Imagine being a 14 year old boy in 1908 holding down a job waiting tables in Denver to help support your family. You have a bicycle, and bicycle racing has never been so popular, so you begin entering into amateur competitions, pocketing a little extra scratch when you win. You are good, and over the next couple of seasons quickly move up the ranks in the local scene, winning more and more and garnering a good bit of attention. So much so that the local super star bicycle champion takes you under his wing. There is a shift happening though, towards the increasingly present and capable motorcycle which your new mentor has already taken to quite successfully. He introduces you to the new machines and begins pacing you on his motorcycle at the big money events until ultimately you too to make the transition into the sport of motorcycle racing. Right at that moment two new venues are built in your hometown, large, circular, wooden stadiums constructed specifically for racing motorcycles. The timing couldn’t be better. Still a teenager, and a novice motorcycle rider at that, you begin your career on the boards of the treacherous motordrome. Such was the case for a young Denver boy named Maurice Leon Fredericks, but by the time he began racing motorcycles in 1911 everyone knew him simply as Curley.
The man that seemed to take young Curley under his wing, pacing for him in his bicycle days, and even giving him his old hand-me-down racer was none other than Erle “Red” Armstrong, a true American icon. It was in the late Spring of 1912 that Erle, a monumentally successful wheelman from Denver returned from the new, Ignaz Schwinn-owned Excelsior plant in Chicago with a top-of-the-line factory works racing twin. Armstrong then gave young Curley, sometimes referred to as the “Bicycle King” his year-or-so-old Excelsior model 7, making Fredericks, the teenaged amateur one of the most capable racers in the two-motordrome town. He had only been racing motorcycles for a year at that point, having ran his first race, a long distance road contest only a few weeks before the new Tuileries Motordrome opened in May 1911. From his start racing singles at Tuileries, Fredericks held his own, squaring off against some of the most iconic names in the business. Arthur Mitchel, Morty Graves, Eddie Hasha, Johnny Seymour, Joe Wolters, Lee Humiston, Glenn Boyd, and Larry Fleckenstein, amongst many others. These men all extremely competent riders which Fredericks was able to test himself against, as well as learn from. To cut your teeth against the best in the world obviously makes for a highly skilled competitor, and Fredericks lined up week after week, collecting wins and splinters, eventually earning a spot on the Excelsior factory team, one of the heaviest hitters in the industry at that time.
Fredericks began traveling, racing at the many new Motordromes being erected at a feverish pace by Jack Prince across the country, occasionally being billed as a featured competitor in Denver, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. From 1911 to 1914, Excelsior had been the new brand on the block to beat, Indian had remained a consistent heavyweight since their creation, but in the golden age of the motordrome era it was always about who could honestly challenge the Springfield machine. In 1915 another newcomer arrived on the professional circuit, a powerful, well-designed and well-funded Harley-Davidson. Poised to make serious waves with their factory 11K racing platform and a stable full of talented racers, the Milwaukee program also emerged simultaneously with a massive new venue, the board track speedway, the circular motordrome’s replacement. Fredericks, having successfully managed a career riding powerful Excelsiors in America’s motordrome circuit, was quickly recruited by Bill Ottaway to the Milwaukee Grey’s, becoming one of the first to join Harley-Davidson’s legendary Wrecking Crew. Fredericks ran with Harley-Davidson throughout some of their most prestigious early years, racing alongside still more legendary names like Leslie “Red” Parkhurst, Otto Walker, Fred Ludlow, Ray Weishaar, and his old Denver pal Joe Wolters. However, like many, his racing career was put on pause when WWI pulled American soldiers to the European fields, and Curley enlisted for duty like so many of his fellow professional racers. Once America’s role in the war came to an end, Curley found himself looking for a new mount, and it wasn’t long before an old friend threw him a cream and crimson jersey.
At Indian in the early 1920’s, Fredericks was once again counted among the brightest racers in American motorcycle racing, having teammates like Shrimp Burns, Gene Walker, Johnnie Seymour, and Floyd Clymer. At the helm of the Springfield racing program was Indian’s newest factory racing team manager, Erle Armstrong, Curley’s longtime neighbor, friend, coach, and now boss. With Indian he continued to race, from board track super speedways like in Beverly Hills, white-knuckle dirt tracks, and long distance road races like at Marion, IN. Interestingly, Curly Fredericks was almost always on the roster, but very seldom in the spotlight. He consistently maintained a day job as a mechanic or machinist back home in Denver, and having still not married continued to care for his Mother, Sister, and Niece. After a career which spanned a decade, it would seem that Curley was just beginning to hit his stride in the mid 1920’s. A multiple Champion of the 61ci class on both dirt and timber, it was at the Altoona board track speedway in Pennsylvania on July 9, 1926 that Fredericks set a new record of 114 mph onboard his Indian side-valve racer. It was the fastest anyone had gone on a such a machine, and the special engine that Curley so competently handled would be nicknamed after the track which it smashed through the speed ceiling, the Indian Altoona has been a coveted machine fever since. Within a month the long-toothed 32 year old racer was at it again, hitting 120.3 mph on the boards at Rockingham, the fastest speed any man ever attained on an American board track to this day. Finally, the man who had begun his career on the wooden planks of the Tuileries Motordrome nearly 20 years before, Curley Fredericks took home the 61ci 25-Mile National Championship (on a 45ci Indian no less) at Rockingham on August 4, 1928. That race was the final professional motorcycle competition to ever take place on a board track in America, and Curley Fredericks stood at the top of the podium.
However, it is not his countless records or victories that make Curley Fredericks so remarkable in the history of American motorcycle culture, but his consistency, and his longevity. Of the 20 or so icons listed in this article that Curley competed with, not to mention the countless others that he lined up against over his nearly 30 year career, Curley outlived a great number of them, and outlasted nearly all of them. Very few pioneer American motorcycle racers can mirror the career that Curley had, either in accomplishment or duration. The one man who could compare only had him beat by a few years just so happens to be Curley’s old friend from Denver Erle Armstrong. Fredericks, well into his 30’s by the twilight of American Class A motorcycle racing had been competing through the entirety of the golden age of the sport. Curley Fredericks continued racing into the 1930’s until ultimately retiring in Denver where he worked as a mechanic in his own repair shop on Arapahoe Street until he passed away in 1965. He had bested icons on the dirt, the road , the motordrome, and the wooden super speedway. He raced legendary machines and was a member of each of the Big Three factory teams, arguably during each company’s most significant periods. Curley Fredericks’ legacy is one of consistency and prestige, though he has most often only been a footnote in this great history, known mostly for his final records at the close of the board track era. He should be considered one of the best to ever have raced and can be certainly be counted as one of the last great men of the first great age.