R.I.P. Legendary Club Racer Ed Key (Updated Again)

R.I.P. Legendary Club Racer Ed Key (Updated Again)

© 2022, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By David Swarts.

Updated: Ed Key was featured in the October 2010 Issue of Roadracing World. To read full article, click here:  “Racer Profile: Ed Key”

To see racer Chris Onwiler’s tribute to Ed Key, scroll down.

Longtime racer Ed Key, of Marshall, Wisconsin, died due to “complications from gastrointestinal issues” Friday, July 22, at University of Wisconsin Hospital, in Madison, Wisconsin, according to his wife Barbara. He was 67.

Key may be best known for winning many, many Formula USA/ASRA and CCS races and Championships on his Suzuki SV650s, both a Superstock-legal bike and a Superbike-spec machine that weighed less than 300 pounds in race trim while making over 100 horsepower, while wearing his signature Kevlar riding suit. Key was most impressive in his role as a giant killer when he beat riders on bigger and more powerful motorcycles and doing so while approaching age 50.

Key was retired after a long career in the R&D Department at GE Healthcare.

He is survived by his wife of 36 years Barbara, son Kevin, mother Joyce, brother Conrad, and several nieces and nephews.

A celebration of his life is being planned for September.


Racer Chris Onwiler’s personal tribute to Ed Key, as originally posted on Facebook and added here with his permission:

I’ve added my comments to many Ed Key tribute threads over the past few days. Truth is I owe the man more than enough to write one of my own.

I remember Ed seeking me out. He said, “Chris, you seem to crash way too often and always on the brakes.”  I said, “These guys I race with can’t out-ride me but they always pass me on the brakes. Then they slow me down. I’m just a pussy. But when I try to get brave, I crash!”

Ed replied, “We all have the same 120 section front tire. You weigh twice what your competitors do. You HAVE to brake first. It’s simple physics.”  I was crushed. I asked, “Should I quit?”  He said, “No. I’ve followed you. Your corner speed is excellent. Find ways to use that to decrease or negate their braking advantage.”  Notice, as others have also said, that Ed didn’t tell me HOW to do that. He merely pointed to the door and let me figure out how to unlock it. I had yet to win a race when Ed sought me out that day, but before that summer was out I had learned how to straight up frustrate my competition and the wins started to come.

I remember once during practice at Gateway, Ed passed me down the front straight. Well dang!  Our entry speed was more or less identical and he was riding MY LINE!  Well hell, why can’t I be as fast as Ed on the identical line?  I let him tow me right to the apex. Suddenly, my bike was still turning but my bars went dead. That’s the moment I discovered that an SV is narrower than an FZR. I was on my back tire and my engine!

I showed up to an Autobahn one blazing hot CCS weekend. I had no bike to race but I brought my toolbox. Ed wrecked his (SV650) Superbike and destroyed his subframe, which was made from carbon fiber drinking straws. I labored all day to fix it. The answer was sawing apart screwdrivers, inserting them into the brittle broken tubes with JB weld as a bonding agent and hose clamping the hack together. Ed didn’t even check my work. He won the race….  And gave ME the trophy. He told me that he trusted pretty much no one ever to work on his bike but had seen what I could do with nothing, had noticed that I simply NEVER had a mechanical DNF, and so he trusted me. He also told me that he only ever gave away one other trophy in his career.

That’s the kind of relationship Ed and I had. He shared bits and pieces but always made me work for the knowledge. The guy always had time for me. Let’s face it, I’ve never been a top racer, but Ed never acted as if my goals, my budget, my physical size, or my God-given share of talent was insufficient. He respected me just as he would any other racer who brought my level of passion and my work ethic. Those were the things that mattered to Ed. He was a mentor and a friend to me. Me. The fat guy with the junkyard racebikes and the hot dogs in his cooler, coming in 10th of 20 in Amateur. That’s the kind of racer he was.

I’ve got a bit of sweat in my eyes right now.  I’ve tried to treat every rider I’ve crossed paths with the way Ed treated me. I’ve coached thousands. They don’t know it, but each of them was a ripple in the pond that started with Ed mentoring me. Even Ed didn’t get it. He never really accepted that he’d been so important to so many other racers.

There will never be another Ed Key.


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