To celebrate the spirit of the Barber Vintage Festival I wanted to share another fantastic photograph from the O.V. Hunt collection, the man who so vividly documented the motorcycle culture of the Magic City at the turn of the 20th century. These gentlemen were each a successful manager in an ever-expanding mid-teen’s network of Harley-Davidson dealerships. They are set up with a display of beautiful 1914 Model 10F Harley-Davidsons in front of William Specht Jr.’s new Harley-Davidson dealership in downtown Birmingham, July 1914. Astute businessmen no doubt, this crew had no interest in spending their days on the dealership floor, however, as they were all avid competitors, racing the tracks and road courses up and down the Eastern seaboard. In fact, this image was staged as they were in the midst of the F.A.M. Southern Championship Endurance Race on the Fourth of July, 1914. The event, which was sponsored by the Birmingham Ledger newspaper was an 800+ mile road race over the dusty backroads heading East, up through Northwest Georgia, down to Atlanta, and then back over the same route to Birmingham. The event was unfortunately mired in controversy between the Harley-Davidson and Indian teams, resulting in the Milwaukee crew withdrawing after the first day and the Springfield boys earning the technical win, though each ran extensive advertisements claiming victory.
The man who was sure to win before the first day’s protests was Atlanta’s, John D. Aikens. Standing proudly on the far left, Aikens was originally from Grand Rapids, SD and had moved south to Atlanta to begin working and racing for Gus Castle, Harley-Davidson’s man in the South. Aikens was a prolific presence on the Southern racing circuit, though he never seemed too interested in the spectacle of the motordrome, and was a PR mastermind who performed numerous stunts, like being the first man to ascend the steep summit of Stone Mountain onboard a motorcycle earlier in 1914. Aikens would eventually ship out to the front lines of France as a Lieutenant in the US Army’s motorcycle dispatch division during the Great War, and upon his return to Atlanta became a successful pioneer automobile racer and operated an auto garage for the rest of his years.
William F. Specht Jr. stands next to Aikens in this photograph, and it is in front of his dealership that the men are lined up. Specht was originally an avid racer and Harley-Davidson dealer from Atlantic City, but under the arrangements of Atlanta’s Gus Castle, Specht moved to Birmingham earlier in 1914 to open up an HD dealership inside Cliff Howell’s bicycle shop. Specht was an active part of the Southern racing scene, both competing, supplying, and assisting in competitions however he could. It was Specht who helped run the pit crew for Leslie Parkhurst when he came down to Birmingham onboard one of Harley’s experimental 11K factory race machines that October of 1914. Parkhurst won the F.A.M. One Hour Championship that day with Specht’s assistance, a statistic, though considered unofficial, marked the first major victory for the budding Harley-Davidson factory racing program. Specht left Birmingham by the outbreak of the war and returned to New Jersey, spending the 1920’s as a pioneer hill climb champion in the northeast.
Finally, on the far right donning a number 18 on his machine is North Carolina’s own Gray Sloop. Sloop was possibly the most active competitor amongst the bunch. A Harley-Davidson dealer from Mooresville, NC, Sloop was so talented in the saddle that he was one of the few men allowed to compete at national events onboard one of Bill Ottaway’s experimental 11K prototype machines in early 1914. Two months after this photo was taken Sloop won F.A.M 50 Mile National Championship at the Isle of Palms onboard one of the early versions of the 11K. Given his abilities and successes both on the track and at the dealership Sloop was selected by the Motor Co. to be apart of their debut factory racing team at the big Savannah 300 road race in November. It was a prestigious lot of fellows selected to officially ride for Harley-Davidson debut factory team and Sloop was seemingly on the rise as a national racing star. While making great speed on his third lap though Sloop lost control of his machine, laying it down near Norwood Ave. The initial fall was not enough to injure Gray too badly, but it did severely crack the right side of his handlebar. Foolishly determined, Gray pushed on until the handlebar finally gave way at speed when approaching a hard turn at Waters Rd. and Estill Ave. The impact of his second spill was violent, Sloop being hurled from his machine headlong into a guide wire. It was a gruesome scene and Gray Sloop was dead before he reached the hospital.
Three Southern Kings of racing, each a victor on the track and on the showroom floor captured here in Birmingham, July 1914.