Born on Christmas Day, 1889 in Akron, Ohio William John Teubner became one of the country’s most beloved racing pioneers during his brief career. One of the more fetching champions of the early dirt and clay speedways, the tall, brown-eyed Teubner was described as one of the “cleanest, gamest, and most popular riders that ever plowed a dirt track.” He was one of the first generation of racers, the class of gentlemen riders that found their own way into racing motorcycles, aligning himself in 1908 with the Yellow Jacket swarm at Flying Merkel. Being one of the original stars of the sport, Teubner helped create the culture, competing with and against men like Morty Graves, Ray Seymour, Ralph DePalma, Charlie Balke, Freddie Huyck, Arthur Mitchel, and Cannonball Baker. An avid endurance rider, Teubner also duked it out over hundreds of muddy miles with many of the men who created the American motorcycle industry itself, including Glenn Curtiss, Walter Davidson, Oscar Hedstrom, and of course Joseph Merkel. He raced mostly on dusty ovals throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and South, racking up win after win and setting blistering speed records along the way.
When Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom unveiled his new overhead valve twin at the Guttenberg Mile on May 21, 1911, Teubner was the only man able to put the mighty Indian 8-Valve behind him. Teubner was the first star at Merkel, a brand which was home to icons like Morty Graves, Fred Whittler, Charlie Balke, and Maldwyn Jones throughout the Golden Era of motorcycle racing. Despite a number of victories in early 1911 however, Teubner’s relationship with the company for which he had helped keep at the top of the podium for the last 3 years was drawing to an end. Though Joseph Merkel was an avid racing enthusiast the company took a rather diluted stance on the factory racing front, developing very few racing machines in-house and often only covering expenses for their riders despite having one of the strongest brands in the sport at the time. With increasing levels of support coming from other big factory teams like Thor, Excelsior, and Indian, Merkel’s half-handed approach to a factory program eventually led to many of its stars leaving the company, Teubner being one of the first. Perhaps influenced by his close friend and fellow competitor Frank Hart, who had joined the Indian Wigwam in April 1911, Teubner ran his final race with Merkel that September, making his own debut with the mighty Indian team at the Guttenberg track at the start of October. Within a month he was in Springfield for orientation, some might say indoctrination, but nevertheless Teubner was officially a part of the Crimson Tribe.
The sport had exploded by that time and new heroes, men like Eddie Hasha, Don Klark, Lee Taylor, and John U. Constant began to emerge from a new type of racing venue, the notoriously precarious board track motordrome. Whether it was the result of opportunities discovered in Springfield or simply the foresight of a man familiar with the limits of men and machines in 1912, Billy Teubner abbreviated his role on the Indian team almost as soon as he joined, deciding to gracefully bow out of the increasingly dangerous sport while he still could. His concern for safety was entirely justified, though odd for a young, unattached man at the height of the sport, considering that a least 14 men lost their lives on American tracks in 1912 alone, over 30 were dead by the end of the 1913 season. Though Teubner officially retired from racing in March of 1912, his role in the culture continued for years. He became a part of the Hendee Manufacturing Company’s traveling sales team working alongside fellow retired racers Charles Gustafson, Charles Spencer, Oscar Hedstrom, and even his old pal and the former sales manager at Merkel Charle Buffum, who had also recently joined the Springfield company as well. He continued to ride in endurance runs and competed in the occasional hill climb, but Teubner put his Class-A days behind him after only 5 years in the sport. In 1915 he opened his own Indian dealership in Dayton, OH, and was elected president of the Miami Racing Company where he coordinated and organized all racing efforts in the region for years to come. When Indian’s Teddy Carrol and Cannonball Baker set the world’s 12-hour, 24-hour, 500-mile, and 1000-mile records at Cincinnati in August, 1917 it was Teubner who was running the pits. That same summer Teubner was married and in 1920 him and his wife Florence welcomed a daughter Ettie to their family.
When compared with other pioneer racing stars, the short length of William J. Teubner’s career in the saddle is quite unique, but it is equally impressive given the level of success and notoriety that he achieved. Though Billy Teubner only raced for a few years he was regarded as a true champion, full of grit and grace. This photograph of Billy Teubner and his 7HP Flying Merkel twin was taken in Philadelphia on August 13th, 1910 just after the big F.A.M. National Championship races at the triangular dirt mile at Point Breeze. Teubner lined up that day against the best America had to offer, including his Merkel teammates Cannonball Baker and Morty Graves, as well as Frank Hart, Freddie Huyck, Ray Seymour, Walter Goerke, and Jacob DeRosier. Though Seymour and Graves dominated the field, Teubner and his Merkel’s held their own in front of the crowd of 5,000, winning the 10-Mile Trade Riders Championship, the 15-Mile Amateur Championship, the G & J Tires 10-Mile Championship, and placed second behind Indian’s Ray Seymour in the 25-Mile Championship for singles. Holding the grand trophy, which was presented by the G & J Tire Company of Indianapolis is Joseph Merkel himself, a champion of our culture and one of the finest engineers in American motorcycle history.