On December 30, 1912, on the wide boards of the Playa Del Rey board track in Los Angeles, a local Class B racer named Lee I. Humiston mounted his new 61ci Excelsior twin and set off for the day’s speed trails. Like a lightning bolt of grey and red, Humiston and his Excelsior shot around the massive 1 mile long wooden circle at Playa, the largest wooden track of its time which had a shallow banking of only 20 degrees, and set a new mile record of 36 seconds flat. The occasion was a spectacular moment in American motorcycle history and all who were present knew it, as it marked the first time that a man and a motorcycle had ever reached the 100 mph mark. Technically Glenn Curtiss had well exceeded the “century” mark back in 1907 at Ormond Beach. However, Curtiss’ speed was not recognized as an official record nor was his machine a production motorcycle, rather a special one off built around one of his 8 cylinder dirigible engines.
Humiston’s 100 mph Excelsior however varied only slightly from the production models offered by the Chicago-based company. Humiston’s machine featured a direct-drive 61ci (1,000cc) ported v-twin, sat into a short-coupled racing frame with an extended and braced steering head and a coil spring fork. The magnitude of the record reverberated throughout the industry and any manufacturer associated with the run was quick to advertise their involvement. Trade magazines were immediately flooded with ads from Jeffry-DeWitt spark plugs, Herz Magnetos, Duckworth chains, and Havoline oil. For Excelsior, who had only recently formally entered into the sport of professional racing, the milestone was yet another jewel for its crown as an increasingly capable and successful American motorcycle manufacturer.
Not only did Humiston and his Flying X break through the 100 mph barrier for the first time that fateful day at Playa, but he also smashed all existing records from 1 to 12 miles in the process. Humiston’s charge was only halted after his intake manifold snapped on the 12th mile, but as he hobbled into the pit he proclaimed that he would be back soon to take on the mighty DeRosier’s 100 mile record. Within a week Humiston was back at Playa, holding up to his promise to take down DeRosier 100 mile time. On January 7, 1913, again with his powerful X, Humiston shattered the existing record, covering 100 miles at a pace 7 minutes faster than DeRosier, maintaining an average speed of just over 88 mph on the wide boards of Playa. Not only did he blast through DeRosier’s best time made on an Indian, but he also set new records for every single mile from 2 to 100, many of which wouldn’t be broken again until after the Great War.
This photo of Lee Humiston and his record breaking “Flying X” is yet another remarkable image pulled from The Van Order Collection, the focus of my next book which I hope to release more details on soon. Make sure to bookmark ArchiveMoto.com for the latest project info as well as my weekly articles.