Maldwyn Jones and Cleo Pineau, two prolific pioneer American motorcycle racers prepped and ready to charge the the sandy roads of Savannah, GA for the 1913 American Classic 300-Mile Road Race. The original Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer, Merkel had a stake in the sport of motorcycle racing for nearly a decade by the time this photograph was taken, having fielded machines and racers since 1905. Without question the champion of the brand, Maldwyn Jones, seen on the left had helped to establish Merkel as a worthy competitor to the resoundingly dominant Indian factory program. A more recent addition to the Merkel team, Cleo Pineau remained one the company’s most loyal racers until their last days, continuing to compete on Merkels until founder Joseph Merkel left and the company shut its doors just before the Great War. Together the two men remained a stronghold for the brand into the mid-teens amidst a shrinking American motorcycle market and the increasingly fierce and well financed competition departments of Indian, Excelsior, and a eventually Harley-Davidson.
Though even the most casual antique enthusiast will recognize the unique signature orange paint for which Flying Merkel is famous, many do not know that Merkel’s racing team announced their presence at the track with a different shade. Known as The Yellow Jackets, the Merkel squad often ran machines painted yellow, the riders themselves wearing jerseys and pants to match, there is even mention of painted helmets and boots. Both staple men of the Yellow Jackets, Jones and Pineau would also both enlist for service come WWI. Jones served US Army Air Service at McCook Field where he would be able to continue his passion for racing on the weekend which resulted in him establishing a new relationship with the Harley-Davidson program. Pineau shipped off to the front lines as a fighter pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, becoming one of the elite few American Aces. It is said that, much to the bewilderment of his fellow pilots, Pineau kept a grimacing yellow wasp painted on the sides of his plane throughout his deployment, a tribute to his Yellow Jacket team back home and his loyalty to the once great American motorcycle company who had help start it all.
As for the day that this image of the pair was snapped on board their sleek, fully suspended Flying Merkel racers. The young Pineau pushed hismachine too hard while coming around a sandy corner on the 11th lap, snapping his handlebars off during a tremendous spill in front of the grandstands. Jones however put on a clinic, leading the race for a couple hundred miles at an average speed nearing 70 mph. With only 2 laps to go Jones’ chain snapped which caused him a 19 minute delay in order to repair, Excelsior’s Bob Perry made up the time and claimed the $500 1st place prize, Jones trailing not far behind to claim 2nd place.
For more about Flying Merkel, Jones, Pineau, the Savannah 300, and countless other unique stories and old photos in the pages of Georgia Motorcycle History, available HERE!