November 3, 1938 - March 19, 2018
Digger Helm lived life in the fast lane. On and off the race track.
Mike Griffith at Bakersfield.com
Marshall “Digger” Helm, who became nationally known as a flat
track motorcycle rider in the 1960s, died at his Bakersfield home on
Monday. He was 79. Services will be held April 4 at 1 p.m. at Greenlawn
Officially, Helm was Chairman of the Board of Greenlawn Funeral Homes
and Cemeteries, but he was best known as a racer, a musician and a
benefactor to countless racers in a variety of disciplines.
“He rode hard and he played hard,” said longtime friend Tom McCollum, who introduced Helm to motorcycle riding in the 1950s.
Helm owned one of the first Honda motorcycle dealerships in the country for a couple years, starting in the late 1950s.
“We were sitting in the Triumph shop one night and a guy came by with a
Honda 125 in the back of an El Camino and asked if we wanted to be a
Honda dealer,” recalled McCollum. “We ended up going down to L.A.,
unboxed a 125 and took turns riding it back to Bakersfield over the
“We ended up with four of them in race trim and rode in races at small tracks all over California. It was a lot of fun.”
While motorcycles, and specifically flat track racing, was Helm’s foremost passion he truly believed in variety.
He learned to play the trumpet at an early age and was an accomplished
musician; loved announcing at motorcycle events; competed in open
competition stock cars on asphalt at Mesa Marin Raceway for a couple of
years right after the track opened in the fall of 1977; announced at
Bakersfield Speedway for a couple of years; and then tried his hand at
oval dirt track racing in a Pro Mod. He also spent time in promotions,
first with Speedway bikes at the Kern County Fairgrounds in the 1970s
and later with former rider and longtime friend Eddie Mulder in the
West Coast Dirt Track Series.
“He was a man’s man,” Mulder, who raced professionally for many years, said. “No gray area. Yes or no. No maybes. No B.S.”
Mulder introduced himself to Helm at a race near Ridgecrest in the mid-1950s.
“I was 12 years old and went around him on the outside for the lead and
then bailed off and he went on to win,” recalled Mulder. “He came up to
me after the race and asked 'who are you?’ I said Eddie Mulder and
we’ve been friends ever since.”
Helm started touring nationally and by the late 1950s had earned his
national number — 57. He rode Triumphs early on before switching to
“He was a good rider. He traveled with Joe Leonard (a three-time
national champion who went on to race cars after the 1961 season) and
had the best equipment,” McCollum said.
Helm’s motorcycle career came to a halt due to a bad crash in the
mid-1960s, and in 1966 and 1977 he was competing in SCCA Formula C road
races in California.
“He quickly got tired of that and moved to the Bay Area with his wife
and played in a band for a year or two,” said Helm’s son Michael. “He
was in military schools throughout high school and had nothing but
music classes as a senior.”
The Bay-area band was short lived and Helm was soon back in Bakersfield
within a couple of years and started promoting Speedway bike races at
the fairgrounds in the 1970s.
By that that time, it was all about helping other racers for Helm and he continued his generosity for the remainder of his life.
“He was pretty dang generous to racers,” said Maricopa’s Frank Adamo,
who was a recipient of that generosity when he drove Late Models at
Mesa Marin. “He’d slip you a little bit in a certain manner, he was
“He had me put 'Happy Birthday Lucy' for his mom on the hood of my car
one time. He didn’t want it to be known he helped you, he just wanted
to give you a helping hand.”
Bakersfield’s Bryan Brown was another of many stock car racers who was helped by Helm.
“He was like my second dad,” Brown said. “He helped me on the Southwest
Tour from 1989-92 and didn’t want anything on the car. The third year I
put 'Digger' with crossed shovels on the back and he loved it.
“One of the best times I remember was at the end of the ’96 season. I
was done with racing and rented the track to let all my pit crew guys
drive the car. Digger got to drive and he spun out and said it was the
most fun he’d had in 10 years and he was done.”
While he was done with stock car rides, Helm was far from done with
financial support, especially motorcycle riders and for Moulder’s
racing series where he put lots of cash on the line.
Bakersfield rider Rick Pearce credits Helm for the ability to compete at the highest level of SuperMoto, starting in 1999.
“We were running AMA SuperMoto and had to travel all over,” Pearce
said, “He generously helped us get all over America and the world. He
helped me for about 10 years and helped my boy, Bronson, for a few
years as well. He was a pillar of the racing community and one of the
most generous ex-racers there ever was.”
Mulder said Helm’s financial support was dependent on many factors.
Generally, Helm tried to help those who needed it the most. And, Helm
had to like the person he was helping.
“He helped whoever he liked, that’s how it worked,” Mulder said. “If he
liked you, you were in. If he didn’t, you were out. He was a special
kind of guy. The real deal.”
Another rider Helm aided early on was Michigan’s Jared Mees, who has
gone on to win three flat track national championships, his first in
2012. While he was working his way up the ladder, Mees won the Digger
Open Pro Mains at the Kern County Fairgrounds in 2008 and 2009 which
was part of Moulder’s series.
Wrote Mees on a Facebook post: “So hard losing another great flat track
family member. Digger Helm has always been one of the best dudes and
supporters of the sport. Digger, I'll never forget everything you've
done to better the people around you brotha. RIP57.”