America first fell in love with motorized speed on the hard-packed sands of Florida’s coastline at the beginning of the 20th century. The annual Carnival of Speed at Ormond Beach, a northern neighborhood of Daytona immediately caught the attention of the world’s most passionate auto and motorcycle enthusiasts, establishing the area as the world’s “Birthplace of Speed.” However, as the industry and infrastructure of racing grew over the years the pursuit of speed records shifted to more managed and manicured venues like the speedway tracks at Indianapolis, the perilous short circular motordromes, and the large wooden super speedways of the late teens. However, in February 1920, Harley-Davidson, who was at the height of their racing success given their powerhouse stable of “Wrecking Crew” racers and their high-test factory racing machines like the banjo two cam 8 valves, resolved to revisit the sunny shores of Florida’s Eastern seaboard, aiming to set new land speed records once again on those hallowed sands.
From February 13th through the 21st, 3 members of the Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew, Leslie Parkhurst, Fred Ludlow, and Otto Walker barreled past most existing international speed records. Despite heavy storms and abnormally high tides making the beach surface rough and speckled with driftwood, the trio, led by Leslie “Red” Parkhurst set over 20 new professional motorcycle speed records, 8 new unofficial records with the prototype overbore 68ci two cam 8 valve machine, and another 4 amateur high marks. Interestingly, Harley hired a local electrician from Daytona by the name of Ralph E. King to run as their amateur entrant. King, onboard a factory 61ci two cam 8 valve, set new amateur times for the 1 kilometer, 1, 2, and 5 mile distances, despite having never entered a competition before according to reports at the time. Parkhurst did most of the heavy lifting in Daytona, setting 23 official and unofficial speed records, as well as establishing a never before seen top speed of 111 mph on a motorcycle, making him the fastest man on two wheels up until that point.
The Motor Co. had sent the team down with a handful of their best machines, including a 61ci two cam 8 valve, a 61ci pocket valve version of the same machine, an over-regulation size 68ci two cam 8 valve, and a 30.50 4 valve machine. The occasion also marked the debut of Harley’s new model 20-LX streamlined sidecar rig, nicknamed the “Bullet.” Yet another unique aspect that week in Daytona was the use of a one of a kind automatic timing machine called a Chronometer. The state of the art timing device had been developed by the US military and used on a handful of auto record attempts at the time. The record runs were supervised by A.A.A’.s R.A. Leavell, M&ATA Chairman W.H. Parsons, and master engineer C.A. Verschoor, all of which can be seen in this remarkable film footage. Police Chief William Young was on hand, as were representatives from Sinclair Gasoline, Firestone and Goodyear Tires, as well as a number of journalists and filmmakers. The boundless success of Harley-Davidson’s return to Daytona Beach in February of 1920 further established their reign as a titan in the American motorcycling industry, but it also prompted the return of their main rivals, Indian Motorcycles, veterans of the earliest Carnival of Speed. Come April of 1920 Indian would have its own iconic factory racers on the beach at Daytona and would surpass many of the speed records set by Parkhurst and the Harley-Davidson crew a few months before, a success which was reflected in the naming of Indian’s legendary “Daytona” platform. However, the moments captured in this remarkable film footage offer a wonderful glimpse into the February 1920 exhibition of style and grit put on by the fastest men on Earth.