Featuring expensive suits, slicked back hair, martinis and land yacht lifestyles; HBO’s “Mad Men” portrayed the man’s world of  Madison Avenue with a decidedly mid-20th century Gentleman’s Quarterly persona.

Far afield of HBO’s take on advertising’s Mad Men resided an accomplished, respected and loosely affiliated band of Madison Avenue road warriors. Self-assured, self-deprecating and self-named they were the “Sons of Danger.”

Sons of Danger – Mad Men on wheels

Sons Of Danger enroute to Laconia, NH Motorcycle Week 1984

“Sons of Danger” as a group could only have been born in the halcyon days of the later 20th century when automobile accounts pumped excitement and money into advertising agencies and magazines. Populated with automobile and motorcycle racing champions, automotive industry leaders, creative minds from advertising and publishing and gifted free spirits, the “Sons of Danger” roster boasted a selective coast to coast who’s who of fun loving motorheads. Those who belonged included cultural icons such as Malcolm Forbes; Paul Newman; Olympian Bart Conner; writers Brock Yates, P. J. O’Rourke and David E. Davis; champion drivers Dan Gurney, Kenny Bernstein, Don Garlits, Tom Sneva, Sam Hanks and Steve “Yogi” Behr; and Corvette designer Larry Shinoda. The list goes on. Membership could not be requested. It could only be offered.

Milt Gravatt on a Malcolm Forbes ride

A mid-1970s brainchild that sprang from the fertile minds of Volvo Advertising Manager Milt Gravatt, Petersen Publishing Account Executive Charlie Alexander and Chuck Riley of Young & Rubicam, “Sons of Danger” was envisioned as a loose affiliation of men of similar character sharing a common interest in all motorized vehicles that moved fast. It also afforded a relatively anonymous and spirited way to bleed off the stress accompanying the demands of leadership, creativity on demand and/or celebrity.

Other than unscheduled, informal and randomly attended gatherings at Brews, an East Side NYC pub, now long gone, members solely assembled when personally drawn by the magnetic pull of a motoring event of interest. Events spanned a wide spectrum from the down and dirty to the simply splendid.


Malcolm Forbes ride participants at Forbes Building

As a billionaire, “good guy” and “Sons of Danger” member, Malcolm Forbes would stage an annual motorcycle ride. “Sons of Danger” members and others would be invited to Forbes’ New Jersey estate. There, over 40 or more immaculate and gassed-up motorcycles, mostly Harleys, sat in a stable ready for anyone without a ride to use. Along the way to NYC and the Forbes Building the group of maybe 70 riders would stop for lunch and to refuel with Forbes picking up the whole tab. Accompanying the riders, Forbes’ man in charge of motorcycles would pay the Holland Tunnel toll in advance for everyone. Aside from basic driving safety only one rule held sway at a Forbes event. If you used it as an opportunity to pitch a business deal you were never invited back.

Motorcycle events always exerted a powerful draw with Laconia Motorcycle Week being a favorite. With the “Sons of Danger” ranks brimming with accomplished riders, the spectacle and competition of the Laconia races proved irresistible. Laconia rides also afforded a possible window into the underlying wisdom of creating the “Sons of Danger” as a personal bonding vehicle for members of companies, agencies and publications with significant and interrelated budgets.

One member recalls a specific event when the flood of bikes enroute to Laconia stopped for a lunchtime refueling. A white panel truck that had been trailing the riders pulled up and set up tables just like the lunchtime craft services trucks that feed the crew on a movie set. “Want a soda, a beer, a tasty sandwich,” the caterer inquired? Great, thought the hungry and thankful rider. Curious, he asked one of those arranging the ride, “Who’s paying for this?” A response, both succinct and blunt shot back, “That’s a question you never ask. Never ask where did this come from or who’s paying for this. Got it?” Just eat up and shut up.”

Early on, one of the ride leaders had researched a newly built condominium near downtown Laconia overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. It would become ground zero for the “Sons of Danger” on all subsequent Laconia trips. Returning from town for supper, riders found a steak fry and corn roast sponsored by Petersen Publishing. Word got out and Petersen’s fed a group ranging from Hell’s Angels to the cops patrolling the town. A tradition was born.

Lime Rock Park also drew “Sons of Danger” members in significant numbers. Contributing to its drawing power was having the manager of Lime Rock a member of the group. So, in addition to offering a great motorsports venue, Lime Rock had a beautiful chateau right at the top of the hill by Big Bend. Funded by Petersen Publishing it catered to the group. On any race day one might find Paul Newman, a great driver, and wife Joanne Woodward resting peacefully and undisturbed on the grassy hill. Inside would be any number and array of “Sons of Danger” members either watching or taking a break from racing.

Motoball in action

When it came to down and dirty, nothing surpassed the Motoball competition hosted by the Muddy Boot Gang of Orange County, NY in the 1980s. Conceived and run by Peter Hewitt a respected automotive industry technical expert, it called for playing soccer with dirt bikes. “Sons of Danger” and Muddy Boot Gang member Galen Royer, the National Technical Training Manager for Volvo, had no trouble finding riders to put a “Sons of Danger” stamp on the event. While some outsiders may view Motoball as a cry for help, participants to a man considered it enormous fun.

As the new millennium approached, the “Sons of Danger” as an active body began to leak vigor and steadily dissipated into gone-ness. Charlie Alexander passed away around 1999. Milt had retired from Volvo years back. People no longer attended events. Guys who had been boaters went back to their boats. Lingering members awoke to the strains of an Allman Brothers song, “Nobody left to run with anymore.”

Mitch Duncan with Sons of Danger members Galen Royer and Gary Mahannah on road to Laconia Motorcycle Week

Though gone, for some, “Sons of Danger” clearly was not forgotten. Around 2017 Mitch Duncan a retired Volvo lifer and a serious car guy and competitive motorcycle rider was dying of cancer. He knew his time fast approached. In speaking with his wife Diane he confessed that in his life he had but one regret. Though he had often ridden with the “Sons of Danger,” he had never been inducted as a member. While the ranks of living members had dwindled, Diane reached out to “Sons of Danger” member and still active rider Galen Royer. Was it possible, she asked, for Galen to do anything to address her husband’s sole regret? Galen could not believe such a deserving candidate had been overlooked.

Galen reached out to remaining “Sons of Danger” members Bruce Olds and Ron Morgan. Together they committed to assembling a membership package worthy of the moment. They succeeded. Galen inducted Mitch on his deathbed. Mitch was gone in a week. Diane had Mitch laid out in his Harley clothes and leather vest with his “Sons of Danger” member shirt close by.


In researching this article I met with Galen Royer and his son-in-law Joe Lopane at Galen’s home. Joe Lopane stands as the last active “Sons of Danger” member to be inducted. Joe had brought his two sons over to see my restored 1961 Corvette and to talk with Galen, their grandfather, about cars and dirt biking. Doors shut. Doors open. Old “Sons” fade. New “Sons” are born.