After the H-D triumph at Dodge City, the Milwaukee company's competitors
fought back fiercely. In August, Earl "Red" Armstrong, Otto Walker's
pre-1914 barn-storming companion, rode an 8-valve Indian to victory in the
inaugural, 300-mile main event on the boards at the newly-completed
Tacoma, Washington motordrome. Along with his win in this important
race, Armstrong captured the world record for the 100, 200, and 300-mile
distance for his Springfield employer.
Earl Armstrong after his victory at Tacoma
Armstrong's dashing victory ahead of Otto Walker and Don Johns (who was
now riding for Indian) had the capacity crowd on its feet and in a
frenzy for most of the race. In the closely contested finish,
the winning Indian rider crossed the line only a wheel-length ahead of
the Dodge City Champion and barely ahead of Johns, who early in the race
had set a new world record for the 50-mile distance.
Johns might have claimed victory for himself, but he broke two chains
within the last 35 miles of the race. Nevertheless, his 3rd place
finish along with Armstrong's win gave the Hendee company two of the
top three spots along with bragging rights for four new world records.
Indian's triumph over H-D and Excelsior restored a measure of pride to the
loyal followers of the "Wigwam" (as the Springfield factory was fondly
referred to by its riding public).
In September, Carl Goudy recaptured the glory for Excelsior, riding
perhaps the finest race of his career at the Maywood board track in
Chicago. Goudy's win on a Big Valve X shattered all existing
records for a 300-mile race, achieving an average speed of 85.8 mph.
His nearest competitor was 4 laps behind him at the finish.
Although this was a brilliant victory for Excelsior, the Chicago
300-miler also revealed the formidable speed of the new, Ottaway-improved
H-D engine. During the race, Otto Walker set a new world record for
the 100-mile distance, lapping the boards at an average speed of 89.11 mph
before dropping out with mechanical problems. Importantly,
Walker's record-setting ride was nearly 8 mph faster than the Indian
mark set by Armstrong the previous month.
Flush with their victory at Venice and Dodge City, but wary of their
competitors success at Tacoma and Chicago, the Davidsons gave the
go-ahead to Bill Ottaway to develop an even more advanced rendition
of the Harley-Davidson engine that was tearing up the boards and
bringing in the orders. Drawing upon recent advancements in
aeronautical engine technology, Ottaway designed an 8-valve top-end
to replace the standard pocket-valve configuration on his winning motor.
The initial idea behind the four valve per cylinder design (that
Hedstrom had pioneered for Indian in 1910) was not concerned with
gaining horsepower, but rather to overcome the industry-wide problem
of valve breakage. Exhaust valves, manufactured from early
20th Century steel, would not stand up to the extreme heat generated
by racing temperatures. If a manufacturer could solve this problem,
they would gain a decided advantage.
Hedstrom's theory was that several smaller valves could better dissipate
their heat with the result that a motor so constructed would run cooler,
more likely to survive in the longer races. The Indian engineer's
theory proved correct. When the Springfield company learned to
adjust the valve timing to take advantage of the increased valve area,
it was discovered that Hedstrom's 8-valve design had not only solved
the heat problem, but was faster as well.
Although similar to the Indian race motor, Ottaway's 8-valve, with its
hemispherical combustion chambers, was technically superior to Hedstrom's
1910 design. The Harley-Davidson engineer, however, encountered
several technical difficulties that he was unable to overcome; so
he persuaded Walter Davidson to engage the famous English engine designer,
Sir Harry Ricardo, to help him complete the new design. Within a
few weeks of his arrival in Milwaukee, Sir Harry solved the problem with
the cylinders, but the new H-D motor would not be entered in a major
race until well into the 1916 season.
Schwinn's Excelsior continued to post significant wins through the remainder
of 1915. Following Goudy's 300-mile victory in September, Bob Perry
won a One-Hour National Championship in October and then in November won
again, this time a 100-miler in Phoenix where he set a record for the
century on a circular flat track. Publicity for the Excelsior
Company championed the fact that Perry had set the new record against
serious competition mounted by Harley-Davidson, Indian, and
the "speed demon" Cyclone.