In celebration of the 1914 Thanksgiving Day American Classic Championship, also known as the 2nd Annual Savannah 300, this week’s posts will cover a bit more detail on that historic event. The daunting 300-mile road race took place beneath the eerie canopy of Savannah’s centuries-old oak trees which drip with Spanish moss onto the sandy roads of Savannah’s Grand Prize circuit. Covered in numerous articles at ArchiveMoto.com as well as detailed in the pages of Georgia Motorcycle History, the event marked a turning point in the course of American motorcycle racing history as it was the event chosen by the now quintessentially American motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson to debut their first officiall factory racing program featuring their newly developed purebred factory racer, the 11K.
Having been steadily making a name for himself since 1908, Lawrence Ray Weishaar arose out of the county fair 1/2-mile circuit in Kansas and onto the national stage. By the Fall of 1914 the “Kansas Cyclone,” as he became known was a solid choice for Harley-Davidson’s factory racing program director Bill Ottoway to recruit for the debut Savannah team. Weishaar had ridden Indians and Excelsiors to great success, but his debut with the powerful and nimble new factory 11K machine solidified his relationship with Harley-Davidson, one which would last the rest of his days, turning both Weihsaar and Harley-Davidson into American icons.
For a new professional on a new factory team running a new prototype racer Weishaar exploded off of the line in Savannah to the delight of the crowd. His first laps were among the fastest in the pack, but by his third lap his time had more than doubled, believing that he had snapped a valve or valve spring Weishaar pulled into the pits. Valves and springs all checked out, but the valve seat of Ray’s front cylinder was covered in molten glass, the result of shards from a busted sparkplug having made their way onto the seat and melting. The repairs that were possible were made and Weishaar charged the course once again. Throughout the new H-D team spark plugs proved a constant issue, the hot and fast motors of the 11K were melting glass plugs every few laps, but despite numerous stops for plugs, oil, and fuel Weishaar consistently shaved time off of each lap hitting average speeds of 72mph on Savannah’s soft sandy roads. He was so effortlessly fast that a bystander was quoted as saying that he could have easily taken first place had the event been a 500 mile rather than a 300. However, on the 24th lap, with only 3 laps remaining Weishaar pitted with a leaking ding in his fuel tank and was flagged out due to concerns over fire. His teammate Irving Janke went on to claim 3rd place, coming in behind Excelsior’s Joe Wolters in 2nd and Indian’s Lee Taylor in 1st, but the result was the first of countless podium positions to come for Harley-Davidson after having officially tossed their hat into the professional racing game on Thanksgiving Day, Novemeber 26, 1914.