When the Davidsons offered him a ride in the 1940s it was a gateway to a life of racing on the ragged edge. And a beach. And alongside life-taking fireballs.
When he had a telephone call from Mr Harley and Mr Davidson, inviting him to race for them in the 1940s, Paul Goldsmith knew he had arrived. Goldsmith is an AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame resident, a Daytona 200 winner and a five-times AMA Nationals winner. But it’s his memories of racing on a shifting sands beach course whilst battling other riders and an incoming tide that will stick in your mind.
Born in West Virginia during the fall of 1925, Paul Goldsmith moved as a teen to the Detroit, Michigan area which, as it turned out, was instrumental in the ongoing story of his life. In the late 1940s-60s Detroit was the manufacturing hub of the emerging automotive performance culture, meaning Paul was in the perfect place to pursue a career in motorsport. His motorcycle racing started soon after the end of the Second World War when Goldsmith took his money from working at Chrysler and bought a Harley-davidson. He said: “During the war H-D made 45ci bikes and I bought one of those in Detroit just after the war when things started up again… it was my first motorcycle in the beginning of 1946. “I met the local Harley dealer there, Mr Robison. There was going to be an ‘outlaw’ race there, as it wasn’t sanctioned by the AMA. The Harley dealer fixed up my bike like a race bike, and I finished third or something like that. It was a little dirt track just outside of Detroit, I did pretty good compared to the competition I had… hell, I made $27! That was easy money. “About two weeks later the AMA was sanctioning a race in Marshall, Michigan. It was a half-mile flat dirt track at the fairgrounds, which was the way most motorcycle races ran at that time. The dealer said: ‘Hey, would you be interested in running over there? We can work on your bike and get it fixed up to where you can race against those racers over there.’ So, I went and you ran one year as a Novice, then another year as an Amateur, and then you were in Expert class. “So, I’m running this half-mile dirt in practice and, hell, I qualified about as fast as the Experts were running. The AMA guy was short on Expert riders, so he came to me and asked if I would run with the Expert class and I said ‘sure, I’d be happy to, they pay more money than the Novices.’ So, they put me up into the Expert class. I think I finished second or third again, made decent money and I thought ‘hell, this is what I want to do!’” Was it more money than the $27 earned just outside of Detroit? “Oh yes, I think it was about $100 now. The next day, after I got home, the phone rings and it’s Walter Davidson calling me. He wanted to know if I would be interested in racing Harley-davidsons. I said, ‘well heck yeah, that would be great.’ He said, ‘well, get a truck or trailer and come on over here and visit us as soon as you can.’ I said ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’ “I borrowed a trailer from the dealer and away I went. I went over to Milwaukee and met Walter Davidson, Bill Davidson and I think John Harley was there. They set me up with a racing bike and all the materials that I would need… gear ratios, tyres, wheels, chains – all the stuff you would need.” It took Paul Goldsmith just two races on his first motorcycle to get what took most racers years of racing to achieve. In 1948, Paul had his first Daytona 200 race, finishing fifth in a race best known for Floyd Emde leading the event start to finish on his Indian, although at the finish it was close between Floyd and Billy Mathews, who had fought hard to recover from a disastrous mid-race pit stop with his Norton.
The following years were all Norton, as Billy Mathews and Dick Klamfoth traded wins, Klamfoth in 1949, Mathews in 1950. 1949-50 had brought precious little Daytona success for Goldsmith on the Harley, and he didn’t race there again until 1953. Klamfoth added two more Norton wins in 1951/52 as the British bikes again dominated the Daytonaa 200 on the beach course. Harley-davidson team-mate Everett Brashear had got the first AMA National win for the new KR at Sturgis in 1952 on his massively revised new Harley-davidson KR. Everett: “Paul was always a top rider to start with, and then he proved that in stock cars later on. He was very capable. We were always on the same team with the Harley factory and I was very happy to have been one of Paul’s best friends. I would have met Paul in my first Expert year and of course I got to be real good friends with him over the years in the dirt track racing. Later on I worked with Paul, as I guess he worked in the wholesale car business for a while. Paul was a real sharp old boy and, of course, he was on the front steps of every factory up there in Detroit and he could get along with everybody. “I would send customers to Detroit or I would deliver cars for him. Paul was the one that got me my rides with NASCAR, a very sharp old boy. I call him an entrepreneur.” Paul won his first pro-ama National in 1952 at the Milwaukee Mile: “I think that was the last year that the Mile was dirt, they paved the track after that. I won an awful lot of motorcycle races in that period of time in Iowa and Pennsylvania.” Smokey Yunick was often a factor in Paul’s preparation of the motorcycles as well. The automotive connections in Detroit also provided great dividends. “Harley-davidson would give me bikes, they would come up with one every year. I would modify them quite a bit, change the motorcycle weight-wise, engine-wise. I had engineers from the GM tech center that I knew and when I was in doubt about making something different for the bike, they would engineer it and sometimes make the part for me and I’d use it. For instance I had all-aluminium clutches, and different chain. The teeth for the chain at the gearbox were aluminium, I’d say my bike was 35lbs or more lighter than Joe Leonard’s. I never told him that (laughs)… so that made a lot of difference when you were going through a dirt corner.” Upon his 1953 return to race at Daytona (after not racing there the previous two years), Paul had the recently introduced KR, the footshift model. It didn’t exactly handle well: “I changed an awful lot to make that thing handle. Smokey helped me with that, there was this paved road out in the jungle north of Daytona and we would try out different things on it. A1a was pretty wavy and rough, so I worked on the handling out there a lot. Brashear made a number of changes to his as well, every racer had his secrets.” What was improved on the KR? Everett Brashear: “Nothin’, it was worse. I paid for my first KR with my WR winnings. I didn’t want a KR, but the factory thought I ought to have one, it was a piece of junk. It didn’t handle, the frame geometry was worse, I got one and went to work on it, modifying the frame, rake and trail, rear section – everything – but I didn’t really get it handling until the end of the season, I was winning all my races with the WR. “Winning Sturgis on the KR was what made me look good to Harley, and then they started pretty much working with me full time. By the end of the season it worked really good at the Mile at Du Quoin and won on the mile-and-a-half at Memphis, Tennessee, the only mile-and-a-half we ran on.” Daytona 1953 was a big battle between Everett Brashear, Ed Kretz, John Hascal, Dick Klamfoth, and Paul, eventually settling into a straight fight between Paul and Kretz. “Ed was leading it for a while. It was a real big race for Harley-davidson with a new type of motorcycle. I think Walter Davidson and Bill Davidson were in the pits and were about to have a nervous breakdown when Ed Kretz was leading. I’ve got pictures of them and they’ve got their fingers crossed, hoping I would pass him and win the race and 1953 was when I won it with a motorcycle on the Daytona Beach.” Everett Brashear: “The KR – by 1953 we had it working pretty good, but horsepower is what it’s all about. The factory version of a KR needed people like Tom Sifton to refine the horsepower curve on them. Paul earned it that day when he won at Daytona… he rode it good and he had a good pit crew on it.” It certainly didn’t hurt that Goldsmith had the brilliant Smokey Yunick in his corner. Everett: “Well, that’s true, he and Smokey were really close. But I think most of his engine work was through the Harley dealer in Detroit and Paul raced the bikes out of his shop. Smokey Yunick, without a doubt, was one of the top engineers in stock car racing and Paul drove for him too. They were a good team, he and Smokey became the toughest team in NASCAR, that’s for sure. I don’t know that Smokey could get more hp out of a Harley than a guy like Tom Sifton… but at Daytona Paul just rode the tail off it.” In that 1953 race, Red Farwell was killed when he hit a spectator. It had been the first fatality in the Daytona 200. Paul: “I saw part of it as I went by. That was too bad. There was a Harley rider, Jimmy Chan, who got hurt real bad when he hit a spectator, too. “There were people running across the track, you would be amazed. People would be on the right side of the road, then cross to the infield to watch the beach side. It could have happened to any of us, and it was the same way with the cars there as well.” 1953 was also a big win for Paul at Langhorne in the 100-mile race, one of the legendary dirt tracks of that era. Goldsmith: “But I didn’t win Springfield, I think I finished second or third, somewhere in there.” It was the final year in which the National champion was the winner at Springfield.
“THE PHONE RINGS AND IT’S WALTER DAVIDSON CALLING ME. HE WANTED TO KNOW IF I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN RACING HARLEY-DAVIDSONS.”
Left: Paul Goldsmith has the looks and the skill to not only get the fans excited, but also to attract the interests of Messrs Davidson and Harley. A phone call set him on a path newly-formed.
Whether on two wheels or four, Paul Goldsmith was instrumental in a machine’s development.this is him in the Indy car that spanned the 1959 and 1960 seasons.