexter would have accomplished had he survived.


Campbell Family Collection

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

Corsicana, TX. Daily Sun

Denny Haven Collection

Eddie Boomhower Collection

Eric Smith Collection

Motorcycling and Bicycling

Professional Dirt Track Memorial Page

Robbie Knight Collection

St. Pierce News Tribune

Author’s note:

A special thanks to Dexter Campbell's family for sharing their memories, and to, Denny Haven, Robbie Knight, and Eric Smith for providing photographs and articles from their collections. Without their assistance this article would not have been possible.

Denny Haven, National # 80, of Newberry, FL. was a friend and fellow competitor of Dexter’s. He also provided his memories of Dexter.  Denny passed away at his home in Newberry, Florida on June 17, 2013. Rest in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your memories of your teammates Tommy Seagrave, and Dexter Campbell.

National # 80 Dennis "Denny" Haven  1939 - 2013
Racer's Reunion Collection

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