In October of 1911 the board track Motordrome craze was just beginning to take hold around the country. For the last two and a half years Jack Prince had been busy constructing dromes and promoting events in Los Angeles, Springfield, Salt Lake City, Denver*, Oakland, and his newly completed Riverview Stadium in Chicago. Manufacturers like Indian, Merkel, Thor, and Excelsior were further refining their purebred board track motorcycles, Indian having only just introduced their groundbreaking overhead 8-valve racer, and men like Jake DeRosier, Charlie Balke, Eddie Hasha, and Arthur Mitchell had established themselves as the country's newest sporting superstars.
It was at the Chicago track that these pioneers of the motordrome era were racing in late summer of 1911, but as the northern chill began to set upon Chicago the Riverview Stadium closed their doors for the season. DeRosier, Hasha, Balke, and Mitchell set off in search of new venues in which to compete and earn their living. Of the eight motordromes completed by the fall of 1911, less than half were still in operational condition. However, 1/2 mile and 1 mile dirt tracks were in nearly every city throughout America, most often situated within the local fairgrounds. One such track, a 1 mile long dirt horse track located in the Five Points West neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama was selected as part of motordrome stars’ solution, a dirt track tour of the south, the Southern Tour Race Series. The tour allowed the national stars like DeRosier, Balke, Hasha, and Mitchell to travel the southern states where there was not yet any motordromes, show off their skill, their machines, and earn enough money to carry them through to the next season on the boards.
On October 5th 1911, roughly 105 years ago from this weekend’s annual Barber Vintage Festival the four men of the Southern Tour Racing Series arrived in Birmingham for a number of daily races scheduled to take place daily over the coming week. However, awaiting the traveling two-wheeled daredevils was Birmingham’s own motorcycle champion, local Indian dealer and pioneer racer Robert Stubbs. Being one of the very first men contracted to ride for the Indian factory team and having a number of speed records already under his belt, Stubbs’ reputation was quite well known to veterans like Mitchell and DeRosier, while the new professionals of the bunch Hasha and Balke would have most certainly read about his accomplishments as they rose through the ranks. Despite being the oldest entrant in the weeklong competition, the 34 year old Stubbs was still a force in the saddle, and seeing as how he had been twisting throttles on the Birmingham State Fairground track since 1907, one can only assume that DeRosier, Mitchell, Balke, and Hasha new they had their work cut out for them as they stepped off the train.
Pictured is Birmingham's Robert Stubbs at the Atlanta Speedway in 1911.
Stay tuned for Part II.