Powersports and snowmobile industry icon Fred Fox, the founder of the Parts Unlimited/Drag Specialties/LeMans Corporation as well as inventor of an early snowmobile brand, has died at the age of 86.
Fox founded what would become LeMans as a motorcycle parts distribution business in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1967, and over time turned it into arguably the most powerful company in the powersports industry that didn’t build whole goods. It has grown to employ more than 1,000 people, with headquarters still in Janesville, but warehouses and other facilities in multiple states as well as in Europe.
The press release that announced his passing on Sunday, February 5, (pasted below) focuses mainly on his status in the motorcycle industry, but he was also a giant in snowmobiling. Working with his father Stanley Fox, Fred Fox actually started designing what turned into the Fox Trac snowmobile brand in Janesville way back in 1960, long before Parts Unlimited.
According to David Bortner, a longtime Fox family friend and former sales director at Snow Goer, Fred Fox started LeMans when he broke away from his father’s business and would get containers of motorcycle tires and then drive around to dealers to sell them. His Sno-Bil oil was a powerful part of the business early on.
“He always had his eyes open for opportunities,” Bortner said. When Union Carbide started making a synthetic snowmobile oil, Fred Fox bought the product line from that company and incorporated it into Sno-Bil, Bortner said.
For a time there were various LeMans branded products, and he is credited with specifically producing gas jugs at 6 gallons instead of 5 so there was room for folks to mix their gas and oil.
Moving forward, Parts Unlimited became a powerhouse in the aftermarket parts world. If you built some sort of gear, accessory or widget for snowmobiling, getting it carried by and into the huge Parts Unlimited catalog was a key to success. The company was also very innovative under Fox’s leadership in terms of warehousing, shipping and more. Beyond that, there have been numerous Parts “house brands” over the years that us snowmobilers have interacted with – more recent examples would be Arctiva, Z1R and Moose, among others.
Snowmobile USA founder Tom Anderson shared this tale: “When I think of Fred, I think about one question I asked him years ago,” Anderson said. “I asked why he painted his Fox Trac snowmobiles that ugly orange and he replied, ‘They broke down a lot, and they were easier to find in the woods in that color” when folks went back to fix them. “He was a very unassuming man, and a great businessman.”
Fox stayed at the helm at Parts Unlimited/LeMans into his 80s before retiring in 2021. He was inducted into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in 2010. See his Hall of Fame bio for more details. Here’s the press release from Amador (below).
The Passing of Fred Fox: 1936-2023
Fred Fox, motorcycle industry leader and pioneer of the modern era of aftermarket product distribution and promotion passed away in Orange County, California on Sunday, February 5th due to natural causes. He was 86 years old.
Fox started his motorcycle distributing business in 1967. He was the only employee when he started the company at his house in Janesville, Wisconsin. In the years to come, the business grew fast, and he incorporated as LeMans Corporation, which continues to this day as the largest privately-owned motorcycle distributing company in the world.
In the early years, LeMans moved a couple of times into larger warehouses in Wisconsin, expanded into other areas around the country and many brands were added. Some became suppliers for Parts Unlimited and also Drag Specialties, which he acquired in 1988. Other brands and companies were bought outright, including THOR MX and Moose Racing.
Fred was always a hands-on manager who oversaw every detail to make his organization grow into the industry leader that it is today. He made the decisions to buy the land, designed the facilities for the additional warehouses throughout the United States and Canada, built a National sales rep force, secured leading brands to carry, and invested heavily in promotion of Parts Unlimited’s “We Support the Sport” campaign, which has been active since the 1990s. He also served on the Board of Directors of Motorcycle Industry Council from 1994 to 2007.
A multi-year personal project culminated in 2009 when LeMans opened the Parts Europe warehouse in Trier, Germany. An all-new warehouse was built there with state-of-the-art order filling technology that results in dealer order fulfillment speed never seen before in the motorcycle industry. In addition to the Parts Europe warehouse, LeMans Corporation currently has warehouses in Sparks, Nevada; Ballston Spa, New York; Flat Rock, North Carolina; Grapevine, Texas; and Janesville, Wisconsin, plus Calgary and London, Ontario in Canada.
Along the way, Fred has been recognized for his contributions to both the snowmobile and motorcycle sports and industries. In 2010, Fred was inducted into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame, as well as the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2018, he was the recipient of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Fred retired from full time activities at LeMans Corporation in the fall of 2021. He is survived by his wife Paula, sons Steven, Brian and Craig, daughters Teri and Lori, several grandchildren, nieces and nephews and his former wife Gloria. He was preceded in death by his two brothers Bob and Stanley, sister Jeana and son Jeffery.
At this time, funeral services are pending.
One thought on “Parts Unlimited, Fox Trac Founder Fred Fox Has Died”
I have been working in the company for almost 34 yrs. Fred was a very down to earth man. Walked around the warehouse saying ” hi ” to the employees. He will be truly missed.