“It serves no useful purpose either with reference to the development of the rider or the machine. It is speed madness, pure and simple. Its purpose is to cater to the lust of risk on the part of those safely seated in the grandstand. The exploiters of motorcycle racing have everywhere shown that their sole aim is to provide thrills (at the cost of others’ lives) and their sole object the collection of money from such thrills."
A quote from the editorial page of The Detroit News in the summer of 1913. The scathing commentary was accompanied by a cartoon entitled “A Pagan Holiday” in which Death, with his sickle and a shield bearing a dollar sign stands with a rider beneath his foot at the bottom of a motordrome as the crowd gives unanimous thumbs down, as if spectators in a Roman coliseum. The piece was run following the death of 22 year old Emil Haloubek, an Austrian aviator that died after crashing at the newly opened Detroit Motordrome the afternoon of June 5, 1913. Haloubek was running practice laps as part of an evaluation for Don Klark, Detroit’s racing team captain who was interested in recruiting the fearless young amateur. The Detroit Motordrome, a 1/4 mile circular board track with 60 degree banking had just opened it’s gates on May 24th, and though the public outcry spurred on by articles like the one from which this excerpt was taken threatened to close the stadium down, the venue’s management insisted that it was a freak accident and the gates remained open at Detroit for two more seasons. Haloubek’s death pushed the racer body count to over a dozen since the perilous sport began a few years prior, a number which the spectator death toll would soon surpass with the tragedy at the Lagoon Motordrome that July which claimed the lives of rider Odin Johnson and 7 spectators, the youngest of which a 5 year old boy. The growing distaste for the motordrome spectacle across America only added to the sport’s diminishing viability, and scenes like this one, from a photograph taken inside the Detroit Motordrome in July of 1913 would become but a distant American pastime within a few short years.