It was on this day, July 30th in 1913 that yet another tragic accident occurred on the boards of an American motordrome, claiming the lives of eight, including that of racing pioneer Odin Johnson. Called the "Salt Lake Marvel," Johnson left his career as a lineman for a telephone company in Salt Lake City to began racing motorcycles in the spring of 1911. Right away Johnson became no stranger to incidents on the boards, within his first year of racing Johnson was involved in several fatal accidents on his local track, the Wandamere Motordrome. 

At the end of a race in June of 1912, Johnson was drifting back towards the bottom of the track after having cut the power to his machine when he was struck by Heinie Potter, a local police officer and amateur racer, Potter did not survive. The very next month Johnson was again in a mixup which took the life of fellow local racing star Harry Davis. According to reports, Davis clipped Johnson’s machine while attempting to pass, sending him flying out of control and into the stands. A local girl, Grace Cunningham was struck and later died as a result of her injuries, her friend Elizabeth Jensen nearly escaped death and was listed as one of the four spectators seriously injured. Interestingly, Jensen and Johnson became friends after the tragedy and were married later that year.

In July, Johnson and his brother Ben, also a racer, were in the stands watching local rider Mat Warden run a race on Johnson’s bike. The machine was owned by the track but had been Johnson’s for the 1912 season. When Warden started up the steep banking at the Salt Lake track, the rear axel snapped, sending Warden quickly veering back towards the bottom. Luckily no one was injured as a result, however after inspection mechanic J.A. McNeil determined that someone had taken a saw to the axel in an attempt to sabotage the event. Both McNeil and Johnson were initially investigated but were cleared when a man later confessed to cutting the axel.

For the 1913 season Johnson ventured to the Luna Park Motordrome in Cleveland, where he set up camp and began running races in the area. By June he had become the captain of the Cincinnati road team and was being pitted against Chicago’s captain Joe Wolters at the Riverview Stadium outside of Chicago. It was for the American League championship races, which included Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit, an St. Louis that Johnson ventured to the newly constructed Lagoon Motordrome in Ludlow, Kentucky. 

With continuous banked turns of 60 degrees, the 1/4 mile circular drome at Ludlow was one of the steepest in the country and was heralded as the safest. The track opened on June 22nd under the lights to a crowd of over 4,000 people. It was one month later when, on the evening of July 30th Odin Johnson, running towards the top of the track lost control of his machine and veered towards the crowd. Johnson struck a light post, snapping it in half andsmashing in his skull. The wiring from the light post then ignited the fuel from Johnson’s wrecked Indian, burning “no fewer than 35 people” according to the local press. A total of Eight people, including Johnson died that evening; two women, two men, and three children the youngest of which was a 5 year old boy. The 24 year old Johnson had just sent a telegraph home before the race that evening, telling his family of his successes, his new road machine, and his and Elizabeth’s excitement over payments they were making on their first home.

The tragedy at Lagoon came only months after the infamous accident at the Valisburg Motordrome, which also took the lives of 8 people, including racers Eddie Hasha and Johnny Albright. With the rising death toll public opinion was beginning to turn against the dangerous and thrilling motordromes. The motordrome boom was at its height in 1913, less than 10 more circular wooden tracks would be constructed and those that were already operational would not see their gates opened for much longer. The Lagoon track was able to reopen after the tragic event of July 30th, but like the rest of America’s short lived circular motordromes it would not see the other side of WWI.

This photo is from Johnson's home track, the Wandamere Motordrome in Salt Lake City, Utah taken on May 31st 1912. It was the first day of the 1912 season, only days before the death of H.F. Johnson. I believe Odin Johnson is second from left in the button down sweater.