After having laid waste to numerous motorcycle land speed records on the sands at Daytona beach in February 1920, Harley-Davidson and their star Wrecking Crew racer Red Parkhurst savored the accolades that poured in from every corner of the country. However, though Parkhurst could claim that he was officially the fastest man on two wheels on the planet, his crown would soon be snatched by a wiry southern boy on a crimson rocket.
Veterans of the fast sands at Daytona, the Indian boys from Springfield, led by co-founder and speed-obsessed engineer Oscar Hedstrom had been the first motorcycles to compete back in 1903. Indian then returned to Florida’s north eastern shore a number of times to prove that they were the company to beat. Since the lionized days of the motordrome took over in the early teens however, the coastline had lost its hold on the two wheeled speed demons and the boys from Indian preferred setting their records on America’s timber tracks. That was of course, until Red Parkhurst, Otto Walker, and Freddie Ludlow decided to return to Daytona to light the sand a blaze in February of 1920. Harley had set a high bar with their new two cam engine platform, but Indian was determined to not allow Milwaukee the glory for long.
Two months later, on April 12th, 1920 the train car from Springfield was unloaded in Ormond Beach, and four crates holding within them four factory racing Indians set out for the beach. Indian’s long-time competition workhorse, the 8-Valve was sent, as was a single cylinder 30.50ci 4-Valve version. The factory also sent a 61ci production Power Plus side valve twin, but perhaps most significant was a new racing version built off of the same platform. The new engine was a side valve motor with new internals, modified cylinders, and a special Schebler carburetor, all set into a new keystone frame. As a result of the accomplishments made with this new machine in Florida the engine would become known as the “Daytona,” a crown jewel of Indian performance for years to come. To pilot the machines Indian selected their young star rider from Birmingham, Alabama, Gene Walker, a lightning fast natural talent who garnered the respect and admiration of all of his peers. In hopes of securing the national and international amateur records as well, Indian asked Walker to choose an amateur teammate so he selected a local friend Herbert McBride to accompany him on the attempt.
Over the next 3 days Walker and McBride tore apart the scorecard set back in February by Parkhurst and the Wrecking Crew gents, between them setting 24 new American and world speed records. Eugene Walker inked his name in as the world’s fastest man on two wheels by establishing new records in the kilometer, 1, 2, and 5 mile distances on every machine at his disposal. Onboard the 61ci 8-Valve warhorse, Walker officially covered a kilometer, the international standard of speed in those days, at a rate of 115.79 mph. Walker’s speed was nearly 12 mph faster than Parkhurst’s when he ran out Harley-Davidson’s new two cam 8-Valve, but it also bested Parkhurst’s run on the over-regulation 68ci 8-Valve Harley by over 3 mph. On average Walker’s speeds were 5-10 mph faster than those of the Harley crew. Herbert McBride, the Birmingham machinist turned lose on the Springfield factory’s finest machines swept the amateur record books clean as well, setting new times in the Kilometer, 1, 2, and 5 mile distances onboard each of the 4 machines. McBride topped out onboard the Indian factory 8-Valve at just over 104 mph and on average his speeds were around 5 mph faster than the existing records, even beating a few of the professional times established by Red Parkhurst a couple of months prior.
Needless to say newspapers and trade magazines across the country were eager to spread the news of the new Springfield speed kings, no doubt delighted to perpetuate the rivalry between what had become America’s two biggest motorcycle companies. Indian naturally ran with the publicity generated from Walker and McBride’s success, a much needed PR boost as they tried to retain market share following their post-WWI production and distribution struggles. Perhaps it was just coincidence, or perhaps it was the quickness at which his land speed records had been overturned, but whatever the motivation Harley-Davidson’s longtime star racer Leslie Red Parkhurst officially announced his retirement shortly after news spread of Walker’s records. However, speed records aside the 1920 season was in full swing by April, and with summer so too would come the big Dodge City race, an event neither team cared to lose. It had only been one season since professional motorcycle racing had returned to America following its suspension during WWI but the Harley-Indian wars were reaching a fevered pitch.