On Tuesday, October 28, the world lost Henry Duga. The victim of an apparent heart attack, the loss came as an unexpected shock to all who knew him. Duga was 66 years old.
Other than his family, perhaps the hardest hit by this news is Erik Buell. The two started working together back in 1985, and for the following 24 years the two formed a very close bond. Duga was Buell’s very first employee.
I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the headquarters and factories of many major manufacturers, but I couldn’t tell you who Honda’s first employee was. Same goes for Ducati or Harley. In fact, I have no idea who employee number one is for any manufacturer, save for one: Buell.
I first visited the Buell HQ in 2009 when I was at Sport Rider magazine. The visit was a prelude to racing my first AMA race with MO E-i-C Kevin Duke (read about our exploits here and here). While there, the company’s namesake took me and other assorted journalists on a tour of the company’s grounds. Not long after we arrived, I remember Buell introduced Duga, celebrating him as Buell employee number one. I could see the grin on his face as he reminisced about the journey they’d been on. That simple gesture might have seemed insignificant to most, but that bond stayed with me through the years. For his part, Duga was very mild mannered and calm. Not one to bask in the limelight or seek attention.
By this time, Duga was the man in charge of Buell’s racing efforts. Whenever possible, he’d check up on as many Buell teams as he could, large or small, to make sure they had everything they needed to race. If there was a problem, he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to find a solution. That guidance came in handy at Road America five years ago, as Duga was one of a large group of people who helped Duke and I make the grid on Sunday after an engine failure earlier in the weekend.
When Buell Motor Company shut its doors, Duga didn’t follow Buell to EBR. I thought it a little odd but didn’t question it, as two decades of service was perhaps long enough. Maybe he just wanted to go fishing. I later learned he was having health issues, and word of his passing brought those memories from 2009 back to the fore. I wanted to learn more about Duga, so I asked Paul James, Director of Consumer Influence at Harley-Davidson by day, long-time Buell/Harley racer on weekends, for some words. He sent the photo below along with this story:
“Classic Henry. Elbow deep in my Buell Firebolt XB12R during the late hours of the inaugural Moto-ST 8-Hours at Daytona in 2006. We had an eventful race with a refueling fire (you can see fire extinguisher dust on the frame) and a clutch issue. But with Henry’s help and insight we finished the race on the podium.”
“Henry was a friend to everyone and a passionate racing enthusiast. He was a gentle soul in the often frantic chaos of the racing paddock. He was always encouraging and provided parts and valuable advice to Buell racers in need. Henry was part of the special feel of the Buell company and community. I will never forget him.”
Erik Buell was also kind enough to share his thoughts about Duga, and though I thought about trimming down his words, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to just let Erik speak his mind, unedited. While I only raced for him one time, it was a pleasure meeting Henry Duga. A kind soul, he probably didn’t know me from the next guy, but that didn’t affect the help he was willing to offer. I’d be lying if I said I had any sort of meaningful relationship with him, but reading what Erik Buell thought of him drove home the point that the motorcycling community, and humanity in general, has lost a great soul. Rest in peace, Henry.
“How can you put such life and so many stories into one package? Henry joined me in 1985, when there was no one but he and I in a three-car garage, and he was with Buell until the end. So, 24 years. Henry was a champion kart racer who was working in a race car engine shop building stock car motors. He actually knew a huge number of people from car racing – people like NASCAR stars, even Danica Patrick he had helped in her karting days. I think he was just such a nice guy that when he met me and saw what I was trying to do, he couldn’t help but join. Henry was such a caring person.
Once he joined, in the early days Henry would come in the morning and get the kerosene stove going in that garage [in those early days, Erik was working from the shed behind his home -TS] while divorced Erik was getting my little girls up and fed. This would be in -20-degree weather. I couldn’t afford to leave the kerosene stove on because of the risk of fire with no one there, so it was brutal. Many times it wouldn’t light and would need to have the jets pulled out and cleaned. Then he would machine precision parts on a junk WWII-era milling machine by jockeying it and cajoling it, while I designed more of them. No task was too menial, no task too sophisticated. He just took care of what needed to be done. Incredibly humble and soft spoken.
When Buell got big enough that privateers started racing them, I assigned Henry to run race support, because he loved racing and I knew he would take care of everyone. And that is what he did. He would connect people together and calm riders down. He would get right down on his knees and fix a bike. He would get on the phone and call someone to overnight a part to a new rider who had forgotten a part and was going to miss his first race. All were equal to him. He would spend as much time or more with a guy who was running at the back of a CCS amateur race as he would with Jeremy McWilliams. The responses coming in to our Facebook site, to EBR e-mail and to his own Facebook site are testimony to his legacy. He truly was like an angel to many while here on earth, and I truly believe he has been called to help up there.”