- Chris Price
Denver, like most metropolitan cities at the turn of the 20th century has a long heritage of motorcycling. However, Denver is unique in that it was the only city in America to construct and support two full sized board track motordromes. Though the Northeast had a number of tracks in close proximity of one another, and Los Angeles technically did have three tracks but with varying shapes and sizes, the two full sized circular motordromes in Denver, Lakeside and Tuileries, became a grand experiment as to how much competition Americans could handle, and made Denver an early capital of the sport.
Seen here a race on the shallow banking of Denver's Tuileries Motordrome ca. 1912, one of the first board track motordromes built in America. The track originally opened in the Spring of 1911 along with a second track at the White City Amusement Park, also known as the Lakeside Motordrome, an unique experiment in multi-track sustainability.
At first glance this photo seems to capture a moment shared between teammates, members of the eminent Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew lined up either in anticipation of their victory, or perhaps just after, on a dusty dirt oval in the 1920’s. With a bit more investigation it is discovered that the photo comes from a series of M&ATA National Championship races held at Los Angeles’ old Ascot Park in January 1920, just as professional motorcycle racing in America was rebooting after WWI. The riders then begin to come into focus, from left to right, as Freddie Ludlow, Ralph Hepburn, Albert “Shrimp” Burns, and Otto Walker, but if the caption were to end there far too much of the story would remain untold.
If there is one machine which embodies the storied era of the board track motordrome it would no doubt be an Indian, and no configuration to have come out of the Springfield factory was more perfectly tailored for the infamous slanted timbers of America’s fabled dromes than Indian’s Big Base 8-Valve. Perhaps even more synonymous with the treacherous glory of the American motordrome is one of the company’s most notable talents, the young Texan William Edward Hasha.
Arthur George Chapple, the man rocketing up the Fort Lee hill in December, 1909 as covered in this week’s previous post, was one of America’s first and most loved motorcycle racing stars. A pioneer of the sport, Chapple’s racing career dates back to the earliest days of competition, when daring early adopters found themselves duking it out with the very men responsible for the machine’s creation, men like Glenn Curtiss, Oscar Hedstrom, and Joseph Merkel. He became a fixture competitor...
A popular early form of motorsport was the hill climb, which in its original form dates back to the very introduction of the automobile and motorcycle.However, these early hill climbs were not the outlandish grudge matches with nearly vertical slants like the ones America fell in love with in the 1920’s and 30’s. The earlier bouts were timed ascents up inclined local roads throughout the country and were only slightly more civilized. This photo comes from one such early hill climb, an event staged in the palisades of New Jersey in the fall of 1909...
By this day 100 years ago nearly half of humanity had been tearing itself apart across Europe for nearly 2 years, trapped in the desolation of the world’s first global conflict, the war to end all wars. Death had kept busy ushering millions near the tranquil waters of the Marne and the Somme, and from the once peaceful pastures at Ypres and Verdun to their doom, but on this day, April 9, 1917, he extended his necrosed arm across the Atlantic and drew the United States into the carnage.
It was one hundred years ago this week that a reluctant United States finally resolved to enter into the horrifying bog of World War I, the gruesome mechanical death machine. On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed congress citing that America was “but one of the champions of the rights of mankind,” and that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” On April 6th, Congress declared war against Germany and America thrust itself forward into “the war to end all wars,” a terrible new pitch of blood letting across Europe that would tear from humanity nearly 40 million casualties.
On December 30, 1912, on the wide boards of the Playa Del Rey board track in Los Angeles, a local Class B racer named Lee I. Humiston mounted his new 61ci Excelsior twin and set off for the day’s speed trails. Like a lightning bolt of grey and red, Humiston and his Excelsior shot around the massive 1 mile long wooden circle at Playa, the largest wooden track of its time which had a shallow banking of only 20 degrees, and set a new mile record of 36 seconds flat. The occasion was a spectacular moment in American motorcycle history and all who were present knew it, as it marked the first time that a man and a motorcycle had ever reached the 100 mph mark.
At only 17 years old, Ray Seymour, the “California Wonder” had already established himself as one of the top competitors in the sport of American motorcycle racing by 1909. The freckle-faced youngster had only begun racing around the dirt tracks of Southern California the year before, and became a staple crack at LA’s Agriculture Park, one of the first hubs of the sport. His ability to hold his own at such a young age against the country’s first generation of racers, experienced and hardened carry-overs from the glory days of bicycle competition put him at the top of the class of America’s second wave of pioneer racers, and helped earn him a factory sponsorship with Reading Standard.