In the years prior to WWI American motorcycle racing had grown from low speed matches on local horse tracks to unrestrained, factory supported, death-defying speed blitzes across motordromes, flat tracks, and super speedways. With Harley-Davidson entering the sport in 1914, the two major competing brands Indian and Excelsior found themselves in a three way battle against a well funded adversary. Local dirt flat tracks continued to rise in popularity and the Dodge City 300 became the sport’s premier race, but as the gates of America’s infamous motordromes closed a new breed of track emerged. Inspired by the success of the large dirt super speedways in Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Dodge City, Jack Prince’s latest board tracks expanded the idea of the motordrome to the scale of the speedway in efforts to accommodate increasingly popular automobile races. Prince had experimented with the idea in 1910 with the 1 mile Los Angeles Motordrome at Playa Del Rey, and once more at the 1/2 mile track in Elmhurst, CA the following year. However, these new multi-mile long, wide, wooden ovals, with their flat straightaways and highly-banked turns would be mammoth construction efforts consisting of board feet of lumber numbering in the millions and hundreds of tons of nails. In June 1915 fans poured into Chicago’s massive new 2 mile wooden oval at Speedway Park, America’s first board track speedway. Similar tracks followed in Tacoma, Omaha, Des Moines, and Sheepshead Bay in 1915 alone, 17 more were completed by 1928. In 1916 professional motorcycle racing was suspended because of WWI, and many of the country’s top competitors enlisted for duty. The FAM, America’s sanctioning body since 1903 dissolved and a new organization, the Motorcyclists & Allied Trades Association (M&ATA) took its place in 1919, eventually becoming the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) in 1924. Racing returned that same year with a season bookended by 2 spectacular 200 mile races in LA’s Ascot Park and Marion, IN, both of which were dominated by Harley’s reassembled factory team. In the years to come thoroughbred machines, world class venues, and factory teams overflowing with superstars made for some of the most ferocious and exhilarating racing the country had ever seen as the battle between Harley-Davidson and Indian intensified. These were the years of Harley-Davidson’s fabled Wrecking Crew, a factory team stacked with legends who defined the quintessentially American brand. However, the team itself was only together for three years before Harley-Davidson pulled the plug on their racing program in 1922. A few retired, some signed with other teams, and a handful continued racing Harley’s either under special contract or onboard machines that they purchased after the 1921 season. At first the prohibition era was a time of purebred, Class A competition in which fearless men consistently pushed what was thought possible on two wheels. However, the 1920’s also signified the end of the first major era in American motorcycle racing as the decade ended with smaller engines, abandoned tracks, and fewer heroes. By the stock market crash of 1929, in desperate need of change, the industry pushed forward with innovation in technology, design, and style while the sport of professional racing was reborn with the development of a more inclusive class of racing.
In this photo comes from the high water mark of America's first great era of motorcycling. Here, racers exit a corner of the 1.25 mile long Beverly Hills Speedway during the inaugural motorcycle races held on April 24, 1921. Speeds exceeded 100 mph averages throughout the day with Harley-Davidson’s Otto Walker and Jim Davis each taking a first place finish. Indian’s Albert “Shrimp” Burns took the other two wins despite a nasty crash during the second race. Seen here from front to back are #2 Ray Weishaar, #1 Otto Walker, #5 Fred Ludlow, #3 Jim Davis, #4 Ralph Hepburn, and #15 Curly Fredricks.