The American Motordrome, bygone cathedrals of enthusiastic risk, triumph, and tragedy. It was inside these large wooden saucers that a new breed of professional, the restless gentlemen of a newly dawned 20th century put their lives on the line every week to the delight of the enraptured masses.
For those few daring enough to compete on these steeply banked, and often times roughly constructed board tracks a good life awaited, one full of adrenaline, accolades, and prosperity, but not all crossed the finish line. For many of these young men, most with young families to support, a more gruesome fate would greet them as their throttle’s dilated. Still many skirted death, piloting their raw and untethered purebred motorcycles to victory and becoming American icons as they traveled the country to battle inside the motordromes.
Twenty six stadium motordromes were built between 1909 and 1914, the majority of which were a 1/4 mile long with banking ranging from a soft 20 degrees to a nearly vertical 62 degrees. The Great War hastened the inevitable end to what had been the intense and tumultuous 5 year boom of the American motordrome. The inherent danger of increasingly capable machines, frequent weather disruptions, an exceedingly high cost of maintenance, and a growing public distaste for the tragic gore that resulted after all-too frequent accidents made for the saucer’s abbreviated life span. Though the motordrome moniker would live on in the larger wooden speedways and smaller traveling thrill shows that were to come, the circular wooden bowls that spawned the name and helped create a new American industry disappeared, officially being banned in 1919.
A southern pioneer and lifelong ambassador, Georgia’s Harry James Glenn was one of this new breed, a man of exceptional grit who questioned all limits inside America’s motordromes. A glint in his eye and a half smile, Harry is seen here with his factory Indian racer in front of the 56 degree track of the Atlanta Motordrome in the summer of 1913, his first season on the boards.
Read more about Harry’s incredible life story and the Atlanta Motordrome, as well as countless other tales from the beginning of American motorcycle culture inside the pages of Georgia Motorcycle History, available exclusively HERE