Sharon Clayton and her husband, Chuck, founded Cycle News -- an influential weekly newspaper that covered every aspect of motorcycling. Sharon was publisher for Cycle News for nearly 30 years. In 1989, Sharon and Chuck formed the Clayton Memorial Foundation, a non-profit charity established to raise funds to assist injured racers.
Sharon Potter was born in January of 1935 in Nevada. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 16. Sharon and Chuck met in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant in the summer of 1953 and the couple was married just three months later.
The newlyweds couldn’t afford two cars, so Chuck bought a used Triumph to ride as basic transportation and he quickly fell in love with motorcycling. Sharon was reluctant at first, but eventually also learned to ride.
"Chuck had a group of riding buddies," Sharon remembered. "And they would come over and want me to go riding with them. It was still pretty rare for a woman to ride a motorcycle back in those days and the guys got a big kick out of people’s reaction when they saw me riding."
Both Sharon and Chuck ended up working in the motorcycling industry. Sharon was business manager for J&R Engineering, a manufacturer of motorcycle exhaust systems, while Chuck was an editor for Cycle and later Cycle World.
In 1965, Chuck left Cycle World and bought a floundering Los Angeles-area motorcycling newspaper and renamed it Cycle News. In the early days of the new publication, it was Sharon’s income that not only kept the Claytons going, but kept Cycle News afloat as well.
"I would come home from my job at J&R and then go to work for Cycle News, which we ran out of our living room," she said.
Sharon handled circulation and billing for the upstart newspaper and on the weekends she would load up her camera gear and notepad and become a reporter, covering various races around Southern California. The Claytons would work late into Monday putting the paper together. Some of the stories of putting together a newspaper on a shoestring budget in the early days were quite amusing.
"Our phone number was listed," Sharon laughed, "and we’d have drunks calling us up from the middle of the desert at 3 a.m., phoning in race results."
The hard work eventually began to pay off and Cycle News grew -- staff was hired, office space was acquired and home phone numbers were unlisted. By 1966, Sharon had left J&R and begun working full-time for Cycle News. Under Sharon’s direction, circulation grew rapidly and the paper branched out of Southern California to become national. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cycle News expanded further and eventually published three regional editions. Sharon said it was so hectic that it seemed like her son, James, grew up on the floor of jet airliners.
Sharon handled the business side of the newspaper and deserved much of the credit for Cycle News developing such a large and loyal contributor base.
"A lot of freelance writers had trouble getting paid for their work in the 1960s," Sharon recalled. "We made paying the contributors a priority, and they always appreciated that. It may not have been a lot of money, but they always knew they could take our checks to the bank."
As a result, Cycle News served as sort of a university for the motorcycling industry. Just about every magazine editor, book author and ad sales person in motorcycling publishing worked as a contributor or staffer for Cycle News at one time or another.
Sharon was a driving force in keeping Cycle News on the forefront of publishing technology. While Chuck was perfectly content with typewriter and paper, Sharon worked hard to get the publication into the computer age. Cycle News was also one of the first motorcycling publications to have a presence on the Internet in the 1990s.
The Claytons reaped rewards of their determination and sacrifice and decided to try to give back to the industry that had given them so much. To do that, they formed the Clayton Memorial Foundation to assist injured racers.
"We had a friend who took his life after a racing accident," Sharon said. "He couldn’t come up with the money for some basic needs. We decided to start the foundation to try to help when the need is the greatest."
Since 1989, the Clayton Foundation has donated much needed money to racers working to rebuild their lives after accidents.
Chuck died in 1992 and Sharon continued to run the business until the mid-1990s, when she retired. Following her retirement, she oversaw the foundation and, as president of the publishing company, still had a strong voice in shaping Cycle News and its sister publications. When inducted into the Hall of Fame, Sharon enjoyed spending time in retirement back in her native Las Vegas, though she maintained a home in California
Ms. Clayton was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000. She passed away on March 30, 2015, at the age of 80.