WRECK­ING CREW PRO­FILED

Ernie Beck­man, Bill Tu­man, and Bobby Hill left be­hind a legacy that In­dian’s new Wreck­ing Crew will be chal­lenged to match

Motorcyclist - - Front Page - BY LARRY LAWRENCE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY MIKE CALABRO & IWC DOC­U­MEN­TARY

More than 60 years have

passed since the last of the orig­i­nal In­dian Wreck­ing Crew turned a wheel in anger. One of its mem­bers, Ernie Beck­man, has been gone for 18 years. The other two, Bill Tu­man and Bobby Hill, still sur­vive, both in their mid-90s, and con­tinue to make spe­cial ap­pear­ances at mo­tor­cy­cle gath­er­ings from time to time. As re­cently as last sum­mer, Tu­man and Hill were spe­cial guests at Sturgis when In­dian Mo­tor­cy­cle in­tro­duced its FTR750 flat-track racer.

Tu­man, Hill, and Beck­man were known as the In­dian Wreck­ing Crew back in the early 1950s. They were sig­nif­i­cant as the last of the fac­tory rid­ers for the orig­i­nal In­dian Mo­tor­cy­cle, based out of Spring­field, Mas­sachusetts. It’s ironic that at the very time In­dian, as a man­u­fac­turer, was fail­ing and in its fi­nal days, the Wreck­ing Crew went on a tear. From 1950 to 1953, Beck­man, Hill, and Tu­man tal­lied an amaz­ing 14 AMA Na­tional wins be­tween them.

With Hill vic­to­ri­ous at the win­ner-take-all na­tional cham­pi­onship Spring­field Mile in 1951 and ’52 and Tu­man in ’53, In­dian went out with a flour­ish, win­ning three-con­sec­u­tive AMA na­tional ti­tles. Beck­man’s claim to fame was be­ing the last rider to win a na­tional on an In­dian, when he earned vic­tory at the 8-Mile AMA Na­tional Cham­pi­onship on the Wil­liams Grove (Penn­syl­va­nia) Half-mile in Oc­to­ber of 1953. It would be nearly 64 years be­fore the mar­que would again fin­ish atop the podium, when Jared Mees rode the new-gen­er­a­tion In­dian Scout FTR750 to vic­tory at the Day­tona TT this past March.

In­dian’s rac­ing re­vival and the new com­pany’s good-spir­ited ef­forts at pay­ing trib­ute to the legacy of the orig­i­nal In­dian means that Beck­man and Hill have got­ten more at­ten­tion in the last year than they have since their rac­ing days of the 1950s.

“I think it’s won­der­ful that the new In­dian re­mem­bered us,” Hill said. “It was a great feel­ing for Bill and me to go to Sturgis last year and see the ap­pre­ci­a­tion we got from the rid­ers and from all the fans. I’ve got to tell you, it’s tough just liv­ing day to day at my age, so those kinds of mo­ments—to see that we haven’t been for­got­ten—well, it’s re­ally some­thing spe­cial.”

WE WERE GRATE­FUL TO HAVE MADE IT THROUGH THE WAR. AND WE ALL SEEMED TO EN­JOY LIFE, AND RAC­ING WAS JUST AS MUCH ABOUT HAV­ING FUN AND SHAR­ING TIME WITH YOUR BUD­DIES AS ANY­THING ELSE. —BOBBY HILL

WHO WERE THEY?

Mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing in the im­me­di­ate post­war years was small and in­ti­mate. The rac­ers were a close-knit fra­ter­nity. They trav­eled to­gether, ate to­gether, helped each other work on their bikes, cel­e­brated one an­other’s vic­to­ries, and gen­er­ally got along well. Maybe the fact that most of the rid­ers, in­clud­ing Hill and Beck­man, had seen ac­tion in World War II, al­lowed them to put rac­ing in per­spec­tive.

“We were grate­ful to have made it through the war,” Hill re­called. “And we all seemed to en­joy life, and rac­ing was just as much about hav­ing fun and shar­ing time with your bud­dies as any­thing else. Don’t get me wrong—we all wanted to win, but you never got too up­set even when things didn’t go your way.”

The Wreck­ing Crew trio all had unique per­son­al­i­ties. Tu­man—quiet, stu­dious, and in­cred­i­bly skilled as a ma­chin­ist— was one of the guys the other rac­ers went to when they needed help to get some­thing right on their bike, and Tu­man was more than will­ing to as­sist. So much so, that in 1950 he was awarded the pres­ti­gious AMA Most Pop­u­lar Rider of the Year Award, as voted on by his peers. It was a huge honor in those days and showed the kind of re­spect Tu­man had among the rac­ing clan.

Hill was pleas­ant, friendly, chatty, quick to smile; you’d never guess he was a Marine. He was from a good fam­ily too. A black man they knew only as Wil­lie, from Hill’s home­town of Tri­adel­phia, West Vir­ginia, was such a fan that he’d hop freight trains to go see Hill race in neigh­bor­ing Ohio. This was the early 1950s and rac­ing was still seg­re­gated and in­ter­min­gling frowned upon by the clubs, but if Hill’s fam­ily was there to see Bobby race, they’d al­ways give Wil­lie a ride back home. Hill was known as a clean rider, one you could trust not to make an er­ratic move on the track. He was also a master of race strat­egy and had a rep­u­ta­tion as a rider who was al­ways on the hunt for the win as the laps wound down.

Beck­man was brash, bold, and über-con­fi­dent. His in­tro­duc­tion to mo­tor­cy­cling was jack­ing an MP’S bike for a joy ride down the beach at Guadal­canal. One of the first races he went to he bragged to his rac­ing buddy that he could go faster than the guys he’d been watch­ing prac­tice. His buddy called his bluff and of­fered Beck­man his bike and rac­ing gear to see if he was as good as he thought. Beck­man gulped, grabbed his buddy’s gear, changed in a nearby horse barn, and sud­denly found him­self lined up to run his first mo­tor­cy­cle race.

WE’D GET EN­GINES AT THE BE­GIN­NING OF THE SEA­SON, AND WE WERE PRETTY MUCH ON OUR OWN FROM THERE. —BILL TU­MAN

THELEGACY

The orig­i­nal Wreck­ing Crew was loyal to In­dian even though they all three saw the writ­ing on the wall—that the com­pany prob­a­bly wouldn’t be around much longer.

“It was dif­fer­ent be­ing a fac­tory rider back then,” Tu­man ex­plained. “We’d get en­gines at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, and we were pretty much on our own from there.”

All three con­tin­ued to race their Scouts for sev­eral years af­ter the Spring­field fac­tory closed down in 1953. “We’d scrounge parts from old In­dian deal­ers wher­ever we’d go to keep ’em go­ing,” Hill said with a smile. “We knew what we were look­ing for, and all the deal­ers were real good about let­ting us have what­ever we needed to keep the In­di­ans on the track.”

The tal­ent and win­ning legacy of the In­dian Wreck­ing Crew meant that In­dian went out with a bang in­stead of a whim­per. It meant that the rac­ing her­itage of the com­pany meant some­thing for decades to come, al­most to the point of be­ing myth­i­cal. Quite pos­si­bly, it even in­spired lead­er­ship of the new In­dian to re­vive the legacy Beck­man, Hill, and Tu­man left us with more than 60 years ago.

ABOVE Bill Tu­man, on his No. 51 In­dian, leads a mean pack of Har­ley-david­son rid­ers en route to win­ning his first na­tional vic­tory on a half-mile track in Des Moines, Iowa.

BE­LOW The In­dian Wreck­ing Crew of Bobby Hill, Ernie Beck­man, and Bill Tu­man, fea­tured in a win ad dur­ing the wan­ing days of the orig­i­nal In­dian Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pany.

ABOVE LEFT Bobby Hill (No. 71) and Bill Tu­man (No. 51) were great pals and of­ten trav­eled to­gether to the races. LEFT Rid­ers line up for the big one, the Spring­field Mile. Hill and Tu­man fin­ished first and sec­ond.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.