Eugene Walker, loving known as Gene is one of the South’s most beloved motorcycle racing pioneers. Born in the small town of Plevna, AL, just south of the Tennessee line, Gene grew up in Birmingham after his mother moved the family following the tragic murder of his father just months before his birth. Like many of America’s earliest racing stars, Gene took to motorcycling early in life, climbing on board his first machine around 1910. The story goes that he honed his riding skills as one of Birmingham’s first motorcycle postman, whirling around the city delivering mail in record time no doubt. Despite his later success as a professional racer, Walker also maintained a position on the Birmingham Police Department’s motorcycle squadron throughout his life, a fact that surely inspired hesitance in any would be wrongdoer in the city. 

By 1912 the racing bug had landed upon Gene’s shoulder and being that Birmingham was one of the southern capitals of motorcycle racing, he quickly found his place. That same year Walker captured his first amateur win in the 5-mile event at the Birmingham Fairgrounds, catching the eye of local Indian distributor and one of Indian’s first factory racers Robert Stubbs. Bob as he was known, was a legend in his own right having made his start racing bicycles in the late 1800’s. By 1907 Stubbs was a cornerstone in the motorcycle culture of Birmingham. Stubbs had been racing professionally for Indian since at least 1909 and took young Walker under his wing. With Stubbs' guidance, Walker began dominating the events he ran on board his mentor's Indians, overtaking seasoned pros like Arthur Mitchell, Joe Wolters, and Charlie Balke… he was still an amateur. Walker then turned pro in October of 1914, and in July of 1915 he had officially signed with the factory team at Indian and claimed his first national victory in Saratoga, NY. The war years sent Walker a adrift, first returning home to Birmingham where he worked at a local Harley dealership. During that time he entered local races a privateer onboard Harley’s before returning to Springfield in 1918 to work in the factory and test new prototype machines. When professional racing resumed in America in 1919, Walker with the might of Indian was poised to dominate. Postwar professional motorcycle racing in America was a continuous battle between the now mighty Harley Davidson factory team, Bill Ottoway's legendary "Wrecking Crew” and the burgundy gentlemen of the WigWam, but Walker gave the Milwaukee boys a hard run for their money claiming 6 national wins for Indian in 1919 alone. 

It was in April of 1920 when this photo was taken of Gene onboard his factory 61ci Powerplus Indian near the dunes of Ormond Beach. Walker had been sent to the famous speed coast along with fellow Birmingham racer Herbert McBride to make runs at several land speed records. The Birmingham boys proceeded to then smash 24 national and international speed records. In fact, Walker preformed so well onboard his newly configured side valve machine, with its distinctive finned exhaust ports seen in this photo, that the setup became known as the “Daytona” motor, a legend among American racing machines. Of the records, Walker claimed the first international FICM record at 104.12 mph, and hit 115.79 mph onboard his 61ci 8 valve racer. Following his exemplary showing in Florida, Walker continued to race and win for Indian. In an unfortunate circumstance regarding Walker’s refusal to run at the 1921 Dodge City race due to safety concerns, the brass at Indian released Walker from his contract despite protest from their own racing team. 1922, 1923, and 1924 were tumultuous years for Walker as he bounced between running for Indian and Harley, though victory never seemed too far out of reach regardless of factory politics. Tragically, in the midst of such instability Walker’s racing days came to an end on June 7, 1924 when during practice laps at Stroudburg, PA Walker collided with a tractor that had made its way onto the track under the cover of the dust kicked up. The 31 year old racer later succumbed to his injuries on June 21st, leaving behind his pregnant wife, his two daughters, and a legacy as one of the kindest and fastest the sport has ever known. 

Sidenote: My good friend David Morrill has a wonderful article detailing the life and times of young Gene Walker on his site dlmracing.blogspot.com that encourage everyone to check out.

Comment