The onset of ALS has forced Kully to park his bike, but it's clear his passion still lies on the track. The former Marin resident, now living in Cazadero, is gaining a national following among bikers for his unique watercolor paintings of fellow racers Nicky Hayden and Dave Emde, among others.
"I've got this disability that's shutting down the right side of my body and I'm right-handed," Kully said. "I've got to do something. Painting gave me something to do. Sitting and watching TV isn't good for you, although we've all done that. I've been fortunate to parlay this
Kully donates his paintings as awards, presented by his wife Tess, to American Federation of Motorcycle race winners. He can also be found selling his work, from full-size prints to postcards, during select race weekends.
Kully had limited exposure, until he connected with Michael Aron's Mojotown Project. Aron donated and created a Web site for Kully, with the proviso that Kully donate to charity some of the money he raises through his artwork.
That was fine with the community-minded Kully, who donates a portion of the proceeds to various charities, including the Food for Thought food bank in Sonoma County, the AFM air fence fund and Road Racing Action fund. The air fence is a
"Having this project I'm doing and going to races and giving back to the club has been rewarding. I like to get involved with charities," Kully said.
"Michael, I can't say enough good things about him. I asked around about a Web site and all the others wanted money. When Michael offered to do it for free, I was like 'Wow.' That's a blessing."
Kully has a chance now to help a fellow artist and motorcycle enthusiast.
Mojotown has secured a track date on Dec. 22 at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway to raise funds to benefit San Rafael's Blake Herod, who was critically injured when he was hit by a car while riding his Triumph in July. He is currently undergoing physical therapy to regain the use of his legs after early fears that he might never walk again. Herod, who also lost the use of his right arm, has had to adjust to a new life since the accident.
Like Kully, he returned to painting, creating his "Left Hand" collection of paintings, some of which will be auctioned off at the charity track day.
"You think about not having your right hand, your throttle hand, your brush hand ...," Aron said. "Blake's strong. He just wants to be able to go to physical therapy more than once or twice a week so that he can get his life back."
The track day is expected to include track time for riders of all skill levels, a catered meal and, a silent auction which will also include Kully's artwork, a motorcycle and autographed memorabilia from some of the biggest names in the sport.
"This tugs at my heartstrings," Aron said. "Sometimes I wish I could do more for the non-profits than I do for our regular business. It just feels so good."
Mojotown runs a multimedia service out of its downtown Mill Valley office, separate from the non-profit project. Aron broke his own rules for Kully, he said, by donating the site.
The Mojotown Project raises funds through various events, then uses the money to help non-profit agencies pay for marketing and media consulting.
"We pay local talent so they get paid and the non-profits get exposure at no cost," Aron said. "They then can go after more money looking professional."
The exposure has helped keep Kully busy. Aside from the paintings he sells at the track, he has been commissioned for individual works and sells his cards at select motorcycle dealerships.
"I've been trying to crank out more paintings. The first Nicky Hayden painting was supposed to be for fun and 12 or 13 paintings later, it's gotten a lot bigger," Kully said.
Kully just finished a painting of Dave Emde, a close friend and mentor, who died in 2003.
"I was fortunate I was brought into it by national champions like Dave Emde and Don Green," Kully said.
Kully competed on the AFM circuit in the '80s alongside two-wheel legends the likes of Rich Oliver, who was inducted into Infineon Raceway's Wall of Fame in 2006. Kully started racing in 1981 at the relatively late age of 21, competing in the AFM production and modified classes.
"I was a front-runner from the beginning," Kully said. "In my first race, I started last, then got up near the front. I was competitive to the end and finished third."
Kully was at the top of his game around 1985, when he wasn't just challenging, but beating, some of the best pro riders around. He continued to race until 1993, eventually closing an exciting chapter in his life during which walked with legends and helped Green win four AMA 250cc titles.
The onset of ALS could have thrown Kully into darkness, if not for the support and encouragement of Tess and his stepmother Barbara Kully.
"My stepmother always pushed me to do something all my life, I'm finally doing something," Kully said.
Kully, who says he's "just futzing around, trying to find a style," dabbled with painting as a 10-year-old. His stepmother, an artist in Sonoma, tried to inspire Kully's more artistic nature.
"Some of my artist friends like my paintings," Kully said. "The motion in my paintings come from my own experience."
His unique view from the saddle, as well as the skill he developed on the race track, is channeled through his brush and poured onto the canvas.
"The hand-eye coordination from riding does come into play. It's natural on a motorcycle, but it finds it's way into my paintings," Kully said.
Kully approaches this new chapter of his life with a wink and a smile, despite the gradual deterioration of his motor skills.
"Getting involved with charities, painting, has been the best thing in my life - beside my wife and racing," Kully said. "All the people I'm reconnecting with. Clay Hasner, for one, has been an angel in my life. He gave me all new leathers.
"I can still ride. I don't feel confident and I haven't done it, but I know I can. I think there's a conspiracy to get me back out there. I'm looking forward to it, maybe in 2008. First, I need to get a helmet."