Denver, like most metropolitan cities at the turn of the 20th century has a long heritage of motorcycling. However, Denver is unique in that it was the only city in America to construct and support two full sized board track motordromes. Though the Northeast had a number of tracks in close proximity of one another, and Los Angeles technically did have three tracks but with varying shapes and sizes, the two full sized circular motordromes in Denver, Lakeside and Tuileries, became a grand experiment as to how much competition Americans could handle, and made Denver an early capital of the sport.
Denver became a hotbed for motordrome racing in 1911 as there was ample opportunity for racers from around the country to compete. The first to open was the 1/4 mile saucer at the White City Amusement Park, also known as Lakeside just Northwest of the city center. Opening the night of Saturday, May 27th, 1911, the Lakeside Motordrome was considered by locals to be the more civilized track and was constructed as part of a large entertainment park which featured everything from a theatre and casino, to an alligator farm, a scenic railway, and a Japanese tea room. Like the rest of the facilities at Lakeside, the motordrome was illuminated with countless electric arc lamps making for whimsical nights of entertainment and competition.
The Tuileries Motordrome, built on the footprint of an older dirt track in the southwest neighborhood of Englewood was a 20 foot wide, 1/3 mile long track featuring 47 degree banking. The track, which opened the afternoon following the Lakeside track on Sunday may 28th, was also situated within the borders of a popular amusement park. The Tuileries Park featured attractions like ballparks, a Vaudeville theatre, a skating rink, orchards, and yet another Japanese tea room. With only a handful of motordromes having been built by the time that the tracks in Denver opened, the sibling saucers marked the establishing of the circular board track formula after a number of early configuration experiments. After Denver’s motordromes, the remaining dozen and a half board track motordromes which were constructed until 1914 all followed the same formula of a circular track of rough sewn timber from 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile long, featuring electric arc lamp posts and grandstands around the upper perimeter.
Denver’s twin dromes soon came to host some of the greatest riders in the country, and acted as nurseries for aspiring young competitors which would go on to become American icons. Glenn “Slivers” Boyd, Johnny Albright, Joe Wolters, the Fleckenstein brothers George and Larry, Wilmer “Tex” Richards, and Harry Swartz would all hit speeds nearing 90 mph on the boards at Lakeside and Tuileries in the coming seasons. For young talents from across America like Eddie Hasha, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst, and Wells Bennett, Denver would provide them with their first glimpse of a motordrome, igniting a passion for the perilous sport which would turn them into legends of our culture. The allure of this new sport would also begin to draw in foreigners like George Renel, a Parisian who came to America to compete on the wooden tracks and established the first record mile on opening night at Lakeside.
However, a local prodigy by the name of Erle Armstrong proved to be the man to beat as he had dominated competition in the area since as early as 1906. It was during practice session on the 27th, shortly after Renel had set a mile record at Lakeside a few miles away, that Armstrong ripped around the yet unopened Tuileries Motordrome onboard his bright yellow Flying Merkel twin, setting a new record mile in a time of 45 seconds flat, a terrific speed of 80 mph. “Red” as he was affectionately called by his friends, went on to win the opening 5 and 10 mile races at Tuileries the next day, further bolstering his reputation as the fastest man in the region. However, Armstrong’s legacy is far too significant and long running to cover in just a few short sentences, so stay tuned for a followup look into the remarkable life of Erle “Red” Armstrong, Denver’s patriarch of motorcycle racing.
Seen here is 23 year old ginger speedster Erle Armstrong onboard his frequently victorious yellow Flying Merkel twin. The photograph was taken during Armstrong’s winning streak at the Tuileries motordrome in the summer of 1911. Posing beside Armstrong is his friend and fellow local Merkel competitor Cort Edwards with his ever-so protective Wilson flattop football helmet.