Oscar Reneau Lancaster, affectionately known as Nemo, is one amongst the countless local racing stars that pioneered the culture, but given the limited scale of their racing careers remain at risk of fading into history, relegated to the caption of “unknown rider.” Nemo was born in rural Georgia in 1896, one of a set of twins, Oscar and Rosco, just two of a family which counted a dizzying total of ten children. Nemo’s father was a trolly car mechanic and conductor in Atlanta at the turn of the century, the grease from his hands obviously rubbing off onto his children as at least 5 of the boys were involved in the transportation industry by the time they came into a working age themselves. Like many young boys in the early 1900’s Nemo began working in his early teens, becoming a machinist at a furniture factory by the time he was 15. It was at that time that he also developed an interest in motorcycles, picking up a Flanders single cylinder and joining the ranks of the newly formed Atlanta Motorcycle Club.
This photograph comes from that moment, when a young boy named Nemo first joined up with the local motorcycle club and tried his hand at racing. Here he is posing onboard a new 1913 5HP Thor model W. This single cylinder Thor was a torque monster, a newly improved machine from the hands of engineer Bill Ottaway. It was a large displacement single for that era, having a longer stroke, bigger bore, a beefier components all the way around. The photograph was taken from the Piedmont Park horse track, a venue secured by the Atlanta Motorcycle Club in October of 1912 to hold a day of racing, free to the public, in hopes of drumming up more interest for motorcycles in Atlanta. Postponed due to a heavy rain the night before, the race took place on the 1/2 mile trotting track in the center of the park to a crowd of over 3,000 on October 26th, 1912.
Prizes ranged from a pocket watch and gold cufflinks to a silver cup and new sets of tires. Onboard his Flanders 4, Nemo won the 5-Mile amateur single’s event early in the day, taking home a brand new Prestolite Tank for his efforts. He then mounted this 625cc Thor single to compete in the 6HP twin events. This same machine was being shared with another new local racer named Ollie Roberts who was competing in the professional events. With this Thor Nemo took the top spot in both the amateur twin 5-Mile race and the 5-Mile match race, adding a set of US Tire casings and a Stewart Model 2 Speedometer to his pile of winnings. Onboard the same machine Ollie Roberts also beat the twins, one being raced by Nemo’s new mentor Harry Glenn, taking home the win in both the professional 5 and 10 mile races. The day’s races were a tremendous success for the club, crystalizing a growing enthusiasm for motorcycles in Atlanta as well as around the southeast. For a 16 year old country boy named Nemo the races that October day in 1912 established the foundations for a career, a friendship, and lifestyle, the cornerstones of a culture to which so many today look back in reverence.