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Wednesday Edition

R.I.P. Richie Pan

A creative spirit taken too soon.

Tyler Ludlow


photo by Van Rothfink
photo by Van Rothfink

After a long week of filming across the Carolinas for the next Smoke Out documentary, I was finally headed back to the Best Western about a dozen miles away from "The Rock" Rockingham Dragstrip, where the event calls home. I grabbed a sack of junk food from a fast food window, for myself and the rally's best and brightest. They were already knee deep in the after-party. 
An ambulance wizzed by with a full light show accompaniment. It joined a couple others and a handful of squad cars that had not been previously blocking U.S. Route 1. 
At Pan Stock 2010 - photo by Tom Birardi
At Pan Stock 2010 - photo by Tom Birardi

Rubbernecking is an affliction of the south, but I had to check for bikes in the wreckage. I searched for twisted chrome, helmets, etc. and found none. There was a degree of relief in my assumption that although something awful had occurred this night, it didn't happen to "us". I saw only a woman by a curb in a ball rocking back and forth, in a medical textbook definition of shock. 
At Pan Stock 2010 - photo by Tom Birardi
At Pan Stock 2010 - photo by Tom Birardi

As I slowly pulled into the party, Rene, Edge's wife and the Smoke Out's VP, approached my truck, and I relayed what info I could.
"Probably locals."
Moments later the party was in full force with a kiddie pool of beers, The Horse Staff, and Stampede riders leading the parade of noise and backslapping that so often falsely puts hotel managers on the edge of their seats. The boys in blue made their rounds, which made everyone nervous. Not for the exhaust notes or the topless girls in the pool, but because the scene of a very large accident was visable from the party in the parking lot. They said nothing, and went back to announce 'adult swim' with some stern warnings. Spacey from The Horse mag played acoustic guitar in the lobby for everyone.
At Pan Stock 2010 - photo by Tom Birardi
At Pan Stock 2010 - photo by Tom Birardi

Around 1:30am, the the worst materialized. I noticed Edge walk off with his phone against his ear. This is always a bad omen in the early hours of the event. He has direct communication with the local police and of course his own security. He announced to no one in particular, "They think it's Richie out there. Let's go Spacey," on his heels.
The room became a vacuum. With these hotel after parties, there's so much conversation that you can't hear a stereo, so no one bothers. The silence hung on me like a lead vest. It's hard to say how long it lasted.
That night woman struck and killed Richie Pan, of Darkstar Tattoos and The Horse Magazine, and his friend Michael Napolitano with her vehicle as they we're crossing the street to check out a bar just a block from their hotel. Animated conversations we're dissolved to low murmurs until a confirmation text came through a half hour later making the nightmare a reality. Tears fell in place of empty beer cans. Guys that would've stared at hand-built motorcycles in the parking lot, shared only hollow stares into each other... or nothing. No answers were found. 
photo taken from Mad Stork's FB
photo taken from Mad Stork's FB

No one was sure what to do with themselves other than be there for each other. Stories of Richie and Mike Nap were offered up as first-aid treatment for the sting of reality. The Horse and Rally crew went back and forth throughout the night as the ambulances' blue lights flickered on everyone outside the hotel. With no way to turn back time, people shuffled off to their rooms. I turned on the TV in my hotel room and watched commercials. I pulled a beer from the fridge, but it had no flavor, and the ten remaining ounces wilted on the nightstand. 
I don't have additional details of the accident at the moment of writing this account, but they won't add either of the men's legacy. All I can relay is both of them were of strong mind and body when they left the hotel. I hope justice is served, and wish the police Godspeed in their investigation. 
I did not know Richie Pan personally, other than what I saw in The Horse, and our fleeting words and handshakes at the Smoke Out Rally. I'm not the right person to share the stories of these men's character, of which there are many. That night and following morning were full of stories about two shirt-off-his-back kind of guys, who had a real hunger for life, and a love-your-brother philosophy.
from Darkstar Tattoo
from Darkstar Tattoo

This account is not meant to be a memorial for Richie Panarra or his friend Michael Napolitano. It's not really my place. It's just a testament of a powerful loss in the motorcycle community, the depth of which I have not been around long enough to fully understand. Small business owner, father, artist, the list goes on... the ripples apprear to be large and many. Richie was by all accounts someone with an excellent sense of humor, and generous to a fault. From the stories regaled Richie could see the silver lining of a hard time, and brought cheer where he went. 
A painting by Richie of his Bike, Viola, and his son, Dylan's, Ford.
A painting by Richie of his Bike, Viola, and his son, Dylan's, Ford.

The outcry for the loss of these people in person and social media was, and continues to be jarring. It is adding a new, bittersweet, shade to the famous biker definition for "brotherhood" in my mind... which I am still learning.
Motorcycle's are dangerous, sure, but pales in comparison to "the road" in general. It's simply impossible to predict everyone's actions, mental states, moods, disorders, and condition of their vehicles. When your'e on  two wheels, four, or none, the only thing working in your favor is that others are (hopefully) going on the same direction as you. Our little community is far from the only place to find tragic stories of what happens when humans pilot half-ton machines without the right priorities.
Fun loving. Richie as a rabbi at the Smoke Out's mini bike race the day of his passing.
Fun loving. Richie as a rabbi at the Smoke Out's mini bike race the day of his passing.

Take time to remind yourself and your loved ones what happens when people are taken long before their time, motorcycle riders or not. Say what you will about right-of-ways, helmet laws, and all the politics. One person was able to take two influential people out of this world and put a bitter taste on the ending of an event that is looked forward to all year by thousands of riders.
It's fitting to remember on this Father's Day some of my own father's best advice that I strive to follow.
"Every time you get on that bike, Bud, remind yourself... 'I can die today.'"
Check out the next issue of the The Horse Backstreet Choppers mag for some rememberances about Richie Pan, or learn more about the man at Dark Star Tattoo's site. Feel free to comment, and share your stories for Richie and Michael below. I will try to post links and accounts of Richie and Michael's memorials to this thread. -Ludlow
EDIT: A great video of Richie talking about his first memories of tattoos. 


Reader Comments

I only met Richie once he was a very funny and really nice guy if we only had more people like him. The world and the motorcycle community has lost another one of the great people it has to offer and will be missed by all who knew him and his family. Rest in peace and god be with his family and friends

James miller
batesville, MS
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Richie was such a great person and an even better family man. He and his wife Cindy did a great job raising their young boys to the men they have become. I first became friends with Richie when his youngest son Collin began playing soccer with my son Ryan on various travel teams. We traveled to England with our boys when they played for Match Fit Academy and we hit it off right away. I found Richie to be a fun, happy, go lucky type person who was also very intelligent. People were quickly won over by him with his great personality and quick witted conversation. Our boys went different ways playing for other club teams but remained in contact over the years. I recently was very lucky to see Richie and Cindy when our boys played each a few weeks ago. He was very proud of Collins accomplishments and his being accepted into one of the top colleges. He was taken away from us way to soon. We lost a great artist, friend, and devoted father who will never be forgotten by my family and I. Rest in peace Richie.

Robert Cheslock
Toms River, NJ
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Hi, I'm Rich's sister Theresa (aka Tree). Thank you for your story and kind words. My brother was my hero and one of a few people I could say I loved totally and unconditionally. . Not only did I lose a wonderful brother, my children lost a loving uncle and god-father, my husband, the closest thing to a brother and a friend, his wife, a dedicated and loyal husband of 25 years, his sons an awesome and hand-on dad, and his 3 grand-children (who he ADORED!), lost probably the coolest grandpa ever! Who you saw was who he really was, funny, quick-witted, and a true friend. His loss will also be felt by our extended family and the phenomenal friends which also became his family, (aka "his brothers from other mothers!") If we all had friends like his what a beautiful world this would be! As I go thru my life without his laughter, his caring and protective friendship and our "inside" jokes there will always be a hole in my broken heart that only he could fill. I love and will miss him until my last breath is taken and we are once again reunited.

Theresa Panarra-Dadey
Bayville, NJ
Friday, June 26, 2015
Editor Response Thank you so much for you words, Tree and visiting the site. Our thoughts go out to you all at this time.

The stories and memories that have come out across the last week could only be for a wonderful man who was loved dearly by his friends and family. The community really feels his loss.
I remember when Jason was seven and Richie asked me to coach him in soccer I not only met a great kid but met a great family Cindy or Rich would always be there and a soccer family turned into great friends I will miss you Richie and if your boys have taken half your personality they will do great in life although I did not see you as much as I would have liked I will still miss you a good friend..

Coach Scotty
Jackson, NJ
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Editor Response Thank you for that great memory, Scotty.
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