All In! Greg Primm is the Ultimate Fan

By Steve Bauer

Photos by Garth Milan

Though his name may not be familiar to most motocrossers, Greg Primm is preserving the history of our sport. For almost a decade, Primm has been quietly amassing a collection of all things motocross, as he and his partner, Mark Stewart, have been fully-focused on their goal of one day creating the ultimate MX museum.

For nearly 20 years, Primm had been one of the motocross industry’s strongest supporters, seemingly content to fly just below the media radar and avoid the spotlight. The youngest son of one of the Nevada gaming industry’s pioneers, Primm was cast reluctantly into the public eye last year when he helped to create the inaugural World Cup of Motocross to replace the cancelled Motocross des Nations. Primm was so inspired by the goodwill generated by the Cup event that he hosted a US Open viewing party of his museum-to-be.

We’ve become much better acquainted with Primm during the year following his “coming out” at the World Cup last October. When he invited TransWorld Motocross to attend his second-annual US Open Party, we asked if we could arrive a few hours early to do a photo shoot and gather some information about the most mysterious man in motocross. Given Primm’s reputation for shunning the limelight, we were pleasantly surprised when he was receptive to the idea of answering some questions.

THE EARLY YEARS

Greg and his slightly older brother, Roger, both from the second marriage of Ernie Primm, grew up on a seven-acre ranch in Reno, Nevada. It was Roger who first got Greg into bikes. “I think he talked my dad into the Rupp mini-bike,” said Greg. “Then we got Honda Mini-Trail 50s and 70s, an XR-75 and a Yamaha GT-80. We used to ride every day and had a little motocross track in the backyard. Nothing like they have today, but stuff we made with shovels and rakes, moving the rocks out of the way…that type of thing. After that I started racing Elsinores all over Northern Nevada and I actually got to be pretty good.”

Factory Suzuki mechanic Tony Berlutti met Greg while both were in high school and is Primm’s oldest pal. “When I met Greg I was working at Vons bagging groceries. He’d come in, always with the new bikes in the back, and it was hard not to be jealous of him,” said Berlutti. “Then we got to be friends and we’d end up racing against each other. We both raced the 500 class and I used to hate that he was a little faster than me, even though he didn’t always look like he was in shape.”

MAMMOTH WINNER

“My claim to fame is winning the Open Junior class at Mammoth Mountain in 1980. I won all three motos, beating Dave Osterman, Mike Bell’s mechanic, in the final. I remember being about 32 seconds ahead with two laps left,” recounted Primm. “Tony Berlutti’s waving me on and everything was cool. I figured I had it in the bag and then I did this stupid cross-up over this jump in the back and almost ate it big-time! I just cruised around the last lap and won by 12 seconds.”

It wasn’t long after his big win at Mammoth that Primm could see the writing on the wall. “I’d had a few surgeries on my knees and I just couldn’t seem to get moved up because something would always happen. So I moved down here to Vegas, worked for my dad for about four months, and then he passed away. I went back to Reno for a bit, and then decided that it was time to come back down and go to work. That’s when I moved to State Line, which is now Primm, and worked with my brother for the next seven years,” said Greg, referring to his oldest brother, Gary, who along with four sisters, were products of Ernie’s first marriage.

ERNIE’S GOT GAME

During the Depression, long before Greg and his brothers were riding bikes with the other kids in Reno, Nevada, their fatr Ernie was working the mean streets of downtown Los Angeles. Ernie and his partner, Frankie Martin, ran some illegal underground gambling casinos in downtown LA during the mid-1930s…with the apparent blessing of Frank Shaw, regarded as the most corrupt mayor in Los Angeles history. California voters recalled Shaw in 1938, making him the first (but not last) elected official thrown out of office by the voters. With Shaw no longer around to keep the heat off them, Primm and Martin were shut down everywhere they went. Most of the other illegal casino owners had resorted to running games on ships in San Pedro Harbor.

The two would-be entrepreneurs kept getting bounced around until they eventually landed at the Alamo Social Club in the nearby city of Gardena, future home of Ascot Park and American Honda. The cash-starved city had no problem granting the pair a city business license, and by 1940 they’d changed the name of the Alamo to the Embassy Club and opened a second club in town called the Monterey. The county sheriff didn’t take kindly to Primm’s expansion plans, so he raided the Monterey and closed it down.

POKER, ANYONE?

That was a defining moment in the life of Ernie Primm, and he and his attorney, Sammy Rummel, were more than ready to take on the status quo. While researching California’s 1872 gaming law, the pair discovered that the legislature had intentionally omitted poker in the list of illegal games. Apparently, the elected lawmakers were all poker players and didn’t want their own gambling disrupted! That’s the way Rummel argued it and with one stroke of a judge’s pen, card rooms were legalized in California. Things took off from there and at one point the six card clubs in Gardena provided 80 percent of the city’s annual budget.

In 1958, the Gardena city council approved a third club for Primm over the objections of the four other club owners, who then formed a fake “citizen’s group” that rallied against the evils of gambling, demanding that the city set the maximum number of legal casinos at six and halt the construction of Primm’s Starlight casino. The shysters were apparently too convincing and the city called for a voter referendum to abolish all gaming. Realizing their mistake, albeit too late, they had no choice but to form another fake group, this one consisting of gambling advocates. With the vote too close to call and just days before the election, the rogue four confessed to Primm what they’d done and asked him to pull any strings he could, which he did. The clubs eked out a narrow victory, but Primm never finished building his new club, returning the license to the city as a gesture of goodwill. There remains only six card clubs in Gardena to this day.

BREAKING NEW GROUND

During the time that he was reinventing gaming in California, Primm moved his family to Reno in 1943, buying partial ownership of the Palace Club. The partnership was rocky at best, and Ernie bailed in 1951 to do his own thing. Primm had set his sights on building the first casino on the West side of Virginia Street, an area that was off-limits to gaming interests. Ernie lost suits in both district court and the state Supreme Court before obtaining his license four years later… and then only after new elections had ushered in a changed Council. The Primadonna Club opened in July of 1955, changing the face of Reno forever.

Primm’s childhood friend, Berluti, remembers the Primadonna Club very well. “The big thing when I was a kid growing up was we’d go by there to check out the four dancing girls with the plumes on their heads and all that fancy showgirl-type thing,” he said. “They must have been at least 20 feet tall. Greg’s dad was a real pioneer and somewhat of a rebel!”

It wasn’t long before several more casinos soon appeared on the west side of Virginia Street; the Horseshoe Club, Circus-Circus, The Nugget, and others. The Primadonna Club remained his flagship property until he sold it to Del Webb for 5.5 million dollars in 1974. For Primm, it seemed like as good a time as any to retire.

“In the late forties or early fifties my dad bought the original acreage out there (Primm) from the estate of Pete McIntyre,” said Greg. “Pete was a moonshiner who also had a little gas station. Back then, it was just a two-lane road and you could gas up, get a little ‘shine and jump back on the road to California or Vegas. He decided at 74 years of age that it was time to retire, but it only lasted about a year. So, at 75, he made the decision to come back out of retirement. He said he was sick of sitting around doing nothing.”

Ernie headed to State Line to do it all one more time. He told his tenant that his lease was up and added a room with a few dozen slots. The rules that dealt with gaming licenses were much more lax back then and if you were an unrestricted operator, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. When that room paid for itself, he added another, slightly larger one. As each room paid for itself he just kept adding and adding. When Ernie Primm, gaming firebrand and family patriarch, passed away six years later, Whiskey Pete’s was ten times the size it was when Primm first took it over.

FITTING TRIBUTE

The city of Primm, Nevada, straddles Interstate 15 approximately 40 miles south of Las Vegas. For years, many people mistakenly referred to it as State Line, a name already used by a community on the North shore of Lake Tahoe. In 1996, the name was officially changed as a tribute to Ernie Primm. “That’s when it really started taking off, shortly after my dad passed away in 1981,” Primm recounted. “My brother Gary took over the biz and things just went big. He built Buffalo Bill’s first and then the Primadonna, now called Primm Valley. Eventually, we merged our businesses, Primadonna Resorts, with MGM Grand about five years ago. It’s just in name at this point. We still own the property out there, but not the businesses.”

These aren’t your average businesses that Greg is talking about! In addition to the three hotel-casinos with nearly 3,000 rooms between them, there’s a 100-store outlet mall, two gas stations (together pumping over 15 million gallons annually) and two championship golf courses. Reportedly, one out of every four people driving in either direction on I-15 stops at Primm, totaling upwards of 10 million visitors a year.

NICE JOINT YOU HAVE HERE, GREG

Walking into the climate-controlled, 8,000 square-foot warehouse that Greg had built specifically to house his collection of motocross memorabilia was awe-inspiring. On the left were some shelves covered with memory-jolting aftermarket parts, such as an assortment of porcupine and radial heads, Simons forks, FoxShox and other parts that were so trick in their day. Next was a beautiful Hodaka Super Rat, then a twin-carbureted Puch…nearly 200 bikes in all, with another 40 or so currently at Vintage Iron waiting to be restored. The walls were covered with signed and framed photos, jerseys, posters, number plates, and just about anything else one might expect.

We sat down with Greg and put our feet up on a glass display case containing helmets with names like Hannah and Howerton on the back. Primm seemed at ease as he sipped tequila from a Hard Rock Café shot glass. “I didn’t really anticipate the amount of attention we’d receive when I agreed to participate in the World Cup,” said Primm, revealing that the unexpected media exposure had changed the timeline of the museum. “Prior to the Cup, we weren’t as focused. We used the energy and goodwill generated by the race as an impetus to move forward with our plans to turn my private collection into a permanent display that hoe Club, Circus-Circus, The Nugget, and others. The Primadonna Club remained his flagship property until he sold it to Del Webb for 5.5 million dollars in 1974. For Primm, it seemed like as good a time as any to retire.

“In the late forties or early fifties my dad bought the original acreage out there (Primm) from the estate of Pete McIntyre,” said Greg. “Pete was a moonshiner who also had a little gas station. Back then, it was just a two-lane road and you could gas up, get a little ‘shine and jump back on the road to California or Vegas. He decided at 74 years of age that it was time to retire, but it only lasted about a year. So, at 75, he made the decision to come back out of retirement. He said he was sick of sitting around doing nothing.”

Ernie headed to State Line to do it all one more time. He told his tenant that his lease was up and added a room with a few dozen slots. The rules that dealt with gaming licenses were much more lax back then and if you were an unrestricted operator, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. When that room paid for itself, he added another, slightly larger one. As each room paid for itself he just kept adding and adding. When Ernie Primm, gaming firebrand and family patriarch, passed away six years later, Whiskey Pete’s was ten times the size it was when Primm first took it over.

FITTING TRIBUTE

The city of Primm, Nevada, straddles Interstate 15 approximately 40 miles south of Las Vegas. For years, many people mistakenly referred to it as State Line, a name already used by a community on the North shore of Lake Tahoe. In 1996, the name was officially changed as a tribute to Ernie Primm. “That’s when it really started taking off, shortly after my dad passed away in 1981,” Primm recounted. “My brother Gary took over the biz and things just went big. He built Buffalo Bill’s first and then the Primadonna, now called Primm Valley. Eventually, we merged our businesses, Primadonna Resorts, with MGM Grand about five years ago. It’s just in name at this point. We still own the property out there, but not the businesses.”

These aren’t your average businesses that Greg is talking about! In addition to the three hotel-casinos with nearly 3,000 rooms between them, there’s a 100-store outlet mall, two gas stations (together pumping over 15 million gallons annually) and two championship golf courses. Reportedly, one out of every four people driving in either direction on I-15 stops at Primm, totaling upwards of 10 million visitors a year.

NICE JOINT YOU HAVE HERE, GREG

Walking into the climate-controlled, 8,000 square-foot warehouse that Greg had built specifically to house his collection of motocross memorabilia was awe-inspiring. On the left were some shelves covered with memory-jolting aftermarket parts, such as an assortment of porcupine and radial heads, Simons forks, FoxShox and other parts that were so trick in their day. Next was a beautiful Hodaka Super Rat, then a twin-carbureted Puch…nearly 200 bikes in all, with another 40 or so currently at Vintage Iron waiting to be restored. The walls were covered with signed and framed photos, jerseys, posters, number plates, and just about anything else one might expect.

We sat down with Greg and put our feet up on a glass display case containing helmets with names like Hannah and Howerton on the back. Primm seemed at ease as he sipped tequila from a Hard Rock Café shot glass. “I didn’t really anticipate the amount of attention we’d receive when I agreed to participate in the World Cup,” said Primm, revealing that the unexpected media exposure had changed the timeline of the museum. “Prior to the Cup, we weren’t as focused. We used the energy and goodwill generated by the race as an impetus to move forward with our plans to turn my private collection into a permanent display that the public can enjoy.”

Asked about how the collection began, Greg said that when a friend of his called 15 years ago about a couple of old bikes he’d run across, it rekindled a spark deep inside him. “Dave McGachan called from Kolbe Honda and asked me if I was interested in a couple of vintage Elsinores,” said Primm. “I said sure, but what are they? So he told me a ’73 250 and a ’74 125. I had owned a ’74 125 and my brother Roger had a ’73 250, so I said ‘Sure!’ From there it was like, ‘hey, this is really cool!’”

“So my first goal was to collect every 125, 250 and open Honda from 1973-’81,” said Primm. “That was the big era for me because I was always a Honda fan, even though I mostly rode Suzukis. After that I thought it would be really cool to get an RM 250C, since that’s what I raced the most. Next thing you know, I’m running around looking for Suzukis to buy and that’s when I ran into Rick (Doughty). At that time, ten years ago, vintage meant pre-1970 and he wasn’t interested in helping me out, but I kept telling him that ten years from now these bikes will be vintage and eventually he came around and started restoring bikes for me. Now we have a hit list of bikes that we’re looking for and bikes we think are interesting.”

Walking further into the sea of motorcycles, it was easy to pick out works bikes once belonging to Jean-Michel Bayle, Bob Hannah, Donnie Schmit, Danny LaPorte, Ricky Johnson and Jeff Matiasevich. Johnny O’Mara’s infamous all-white USGP-winning Mugen and even a wild-looking works Vertematti raced by Mike Young are also tucked away neatly in a corner. **HOW DID HE GET THE WORKS BIKES??** Then there were the bikes of Jeff Ward, ranging from his 1975 championship-winning XR75 to his Kawasakis of the early 1990s. Wardy is one of Primm’s closest friends.

Primm remembers, “I first met Wardy when he was doing something for EP, a company I was partners in with Berlutti and a guy named Bill. We had 300 riders we were sponsoring at various levels. Tommy Watts was our main guy; we helped him for a year with EP and then we closed shop on the company. The next year, 1987, I still helped Tommy out, sending him and Tony on the road. We got National number 22 and Tommy ended up fifth in the AMA 500 National Championship! I met Wardy briefly then, and it’s funny because I wasn’t much of a Ward fan. I’d always had the impression through the media that he was aloof, and everybody wants the guy that’s always winning to get beat. It wasn’t until I met him that I realized what a great guy he is. I helped him out in Indy cars and I think that’s been the most pleasurable experience out of sponsoring anybody, because he’s there and it’s not because of sponsorship. He’s there because of friendship.”

Troy Lee is another good friend of the Primm Collection, having helped Greg to acquire many of the items on display. Here’s just one example of Primm’s benevolent nature that has never been publicized: for the past ten years, Greg has paid for the painting of the Team USA MXdN helmets–in fact paying for two sets–one for the riders and one for the collection.

What began with an innocent phone call from an old friend had somehow sparked a fire inside of Primm that grew to an inferno, finally evolving into a mission of the highest order. Primm’s ultimate goal is to house the entire collection in a museum setting that is worthy of the treasures inside. They’ve set a target date of 05/05/05 at 5PM. **LOCATION?** Later that evening, as we watched everyone in attendance having a great time, it occurred to us that the sport of motocross is very fortunate to have a friend like Greg Primm. Without him, our sport’s history may be lost forever.

 

How you can help

If you think you have something that the Primm Collection might be interested in, whether it’s a motorcycle or a single sticker, they welcome your calls. Contact information is available on their website:

www.primmcollection.com

CAPTIONS

PRI01

Greg Primm has been quietly rounding up motocross bikes for almost a decade now. A confessed addict, he had his “coming out” at the World Cup, then debuted his private stash during last year’s US Open. The Primm MX Collection museum is slated to open on 05/05/05 in Las Vegas.

PRI02

This bike is an exercise in “What If?” With an almost unlimited budget, this CR500R motor was wedged iinto a CR250R frame and running gear. One magazine tester claimed it was “the best and the nastiest thing I’ve ever ridden.”

PRI03
This twin-carb Harry Everts championship-winning Puch 250 is one of only two dozen that ever saw the USA.  It had one of the hardest-hitting powerbands of any bike at the time. Most testers found that the burst of power made the bike nearly unrideable. Most owners couldn’t keep it tuned, much less hold on to the thing when the trigger was pulled.

PRI04

Bob Hannah had this Suzuki RM250 hanging from his kitchen ceiling for a few years, and promised Primm that when it came down, it would go in the museum. Bob’s wife, upon hearing the promise, decided to redecorate the kitchen using a different theme. The RM250 was shipped to Primm.

PRI05

Long-time friend Jeff Ward donated more than half a dozen bikes that document his motocross career from the beginning. This XR75 was one of Wardy’s first championship bikes. Always a stickler for keeping sponsors happy, Ward changed the grips on one of his Kawasaki works bikes last month because it mistakenly received one-year-old Scott (rather than Oakley) grips during its restoration.

public can enjoy.”

Asked about how the collection began, Greg said that when a friend of his called 15 years ago about a couple of old bikes he’d run across, it rekindled a spark deep inside him. “Dave McGachan called from Kolbe Honda and asked me if I was interested in a couple of vintage Elsinores,” said Primm. “I said sure, but what are they? So he told me a ’73 250 and a ’74 125. I had owned a ’74 125 and my brother Roger had a ’73 250, so I said ‘Sure!’ From there it was like, ‘hey, this is really cool!’”

“So my first goal was to collect every 125, 250 and open Honda from 1973-’81,” said Primm. “That was the big era for me because I was always a Honda fan, even though I mostly rode Suzukis. After that I thought it would be really cool to get an RM 250C, since that’s what I raced the most. Next thing you know, I’m running around looking for Suzukis to buy and that’s when I ran into Rick (Doughty). At that time, ten years ago, vintage meant pre-1970 and he wasn’t interested in helping me out, but I kept telling him that ten years from now these bikes will be vintage and eventually he came around and started restoring bikes for me. Now we have a hit list of bikes that we’re looking for and bikes we think are interesting.”

Walking further into the sea of motorcycles, it was easy to pick out works bikes once belonging to Jean-Michel Bayle, Bob Hannah, Donnie Schmit, Danny LaPorte, Ricky Johnson and Jeff Matiasevich. Johnny O’Mara’s infamous all-white USGP-winning Mugen and even a wild-looking works Vertematti raced by Mike Young are also tucked away neatly in a corner. **HOW DID HE GET THE WORKS BIKES??** Then there were the bikes of Jeff Ward, ranging from his 1975 championship-winning XR75 to his Kawasakis of the early 1990s. Wardy is one of Primm’s closest friends.

Primm remembers, “I first met Wardy when he was doing something for EP, a company I was partners in with Berlutti and a guy named Bill. We had 300 riders we were sponsoring at various levels. Tommy Watts was our main guy; we helped him for a year with EP and then we closed shop on the company. The next year, 1987, I still helped Tommy out, sending him and Tony on the road. We got National number 22 and Tommy ended up fifth in the AMA 500 National Championship! I met Wardy briefly then, and it’s funny because I wasn’t much of a Ward fan. I’d always had the impression through the media that he was aloof, and everybody wants the guy that’s always winning to get beat. It wasn’t until I met him that I realized what a great guy he is. I helped him out in Indy cars and I think that’s been the most pleasurable experience out of sponsoring anybody, because he’s there and it’s not because of sponsorship. He’s there because of friendship.”

Troy Lee is another good friend of the Primm Collection, having helped Greg to acquire many of the items on display. Here’s just one example of Primm’s benevolent nature that has never been publicized: for the past ten years, Greg has paid for the painting of the Team USA MXdN helmets–in fact paying for two sets–one for the riders and one for the collection.

What began with an innocent phone call from an old friend had somehow sparked a fire inside of Primm that grew to an inferno, finally evolving into a mission of the highest order. Primm’s ultimate goal is to house the entire collection in a museum setting that is worthy of the treasures inside. They’ve set a target date of 05/05/05 at 5PM. **LOCATION?** Later that evening, as we watched everyone in attendance having a great time, it occurred to us that the sport of motocross is very fortunate to have a friend like Greg Primm. Without him, our sport’s history may be lost forever.

 

How you can help

If you think you have something that the Primm Collection might be interested in, whether it’s a motorcycle or a single sticker, they welcome your calls. Contact information is available on their website:

www.primmcollection.com

CAPTIONS

PRI01

Greg Primm has been quietly rounding up motocross bikes for almost a decade now. A confessed addict, he had his “coming out” at the World Cup, then debuted his private stash during last year’s US Open. The Primm MX Collection museum is slated to open on 05/05/05 in Las Vegas.

PRI02

This bike is an exercise in “What If?” With an almost unlimited budget, this CR500R motor was wedged into a CR250R frame and running gear. One magazine tester claimed it was “the best and the nastiest thing I’ve ever ridden.”

PRI03
This twin-carb Harry Everts championship-winning Puch 250 is one of only two dozen that ever saw the USA.  It had one of the hardest-hitting powerbands of any bike at the time. Most testers found that the burst of power made the bike nearly unrideable. Most owners couldn’t keep it tuned, much less hold on to the thing when the trigger was pulled.

PRI04

Bob Hannah had this Suzuki RM250 hanging from his kitchen ceiling for a few years, and promised Primm that when it came down, it would go in the museum. Bob’s wife, upon hearing the promise, decided to redecorate the kitchen using a different theme. The RM250 was shipped to Primm.

PRI05

Long-time friend Jeff Ward donated more than half a dozen bikes that document his motocross career from the beginning. This XR75 was one of Wardy’s first championship bikes. Always a stickler for keeping sponsors happy, Ward changed the grips on one of his Kawasaki works bikes last month because it mistakenly received one-year-old Scott (rather than Oakley) grips during its restoration.

p

If you think you have something that the Primm Collection might be interested in, whether it’s a motorcycle or a single sticker, they welcome your calls. Contact information is available on their website:

www.primmcollection.com

CAPTIONS

PRI01

Greg Primm has been quietly rounding up motocross bikes for almost a decade now. A confessed addict, he had his “coming out” at the World Cup, then debuted his private stash during last year’s US Open. The Primm MX Collection museum is slated to open on 05/05/05 in Las Vegas.

PRI02

This bike is an exercise in “What If?” With an almost unlimited budget, this CR500R motor was wedged into a CR250R frame and running gear. One magazine tester claimed it was “the best and the nastiest thing I’ve ever ridden.”

PRI03
This twin-carb Harry Everts championship-winning Puch 250 is one of only two dozen that ever saw the USA.  It had one of the hardest-hitting powerbands of any bike at the time. Most testers found that the burst of power made the bike nearly unrideable. Most owners couldn’t keep it tuned, much less hold on to the thing when the trigger was pulled.

PRI04

Bob Hannah had this Suzuki RM250 hanging from his kitchen ceiling for a few years, and promised Primm that when it came down, it would go in the museum. Bob’s wife, upon hearing the promise, decided to redecorate the kitchen using a different theme. The RM250 was shipped to Primm.

PRI05

Long-time friend Jeff Ward donated more than half a dozen bikes that document his motocross career from the beginning. This XR75 was one of Wardy’s first championship bikes. Always a stickler for keeping sponsors happy, Ward changed the grips on one of his Kawasaki works bikes last month because it mistakenly received one-year-old Scott (rather than Oakley) grips during its restoration.