Michael Hudalla plays fast and loose

Motorcycle mogul faces the music

Hudalla was an ideas guy, an entrepreneur by nature. After a while, he hatched a plan to turn his motorcycle lifestyle into a business.

Hudalla paid a visit to Marty Mataya, a gifted mechanic who owned the only Moto Guzzi repair shop in the state: a tiny, two-room affair in Anoka called Trackstar Motorsports. Hudalla proposed that they bring Trackstar to Minneapolis. The men shook on the deal.

For their third business partner, Hudalla recruited Tom Manley, a mechanic and bouncer at the Uptown who'd saved $7,000 toward opening his own cycle shop.

Mike Weston no longer speaks to Hudalla, his former business partner
Tony Nelson
Mike Weston no longer speaks to Hudalla, his former business partner
Hudalla spared no expense branding his shop
Tony Nelson
Hudalla spared no expense branding his shop

Details

"When he approached me, I thought it might not be such a bad thing," Manley says. "This might be a more affordable way for me to go into business for myself and stop working for other people."

Manley threw his savings in, and Mike Weston—the son of the founder of the restaurant Fuji Ya—became a silent partner with a $35,000 cash investment and a $50,000 line of credit through Deutsche Financial Services.

The group bought a small, beat-up Yamaha dealership on 42nd and Cedar and painted the ceiling black. On a warm summer day in 1994, Trackstar Motorsports opened for business.

FROM THE BEGINNING, Trackstar was more than just a dealership—it was a clubhouse. Hudalla treated customers like personal friends.

"The thing about Michael is he's a really smooth operator," says Golden. "He makes you feel really good about yourself. He's a great talker, and a great storyteller."

The shop quickly developed a following. Manley and Mataya hustled in the garage while Hudalla tended the sales floor and the books. The partners all agreed to paltry paychecks of $500 every two weeks while they poured the profits back into the store.

"We were number one in Triumph and number one in Ducati sales," says Stephanie Anderson, the controller.

But underneath its shiny facade, Trackstar faced serious financial problems. Hudalla filled the showroom wall-to-wall with bikes. The longer they stayed on the floor, the higher the interest payments to Deutsche bank.

About a year after the dealership opened in Minneapolis, Manley strode to the back office to collect his tiny paycheck. But this time, the money wasn't there. Confused, he asked for an explanation. Hudalla didn't have a good one.

"It became clear that there was money coming in, and none of it was making its way back to me, or to Marty, or really, in any capacity, to any of our employees," Manley says. "There was one excuse after another why this was late, or that was late."

Then Manley found out something that really pissed him off. While he'd been living off $500 checks, Hudalla had spent $19,000 remodeling his kitchen.

Disgusted, Manley left the business in 1995. Weston, the silent partner, soon followed.

Hudalla hardly seemed bothered—in fact, he was already planning his next big move.

"We refer to Michael as 'Teflon'—nothing stuck to him," says Joe Anderson, a Trackstar salesman. "It didn't seem like anything bugged him."

One afternoon Hudalla had lunch with motorcycle mechanic Lewis Lakey, who owns Roy's Repair. Lakey described a business proposal: He wanted to build a motorcycle mall, a singular destination like Cabela's is for outdoorsmen. Lakey thought Hudalla would make a good business partner.

But Hudalla decided to do it alone. He bought the old warehouse on 32nd and Snelling that Lakey had in mind and renovated it with concrete floors and checker-plate countertops. The mall featured the new Trackstar as well as a leather tailor, an insurance dealer, and a coffee shop called the Motor Oil Café.

"You also kind of knew that he wanted to be bigger than he was," says Marty Leir, Hudalla's former roommate. "He wanted to be a wheeler-dealer."

The shop got off to a great start. One afternoon, a bus pulled up and Lyle Lovett stepped out. Hudalla attended him personally, and, his friends say, gave Lovett a hefty discount.

Long known for his outlandish tales, Hudalla couldn't resist gilding the lily in describing his motorcycle Xanadu. When a writer from a trade magazine interviewed him, Hudalla bizarrely claimed that the shop had an in-house masseuse.

"We didn't have a massage therapist," says Tom Dale, the tailor who worked at the mall. "He said we had a massage therapist, but he didn't mention Tom the Tailor!"

Even when Trackstar was floundering, Hudalla always seemed flush. He flew to Italy to see the latest motorcycle merchandise and dressed in expensive clothes, all the while driving the latest, coolest bike.

In the summer of 2001, rumors began circulating among employees that the shop was in financial trouble. A few months later, Hudalla made a big announcement: Trackstar was closing its doors. Hudalla and Mataya filed for bankruptcy.

Only after it was all over did Mataya begin to suspect why the dealership had failed.

"Probably a lot of that went into Michael's pocket," Mataya says.

One day a few weeks after Trackstar closed, Manley was flipping through his mail when he came across an official-looking envelope from Deutsche bank. The letter inside contained shocking news: The bank was suing him for $296,000.

"Michael led them to believe I was still involved in the business in 1998, and that I was still one of the guarantors," Manley says. "He sold Suzukis between April and September of 2001 that he didn't pay for—to the tune of $296,000."

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