At only 17 years old, Ray Seymour, the “California Wonder” had already established himself as one of the top competitors in the sport of American motorcycle racing by 1909. The freckle-faced youngster had only begun racing around the dirt tracks of Southern California the year before, and became a staple crack at LA’s Agriculture Park, one of the first hubs of the sport. His ability to hold his own at such a young age against the country’s first generation of racers, experienced and hardened carry-overs from the glory days of bicycle competition put him at the top of the class of America’s second wave of pioneer racers, and helped earn him a factory sponsorship with Reading Standard. In July 1909 Ray set a new 1 mile record, hitting 76.6 mph on the timber strips of the LA Coliseum, America’s first board track motordrome. Having conquered the various venues around Southern California Seymour loaded up and headed east, bound for a new type of race track which was being built in Indiana.
On 328 acres of farmland just north of Indianapolis, at the cost of an estimated $350,000 the country saw the construction of its first closed circuit raceway, the 2.5 mile long Indianapolis Speedway. Rushed to completion for the FAM National Meet that August, the grand speedway was like nothing seen before, with massive grandstands capable of seating 10,000, bleacher seating at the turns to accommodate even more, concessions buildings, a state of the art garage paddock, and medical facilities. The pace required to complete such a compound proved to be a bit to hasty and reports from its first observers likened it to a dirt road sprinkled with a lose layer of crushed stone. Now boasting a reputation as one of the preeminent auto racing tracks in the world, the first competition to take place at Indianapolis was actually a motorcycle race despite its initially rough surface, and 17 year old Ray Seymour was keen to compete.
On August 14, 1909 in front of a crowd of 8,500, two dozen motorcycle racers took to the line of the intimidatingly large, and roughly surfaced track. After a number of practice laps the riders held a meeting over which pioneer motorcycle manufacturer and avid racing enthusiast Joseph Merkel presided. The result was a protest signed by the majority of competitors, including Seymour given the conditions of the track which called for, at the very least limiting the races to the smaller displacement machines for safety reasons. The track commissioner quickly shot down the proposal, warning that any racer who refused to compete would be suspended for 2 months as they “owed it” to the crowd to compete. Eight races were on the schedule for the first day, as well as another series for the following day so reluctant and cautious the men straddled their machines. Having been a dominant force on both the dirt tracks and the new wooden motordromes of the west coast Seymour did not perform as well in the hazardous conditions of Indianapolis. Onboard his Reading Standard factory special twin Seymour managed to podium only once at the inaugural events at Indy, taking 3rd place in the 1 Mile FAM National Amateur Championship race behind Indian’s Freddie Huyck.
Speeds were drastically reduced from their normal, and quite lofty heights on the west coast with the high marks at Indy toping out at only around 60 mph. As the day progressed, it was clear that limiting conditions, as well as the practicality of such an immense venue would need to be reproached for motorcycle events at Indianapolis in the future. In hopes of drumming up more excitement a match race was hastily thrown together mid-day between Indian’s star rider Jake DeRosier and Salt Lake’s Ed Lingenfelder, who was onboard a beastly imported NSU factory twin. During that event the stones blew out the tires on DeRosier’s machine at speed and violently hurled him into the ditch, a terrible spill which had been anticipated by the competitors all day. As such the remaining 25 mile race as well as the second day’s schedule were all cancelled, thus abruptly ending the tumultuous beginnings of the Indianapolis Speedway. Having been considered a bust many of the competitors continued heading east to compete for the remainder of the season. DeRosier eventually recovered and went on to mentor young Ray Seymour at the new motordrome in Salt Lake in the summer of 1910. It was at that same time that the brass at Reading Standard decided to pull back from their factory racing program, leaving the young and rising star Seymour without a mount. However, with Indian’s biggest star being his mentor he was quickly given a position on the Wigwam squad, and onboard DeRosier’s No. 21 machine took the FAM Amateur Championship in Philadelphia that fall, turning pro shortly thereafter.
Seymour remained with Indian for the duration of his professional racing career, being the first racer in the camp to be given one of the two new Big Base factory 8-valve racer in February of 1912 along with Eddie Hasha. It was on that same machine that Seymour was leading the 5 mile final at the newly opened Vailsburg Motordrome on September of 1912 when one of the most infamous motordrome disasters unfolded behind him, claiming the lives of his teammates Eddie Hasha and Johnny Albright, as well as 6 spectators, 4 of which were children. A few months later Seymour would also lose his mentor Jake DeRosier when he died from complications in surgery after a collision at the beginning of the 1912 season. Despite being a top competitor at what was the height of the board track motordrome craze, the increasing weight of peril that the sport presented led Seymour to retire in 1913, happily picking up as a traveling factory representative for Indian. This photo comes from his ascent in the sport, a hot summer afternoon in the paddock of the newly constructed Indianapolis Speedway with his Reading Standard factory special, August, 1909.