Jump to content


Motorcycle Racing in the USA, Early Years

  • Please log in to reply
8 replies to this topic

#1 DCapps

  • Member

  • 617 posts
  • Joined: August 16

Posted 08 July 2019 - 03:08

Forgive me, but after a look through the forum I did not see much of anything on motorcycling racing in the USA during the early 20th Century. I am sure that there might be something in here somewhere, but various searches failed to find it.


Although my primary research focus for some years has been motor sport contests in the USA during its first quarter-century, basically 1895 to 1920, in recent years I have started to take more and more notice of the motorcycle racing taking place, especially given that it is, of course, motor sport. There is considerable overlap in venues, for instance, and the AAA and the FAM both seem to have done little good to the blood pressures of all concerned when it came to racing.


I realize that this is probably something that does not attract much interest (if nay) here, but other than a few (with the accent on few...) Web sites and what I have managed to dredge up from the various periodicals from the era (Motorcycle Illustrated, for example, of which only a pathetic few copies from this era have been digitized) not finding all that much. What I am finding is certainly interesting and often fascinating, but needles and haystacks seems to apply, as ever.


Much of it must be out there somewhere, only problem seems to be finding it!




#2 Michael Ferner

Michael Ferner
  • Member

  • 5,738 posts
  • Joined: November 09

Posted 08 July 2019 - 12:35

You're a brave man, Don! During my research, I often come across snippets and stuff, but deliberately steer away from it - I have enough on my plate already, thank you! The interest is there, just not the time to do it properly. It's not much better with the European motorcycle racing of especially that time frame, as it seems to get lost in the shuffling of the still relatively new sport in order to find its feet. There were the Big/Heavy cars and events attracting all the available light, with the Light car classes already suffering from underexposure, and the Voiturettes/Cyclecars and Motorcycles simply getting trampled over. What is especially missing is a framework to start from - the way Paul Sheldon and Phil Harms provided the groundwork for the car classes.

#3 DCapps

  • Member

  • 617 posts
  • Joined: August 16

Posted 08 July 2019 - 14:22

Michael, I figured that if anyone had even looked at this that it would be you.


As in your case, I did shuffle the motorcycle material I kept stumbling across off to the side and basically ignoring it.


However, after sitting down and giving my research yet another Big Think, I began to realize that it was a category of motor sport contests that I really needed to at least make an effort to include within the context that I was shaping.


When I began this effort the better part of two decades ago, I did not even give motorcycle racing a thought, just as hill climbs, reliability, endurance, and other automotive trials were scarcely even considered.


The taxonomy issue regarding operational definitions and/or Terms of Reference (TOR) for this sort of work is exactly the sort of headache you describe for this era. Pondering it has led to what might politely be considered Mission Creep on my part.


This was the sort of topic that my discussions with John Glenn Printz usually ended up looking at. It is also why I began to sniff out the racing rules and spend such a considerable amount of effort on them.


At any rate, my already hopelessly out of control research is now looking at integrating motorcycle racing into it, if for no other reason than it was an element within the larger context of US motor sport.


Oh, well, back to the drawing board and yet another revision of the TOR for this effort.



#4 Bob Riebe

Bob Riebe
  • Member

  • 2,548 posts
  • Joined: January 05

Posted 08 July 2019 - 19:40

Sadly Mr. Capps, I got rid of a book I had on U.S. racing motorcycles that included the very early years when bikes would race on dirt tracks of up to 2 miles in length and the MidWest was truly the heart of U.S. racing.


At that the modern years when the Daytona 200 was a big event and then along came Kenny Roberts came long, to put make Barry Sheene the last of the British greats,   plus his supporting of a non-AMA pro series for some years in the nineties which brough GP500 bikes to common man race tracks, plus the Battle of the Twins series which was deliberately dissed as it was getting more attention that the AMA maid series, plus the Japanese attempts at unseating Harley in flat track,  needs some serious books to be written about it.


Flat track racing is making a come back but the AMA did what USAC did to itself and what was once big motor sport news is now seems to be totally ignored history.

#5 DCapps

  • Member

  • 617 posts
  • Joined: August 16

Posted 08 July 2019 - 20:17

Hi, Bob!


Some years ago, there were several books that I stumbled across on early US motorcycle racing, but between not sure how interest I was in the topic and hesitating, someone else scarfed them up.


Needless to say, I am now kicking myself for that lapse.


I think that you are certainly on the right track in suggesting that there are parallels between the four and two-wheel world in the USA when it comes to racing disorganization.


The FAM folks certainly seem to have gotten more than a few people's ire fired up, including the editorial staff at Motorcycle Illustrated all the way back in 1909. Bikes at Daytona go all the way back to the early speed weeks at Ormond & Daytona Beaches, something that was one of the factors that got me to rethinking all this, along with hill climbs.


I should have realized that this is something that would have gotten your attention as well, so definitely appreciate the thoughts on this.


Take care,



#6 Lemnpiper

  • Member

  • 927 posts
  • Joined: February 05

Posted 08 July 2019 - 20:41

Don , 


  Motorcycle racing  , especially dirt flat track , has never recovered from the introduction of Motocross in the 1960's. I figure the appearance of potential; big time flying crashes in motocross played  better om tv than the bikes on a half mile or mile track..


  That being said to help some with there research there is a writer i believed named Greg Pearson who put out 2 boos on the AMA flat track series nationals  which started  under the new format in 1954. The 2 books i have covered up to the mid 1970;s racing  , but i must admit i don't know if it continued past those 2 .Those books  gave a good overall coverage of the nationals with results . As well since in the early years road races were also used to figure out the national champion  there is coverage of those races as well.


  But i fear since there are no folks left from the  pre  WW2 days  i fear finding info on racing will be very tuff, unless the Hall of Fame has allready  collected it.




#7 Bob Riebe

Bob Riebe
  • Member

  • 2,548 posts
  • Joined: January 05

Posted 26 July 2020 - 20:06

You might have a little fortune finding information if you look up the names of motorcycles from teens to twenties that competed.

There is often more into there than looking up races that ran.


Pope really came into its own in the mid-1910s when it produced three single-cylinder models and a well-reviewed 61 cubic inch (1000cc) V-twin. The big V-twin touring bike featured overhead valves at a time when most American makers where utilizing flat or F head configuration. Crankcases were cast from aluminum alloy and the motor was said to be extremely smooth, owing to the fact that Pope specifically matched each set of pistons and connecting rods with another set of the exact weight. An armored-plated magneto also allowed the Pope to be ridden in all weather conditions.



#8 Rob Semmeling

Rob Semmeling
  • Member

  • 888 posts
  • Joined: December 02

Posted 20 August 2020 - 07:39

Look here:



#9 DCapps

  • Member

  • 617 posts
  • Joined: August 16

Posted 10 November 2020 - 02:39

Recently, I managed to track down a number of early American bicycling and motorcycling journals/magazines that seem to have popped up from the lower depths of the ether.


While trying not to fall down too often into the many rabbit holes that such journals always open up, it has been fascinating to firmly establish the depths of my ignorance -- not to mention my utter lack of knowledge -- regarding these sports through the Great War years in the United States.


Far too early to even begin to point out the many interesting items that I have stumbled across, but just one example is the presence of motorcycles and bicycles at the Florida Speed Festival in March 1909. Or that the same year had two events for two classes of motorcycles at the Lookout Mountain hill climb at Chattanooga, Tennessee the next month. Not to mention that also led to finding the few issues of an early US journal, Motocycle, that contains information and coverage of the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald event that really fills in no end of gaps.


Earl next year,Velodrome Racing and the Rise of the Motorcycle, by R.K Keating is due to be released. Timing, as they say, is everything. In my wandering through the journals i had come across even more motorcycle events at velodromes than I anticipated, which was a lot. The first decade or so of the 20th century in the USA seems to have had far more motorcycle racing at a wide variety of venues than I could initially grasp. Many events were mixed bicycle/motorcycle events, not to mention the motorized pacing aspect of all this on top of everything.


I am planning to incorporate much of this into my magnum opus, Motor Sport Contests in the United States to 1920: A Narrative Record, which may eventually see the light of day.

Edited by DCapps, 10 November 2020 - 02:41.