A Brief History of Speed
Part 1: Ormond Beach
Along with the arrival of personal mechanized locomotion in the final years of the 19th century came a new American lust for speed. The earliest machines, both automobiles and motorcycles alike were cumbersome and demanding, but they were also capable of exhilarating new levels of speed. At as the turn of the century the developing machines were becoming more readily available, but suitable venues in which to stretch them out were not so common.
From coast to coast, American roads had changed little since the country’s founding and were no place for testing any boundaries. Dirt tracks were commonplace, but were built to accommodate animal races and as such were often too small. Around the globe bicycle racing was at the peek of its popularity, but the wooden oval Velodromes on which the cycle races took place were not large enough for even two motorcycles, much less an automobile. But in the right conditions and in the right regions nature provided a solution for man’s latest obsession with speed. Vast tracks of smooth, hard-packed sand stretched out for miles along America’s seaboard, in some places as far as the eye could see, and the velocity-hungry few found a new home.
In America, the birthplace of speed as it is now known today was first established in 1902, when a vacationing auto enthusiast named J.F. Hathaway first publicized the potential that the beach in front of his hotel had for running auto races. The hotel that Hathaway was staying at was named the Ormond Hotel, on the north end of Daytona Beach, Florioda, the location that would soon become host to the fastest men on Earth. It was at the height of the Gilded age, in 1886 that a rail line was completed to the Ormond Beach area, and just two years later in 1888 construction of the luxurious Ormond Hotel was completed. The railway provided easy transportation to the wide stretches of white sands of Ormond, and the Hotel immediately became a favorite among the era’s elite industrial barons, including American auto pioneers like Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and J.D. Rockefeller.
It is said that Hathaway ventured down to the shoreline while vacationing in 1902 to watch a bicycle race. Inspired, he then took his automobile down onto the sand and was delighted by the experience. Hathaway then shared his vision for automobile races with the hotel’s management, took a handful of photographs, and wrote the editor of The Automobile magazine. William J. Morgan, the editor of the Automobile magazine and an early racing promoter packed up and immediately headed to the famous resort on Florida’s east coast to see the “track” for himself. Plans were set and on March 26, 1903, as witnessed by the timing representatives of the American Automobile Association the first official races were made on the sands of Ormond. The years following saw the construction of the Ormond Garage as well as a conceptually expanded carnival of speed. Events too grew to include motorcycles, bicycles, and land speed cars. American auto and motorcycle legends flocked to America’s new capital of speed where new kings earned their crown each year, and America’s shoreline became our first cathedral of speed.
Pictured is a young Carl Oscar Hedstrom, former cycle racer, aspiring engineer, and co-founder of the Hendee Manufaturing Company, makers of the legendary Indian motocycle. At the time that this photo was taken at Ormomd Beach in 1903, Hedstrom and the Hendee Manufacturing Company had turned out less than 150 machines in their first 2 years of production. What we see Hedstrom riding is a unique machine and not one of the production models. It is possibly the very first of many one-off, purebred racing prototypes that Hedstrom would busy himself with over the next decade, tirelessly pursuing top speed. The mind behind Indian’s mechanics constructed this one of a kind motorcycle from components off of one of his three Typhoon tandem pacing machine’s. These tandem pacers, or stayer’s as they were known were the two-man operated lightweight motor bicycles Hedstrom built along with his cycling partner C.S. Henshaw a few years prior. The new lightweight prototype that Hedstrom derived from one of the tandems was powered with the same retooled 3 1/4hp DeDion Buton engine, but was setup for a single rider like Hedstrom’s civilian Indian and modified to allow him to tuck in tight and low for the highest speed. There, between the dunes of Ormond Beach and the Atlantic Ocean Hedstrom shot his little prototype, possibly the first Indian factory racing motorcycle to a top speed of 57mph, setting a new land speed record for the American mile in just 1 minute, 3 seconds.
A Brief History of Speed