Cutting it close with all of the festivities this weekend, but I wanted to throw out some love for you guys and this lovely country we get to call home. Happy Independence Day Folks!
A century ago today, July 4th, 1916, Harley-Davidson’s original racing star, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst took one of the factory’s first 8-Valve racers to speeds well in excess of 90 mph at the massive 2-mile long board track super speedway at Sheepshead Bay, winning both the 2-mile FAM National Championship, 100-mile race, and setting a new record for 50 miles. Legend goes that the lanky 6 foot 4 inch Red, who was so named after his fiery hair color began racing ponies against local Native American kids when he was a boy in South Dakota before throwing his long leg over a motorcycle in 1909 at just 13 years old. Harley brought him onboard in 1914 just as the Motor Co. had begun experimenting with a factory racing program. By the time Red let lose on the boards at Sheepshead Bay two years later he had become one of the most beloved racers in the country and one of the cornerstones of a new and dominant Harley-Davidson racing team.
On Independence Day, 1916, Parkhurst rode one of Bill Ottaway’s latest creations, a first iteration of the mighty Harley 8-Valve racers which Parkhurst himself helped debut a few weeks prior in Detroit. With the kinks worked out from those first runs, Red quickly claimed the 2-mile National Championship in front of a crowd of over 18,000, making the single lap around the wooden oval in 1 minute, 19 seconds, a speed of 91 mph. When it was time for the race of the day, a 100-mile, 50 lap, all out battle the crowd stood on their toes as Red blasted around the track. Only 20 miles in he had already lapped the field, and by the 50th mile he had opened up a 4 mile lead, having lapped the field at least twice. It was also on the 50th mile that he broke the existing record set by teammate Harry “Otto” Walker by 1 minute, 40 seconds. Reports say that if weren’t for an unexpected pit to replace a blown plug on the 66th mile he would have knocked out the 100-mile records as well, but none the less he crossed the finish line in just over 68 minutes, an average speed of 88 mph, on wood strips, with a leather cap and a wool sweater, 100 years ago today.
Though Red was the star of the day, Harley-Davidson was the big finisher, placing 5 out of 6 top positions at Sheepshead Bay. Harley had also fielded an 8-Valve equipped team that same day at the annual Dodge City 300, with Irving Janke winning the prestigious event and Ray Weishaar taking 3rd place, each on a new factory 8-Valve. It was a grand Independence Day indeed.