Stretching it out during morning practice laps in Brooklyn, NY, July 4th, 1916. Eighteen men warming up before the big Independence Day races on the 2 miles of rough sewn boards at the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. Legendary pioneers in American motorcycle racing like Arthur Chappel, Bill Brier, Curley Fredericks, Teddy Carroll, George Sorrenson, Johnny U. Constant, and Harley-Davidson’s brightest star Leslie “Red” Parkhurst were all in this pack, but it was a new machine from the Milwaukee factory which was to be the toast of the day. The latest pure bred racing machine to come from the talented hands of Harley-Davidson’s Bill Ottaway was the new overhead valve v-twin. Based off of innovations made with the Motor Co.’s first official factory racing machine, the 11K series from 1914, the first of the overhead valve designs had made their debut back in April on a series of single cylinder machines, and it was only a few weeks prior that the twin cylinder version been let loose on a dirt track in Detroit.
Two of the powerful new 8 valve Harley-Daividsons were sent to Sheepshead Bay for the July 4th championship races, with HD factory veterans Leslie Parkhurst and Bill Brier charged with taking on Indian’s Springfield crew and their own well proven 8 valve machines. A crowd of over 18,000 poured into the grandstands of the board track super speedway, one of the first of its kind in the country, eager to watch the battles unfold in a total of 8 races. There were five New York State Amateur Championship races in distances of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 25 miles. With speeds up to 80 mph, the amateur teams split the podium positions evenly at 7 each, Indians coming in first only in the 2 and 5 mile races, and Harley-Davidson taking the 1, 10, and 25 mile victories. However, the new Harley-Davidson 8 valve allowed the professional class to dominate on the boards in Brooklyn, with the Milwaukee crew only allowing a single Indian rider a podium position in the professional races. It was a well fought second place by Arthur Chappel in the 2 mile FAM National Championship race, every other podium position in the 2, 10, and 100 mile races belonged to Harley-Davidson. Red Parkhurst, the “sorrel topped comet” as he was referred to in an article about the races wrangled the new 8 valve Harley-Davidson twin at a remarkable pace, taking both the 2 mile FAM National Championship title and the win in the 100 mile race.
It was during the 100 mile race that the 6’ 4” Parkhurst hit upwards of 95 mph, lapping the field at a minimum of two times, smashing his teammate Otto Walker’s national 50 mile record by over 1 minute, and nearly claiming a new world’s record for 100 miles, missing it only due to an extra pit after a fouled plug on the 33 lap. Bill Brier, Harley-Davidson’s first official team captain at their debut during the 1914 Savannah 300 mile road race was the other man onboard the new 8 valve Harley. Brier piloted it to a 90 mph victory in the 10 mile FAM professional race, as well as 2nd place behind Parkhurst in the 100 mile, and 3rd in the 2 mile National Championship. At the end of the day Parkhurst was the toast at Sheepshead Bay, but Harley-Davidson and their new 8 valve racers were the big winners. In a single day, July 4th 1916 the increasingly strong factory program from Milwaukee closed out 15 of the 24 podium positions in Brooklyn, as well as brought home first place (Irving Janke) and third place (Ray Weishaar) at the prestigious Dodge City race, that team fielding their new 8 valve machines as well. Harley-Davidson had made it abundantly clear since their debut at the end of 1914 that they were to be the team to beat, and though a looming war was on the horizon which would interrupt professional racing in America, a legacy which would last a century had been born.