This image is one of the few that truly captures the thrilling and raw nature of motordrome racing. It appears from time to time, but as is most often the case with these photographs it is circulated with no background information. Though the image still leaves much to be uncovered, here is the little that I know. 

It comes from the sparsely documented Houston Motordrome, which was completed in late December 1913 on the corner of Sampson Street and Pierce Avenue. The Houston Stadium Motordrome was one of the last of its kind, the 21st of the steeply-banked, circular wooden tracks built in America between 1909 and 1914. The 1/4 mile long track was opened on Christmas day in 1913, and though I have yet to confirm how steeply banked the track surface was it appears from this photograph to have been on the steeper side between 50 and 60 degrees. 

Judging by the fresh paint dripping down the track surface, the large outer posts that have yet to be trimmed, and the lack of seating around the perimeter this frame was most likely taken during a practice session before the track was complete. I cannot identify the individual riders, but it is most certainly made up of gentlemen racers from the initial line up, many of whom had come from a successful 1913 season racing at the Atlanta and Chattanooga Motordromes. They included Morty Graves, Wilmer “Tex” Richards, Fred Luther, Harry Schwartz, Bert Bouggerman, George Lockner, Ray Creviston, Henry Lewis, F. Fleckenstein, and the former Parisian jockey George Renel. 

I have not yet completed my research of the Houston saucer, but it is one of the rare few facilities where racers took flight after having lost control of their machines, sending the man and his machine flying clear out of the arena before coming to a violent landing on the grounds past the grandstands. The first of which was a racer down from Milwaukee named Walter Ferch. During a race on February 8, 1914 he collided with the rear wheel of Bert Bouggerman at 85 mph. He then rocketed over the edge, past the safety wire over the crowd, his machine striking a woman in the head before both Ferch and his machine exited the arena in the least desirable fashion. Ferch, who famously chewed on cigars while racing so as to prevent biting off his own tongue in the event of a crash was initially reported dead, but was later found to be in surprisingly good shape. Just one month later on March 22 Wilmer “Tex' Richards from Waco, who had been one of the favorite champions of the Atlanta drome lost control of his machine during a race and again went sailing over the grandstands, landing hard outside of the motordrome. Tex was found unconscious and bleeding from the mouth, again initial reports claimed his injuries were fatal, but he too walked out of the hospital and back into the saddle, later retiring to Atlanta and becoming apart of the APD motorcycle unit. 

The prolific track builder and race promoter Jack Prince sold his interest along with all sanctioning rights to the Houston Motordrome in February of 1914, leaving in order to construct the Twin Cities Stadium in St. Paul, MN. that May, followed by the final of the circular board track motordromes in Omaha, NB in September 1914. The remaining story of the Houston Motordrome, as well as all of the other 20th century cathedrals of violent speed is soon to come.

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