Happy 2019 folks!
Let’s start this new year off by taking a deeper look into one of the more well known images from the golden age of American motorcycle racing. Perhaps better recognized from the iconic photograph taken of him and his piglet at the Marion International Road Race in 1920, Lawrence Ray Weishaar was one of the best among the top class of professional racers in the teens and twenties. Born in Oklahoma in the fall of 1890, Weishaar was raised in Wichita, Kansas, a state which produced several notable Class-A motorcycle racers including Wells Bennett and Paul “Speck” Warner. By the time he was 17, Weishaar had begun riding motorcycles, and as was so often the case in those days, the spry young Weishaar was keen to test his abilities in the saddle. He began entering into long distance club rides, endurance events, and road races around Wichita around 1908, joining the ranks of the very active Kansas Short Grass Motorcycle Club and having his first incident colliding with a Buick on a race to Wellington in the summer of 1909. As the use of trotting tracks and fair grounds became more popular for closed course competition, Weishaar found himself crossing the finish line more often than not in the increasingly fast oval track events. His skill on the 1/2 mile dirt tracks of Kansas allowed him to quit his job as a line splicer for Bell Telephone and become a full time racer, demonstrator, and advertiser, and after he won the state championship race two years in a row Weishaar established himself as one of the top riders in the region, becoming known as “The Kansas Cyclone.”
Competition in Kansas was stiff, and though Weishaar had garnered a reputation as one of the area’s best, it was his friend and fellow competitor Paul “Speck” Warner, and his blazing fast Indian who he seemed to always be chasing. Speck Warner and Wells Bennett were the pride of Kansas motorcycling, but the young “Cyclone”was a natural talent, he could hold his own and quickly made a name for himself alongside the pair of pro’s. Though, more often than not, it was faults in his machine that Weishaar had to contend with than other riders, an aspect of racing that Weishaar struggled with throughout his career. By 1914 Speck and Weishaar had battled each other on dusty 1/2 mile ovals dozens of times, and according to reports from the time it would seem Weishaar was the faster man in the corners, but Speck Warner was just a bolt on the straights. Over the years leading up to the 1914 season the duo traded top spots on a weekly basis in what must have been truly thrilling, crowd pleasing racing. The chilly fall of 1914 brought with it the annual State Fairs, and with them came time for the big races of the year. On October 12th in Speck’s hometown of Ellsworth the two went elbow to elbow for the state championship title, Weishaar holding off Speck until breaking a valve spring, leaving the hometown hero to claim the trophy and coveted title. Again Weishaar’s machine betrayed him, but the season wasn’t over yet, there was to be one more big race, a 100-Mile, 200 lap shootout one week later up in Norton and Weishaar was determined to get his reprisal.
The event, a big 100-Miler was a production of the Kansas Short Grass Motorcycle Club and was to be held in Norton, Kansas on October 21st and 22nd. Speck was in top form, riding his Indian single to the top spot in 6 races in a row. Weishaar was competing onboard his new ported Excelsior single, setting a new state record in the 5-Mile event, but was unable to edge out Speck for any other victories. For Saturday’s big race, the Kansans braved the strong winds and frigid air to see what was to be an exhilarating joust between the two local titans. As they made the first few circuits Weishaar took the lead, but in the 5th mile his persistent poor mechanical luck struck again as the left side of his handlebar cracked and bent, before according to reports, sheering clean off at speed. Determined to win and perhaps frustrated by his mechanical woes, Weishaar grabbed onto his fork and kept the throttle open, his race was not over yet and he tucked in for the long haul. For the next 95 miles, 190 laps around the dirt Weishaar fought off the other competitors, amongst them a tenacious Speck Warner quite literally single handed. By the final lap Weishaar not was only in first place, but he had set a new record time for the distance by 5 minutes, coming in at just over 2 hours with an average speed of 50 mph. The Kansas Cyclone had his day, the thrilled crowd couldn’t believe what they had just seen and newspapers across the country reported the amazing feat. George T. Brummitt, manager of the Topeka Excelsior Cycle Company quickly capitalized on Wieshaar’s notoriety by making him the shop’s top agent and demonstrator, running weekly ads encouraging Kansans to come check out the new lineup of Excelsior models from the Cyclone himself.
Weishaar’s days as an Excelsior man were short-lived though, a company from Milwaukee, Harley-Davidson soon came calling as the head of their newly developed factory racing program, Bill Ottaway had his eye on the young daredevil from Kansas. Within a month Ottaway recruited Weishaar to race one of the new Harley-Davidson 11K factory works v-twins in the big 300-Mile American Classic Championship Road Race in Savannah, Georgia. In Savannah Weishaar was so effortlessly fast that a bystander was quoted as saying that he could have easily taken first place had the event been a 500 mile rather than a 300. However, on the 24th lap, with only 3 laps remaining Weishaar’s mechanical bad luck would again come to pester him as a leaking ding in his fuel tank forced him to pit and Weishaar was flagged out due to concerns over fire. Despite the disappointment, the Savannah race was Weishaar’s first major national professional event, a race which cemented his relationship with Harley-Davidson, a manufacturer which he would compete onboard for the duration of his professional career, and a brand for which he would help shape an entire culture for in a single photo with a pig, but that was all to come.
This iconic photograph comes from the moments just after Weishaar’s victory that fateful October day back in Norton, Kansas, the day which made him. Following his thrilling, one-handed victory in the 100-Mile race Weishaar rolled his ported Excelsior single cylinder (and single handlebar) into the studio of the local postcard photographer Charles Reed to capture the moment. Reed, who fittingly was also the first person to ever photograph a tornado, snapped this image of “The Kansas Cyclone” and his crippled Excelsior just before his ascent to national notoriety as an American motorcycle icon.