[small red square] Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing [small red square]

by Daniel K. Statnekov

©1998 - 2006 Daniel K. Statnekov   
Chapter 21

In 1921, Harley-Davidson was overwhelmingly successful, winning every National Championship of the year.  In all but the 1 and 5-mile titles, their winning times were made at record-setting speeds.  The Milwaukee firm had been victorious at the Dodge City race for the past four events, entered the record books as the manufacturer of the first motorcycle to attain the 100 mph mark in Britain, and achieved the honor of winning the first race in the United States run at an average speed of over 100 mph.

In a formal release to the trade press in December, Walter Davidson announced that the Milwaukee company would not support an official racing team effective with the 1922 season.  Although a limited number of their specialized racers would be produced for the benefit of qualified competitors, William Harley emphasized that henceforth the Engineering Department would concentrate their efforts on solving problems that pertained to their standard, road-going machines.

Notwithstanding this change in policy, in January of 1922, the Milwaukee manufacturer rented the Beverly Hills board track to try for some new records.  With the 32 year-old H-D team captain, Otto Walker, at the controls, the Ottaway-designed "banjo" 2-cam was more than adequate for the task.  The race-bred Harley-Davidson (which was painted white for the occasion) set a new record for the mile, covering the distance in 32.94 seconds, and attaining a speed of slightly more than 109 mph.  By the end of the day, Walker had also claimed the record for 5 through 25 miles, and set a new time/distance mark of 98.60 miles for a single hour of riding.

Despite Harley-Davidson's withdrawal from formal competition, Indian continued to field a factory team.  Jim Davis and Ralph Hepburn switched over to the Springfield company, and in April, Davis, riding a side-valve "Daytona," topped Otto Walker's time, riding a mile on the boards in 32.53 seconds, at an average speed of 110.67 mph.  Ralph Hepburn was also able to better Walker's time, riding a mile at the same track in 32.64 seconds.

Interestingly, all three men (Walker, Davis, & Hepburn) were former Dodge City winners, and the difference (less than half a second) in their timed runs for the 1-mile distance only served to underscore the importance of each factory's engineering effort to attain technical superiority.

Another fact had also become apparent and that was that no single manufacturer, despite their degree of prominence on the National level, could dominate competition across America.  On hundreds of county fair horse racing tracks, local enthusiasts racked up creditable victories to the benefit of their home-town Indian and Excelsior dealers.

Ignaz Schwinn, ever the keen observer of the underlying business truth in any given situation, sharpened his racing focus.  In addition to continuing to support his very talented 1/2-mile dirt track rider, Paul Anderson, Schwinn engaged Maldwyn Jones, a member of the recently disbanded H-D team, to ride as Anderson's teammate.  Schwinn also authorized his chief engineer, Arthur Lemon, to build several special purpose 1/2-mile machines for Anderson and Jones to campaign on the dirt track circuit.

Maldwyn Jones was another member of that group of turn-of-the-century boys whose lives revolved around motorcycles. Like Jim Davis who won a pair of rubber goggles and Otto Walker who brought home a turkey, Maldwyn never forgot his first prize: a .22 caliber repeating rifle which he won at an Ohio county fair in 1909. Jones continued to compete in amateur events, and in 1911 (when he was 20 years-old) he went to work for the motorcycle manufacturer Joseph Merkel, whose plant was just a few miles down the road from Maldwyn's hometown of Lebanon, Ohio.

At the time, Merkel did not have a factory team, but after Jones demonstrated an aptitude for winning races, Merkel gave his tacit approval for Maldwyn to work on racing machinery during working hours at the plant. Still, the Merkel company did not have a full-fledged race department or even a team, just Jones and a few others employed by the company, who rode either antiquated Merkel racing equipment (left over from as far back as 1905) or mostly stock examples of the road-going Flying Merkel that the company sold to the public.

Maldwyn was both resourceful and mechanically gifted.  In 1913, he adapted an over-head valve head from a Jefferson motorcycle to fit the Merkel cylinder and went racing on the 1/2-mile dirt tracks on which he was most adept.  Maldwyn's luck was not great in the longer races, however.  In 1913, an erroneous lap count deprived him of a win at the Savanna 300-mile road race, and in 1914, he was again in the lead at Savannah when his locally-hired pit crew allowed him to run out of gas at the far side of the track.

In 1916, Jones switched to Harley-Davidson where he continued to win events on the 1/2-mile dirt track circuit.  Fortune still eluded him in the longer races.  In 1919, at the Sheepshead Bay 100-mile National Championship, Jones placed 2nd behind a slower running "Shrimp" Burns because the good-natured rider from Ohio felt that it was unsportsmanlike to pass his front-running teammate.

Despite his good nature, bad luck continued to dog him.  At the 1919 Marion, Indiana road race, Jones dropped out with a broken crank pin, and at the first post-war Dodge City race Maldwyn was again forced out (while in the lead) with mechanical problems.  When Bill Ottaway's "wrecking crew" was disbanded at the end of the 1921 season, Jones accepted a position with Schwinn to ride for Excelsior.

Throughout 1922, Maldwyn Jones and Paul Anderson, won race after race against the very fast Indian 4-valves that up until then had been the dominant force in 1/2-mile dirt track events.  Public interest was heightened by Excelsior winning times that grew ever-closer to the one-minute-mile, a feat never before accomplished on a 1/2-mile track.

Finally, in November of 1922, Anderson entered the record books by turning a mile in less than 60 seconds on the Winchester, Indiana 1/2-mile dirt oval.  Additionally, he set a new record for the 5-mile distance and won the 25-mile State Championship.  On the same day that Anderson was entering the record books for this performance, his teammate, Maldwyn Jones, won the 80 cubic inch, 61 cubic inch, and free-for-all (combined amateur and professional) events at the Dayton, Ohio hillclimb.

For a minimal financial outlay, the Excelsior company was able to capitalize on the "landslide" of publicity.  Schwinn might not be able to overcome the competition in the so-called "National Championship" track events, but for a relatively modest investment the Chicago industrialist could keep the Excelsior name in the news.  Schwinn was elated with the publicity and authorized his development engineer to adapt an improved cylinder that they were using on their new 1/2-milers to some larger displacement motors for use on Excelsior hill climbers.

Hillclimbs had become increasingly popular since the late teens, and local dealers were always on the look out for prospective competitors.  In 1922, Orrie Steele, a die-hard Indian enthusiast from Paterson, New Jersey, rode his factory-prepared "Daytona" to first place in the National Hillclimb Championship contested at Egypt, New York.

Although the National Hillclimb Championship was determined each year at a single event, every April (since 1916) the California riders held (what they considered to be) the major up hill race of the year at San Juan Capistrano.  In 1922, at the 7th annual running of the Capistrano "climb," Indian-mounted Floyd Clymer was the fastest man over the top.  With 30,000 spectators in attendance, the victory was of great importance to the west coast contingent of brand-loyal Indian riders.

By this time it was apparent that Excelsior was de-emphasizing their two cylinder motorcycle.  Instead, they concentrated their sales effort on the Henderson 4 which Schwinn had purchased (in 1917) from the Detroit-based Henderson brothers.  After moving his new acquisition to Chicago, the industrialist must have been pleased to see his 4-cylinder model become increasingly popular with law enforcement agencies.  Except for long distance record attempts, however, the Henderson was not suitable for professionally contested speed contests.

For the remainder of 1922, Ralph Hepburn continued to dominate professional track racing for the Indian Motorcycle company.  Although Harley-Davidson did not field a factory team, several former H-D team riders continued to race the special "banjo" 2-cams that had been so successful in 1921.  Lack of technical and logistic support from the Ottaway-inspired racing department, however, frequently relegated the formerly invincible Milwaukee racers to "also-ran" finishes.

Neither of the big races (Marion, Indiana or Dodge City) were held in 1922.  Instead, a substitute 4th of July, 300-mile race was held in Wichita, Kansas on a 1 and 1/2-mile dirt oval.  Race promoters attracted the former factory pros by offering substantial cash prizes for the first three place finishers, as well as bonus payments for laps led or for being the leader at mile-stone distances.  Additional financial incentives were offered to the riders by the accessory and tire manufacturers.

To the delight of the home-town race crowd, Ray Weishaar, a rider from Wichita and seven year veteran of the Harley-Davidson team, jumped into the lead at the start.  Before turning professional, Weishaar had won the Kansas state championship from 1908 through 1910, and as a result had been nicknamed "The Kansas Cyclone."  As a professional rider, however, he was often dogged with bad luck; although in 1920, Ray won the important Labor Day, Marion, Indiana road race.

In this 4th of July contest, Weishaar was off to a great start.  He continued to lead, piling up five dollar bills on every lap and raking in the $100 prize awarded to the rider who was in the lead at the 100-mile point.  Ahead by more than 3 miles at the 120-mile distance, Ray's machine hit a hole in the track, broke an axle, and threw the unlucky rider to the ground.  Uninjured, Weishaar made his way back to the pits, and refitting a new wheel resumed the race.  Shaken and discouraged, he attempted to make up lost ground, but within a few laps he suffered a broken valve and was forced to retire.

Weishaar's former teammate, Ralph Hepburn took over the lead on the side-valve Indian "Daytona" that he had been campaigning all year for the Springfield company.  Although it may have seemed strange to the fans to see the former Dodge City champion on an Indian, Hepburn was no stranger to the front-running position.  At the end, Hepburn was a distant 18 minutes ahead of the 2nd place H-D piloted by Walter Higley.  Indians also placed 3rd and 4th with another Harley placing 5th.

Hepburn won $1,200 for his day's work; Weishaar took home $500 for having led for 80 laps and being the first rider across the line at the 100-mile point;  the 2nd place finisher, Walter Higley, a former H-D team rider, received $575.  It was a tough way to make a living, and some of the old stalwarts must have thought so as well.  By the end of the 1922 racing season Otto Walker, "Red" Parkhurst, and Maldwyn Jones had all retired from the 2-wheeled sport, joining Don Johns on the sidelines.

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Page revised: June 28, 2003