A trophy from the dawn of motorcycling that was never won
Few Knew it, but the first motorized competition at the 108-yearold Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a motorcycle race, organized by the now-defunct Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM). It was August 14, 1909, and racing was the capstone of a week of moto-themed celebration.
The Hoosier capital saw the motorcyclists as an economic boon and adorned downtown in banners and bunting. FAM not only sanctioned competition at the track but also held its annual meeting to elect officers for the coming season.
The motorcyclists included names that still resonate today—walter Davidson, on his Harley-davidson, and Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, straddling an Indian, joined 97 others on a 388-mile ride from Cleveland to Indianapolis. Some 200 less-adventurous riders converged around Monument Circle at the heart of the city for a parade around Indianapolis.
Among many events planned was a ride to Kokomo, Indiana. The Kokomo Rubber Company put up a trophy, but it was never awarded because the event was canceled due to rain. The trophy still exists, though, and is owned by Dave Goss, a Speedway memorabilia collector.
“The trophy is a real curiosity,” Goss says. “It’s one of those artifacts that surprise even historians when they learn about it. Kokomo Rubber was a victim of the Great Depression, and like the trophy, history tends to fade.”
The Sports Car Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) is this year bringing vintage motorcycles back to IMS as another feature for its fourth annual Brickyard Invitational vintage sports car Fathers’ Day weekend. Road-course racing, a judged vintage bike show, a Harleydavidson arrive and ride, and a bike corral are planned.
“There’s some unfinished business in Indianapolis for motorcyclists,” says Tony Parella, SVRA’S CEO. “One example is that Kokomo ride. Someday, I’d like to finish it in tribute to those pioneers.”—mark Dill
i Grew UP around people who appreciate old stuff. My dad collected barber chairs and crank telephones. He bought an old hotel just to pull out valuable items so they didn’t get destroyed. Being around this stuff gave me an appreciation for old things. The stories that they tell stop me in my tracks.
I come from a multi-generational insuranceagent family, and I fought that job for as long as I could. I flew airplanes, collected skydives, and hurt myself BASE jumping. I traveled—a year in Japan and six months in Australia. I was out in the world and not restricted to the island of Ketchikan, where I grew up.
But that desire to find and restore items that shaped history was always in the back of my mind. Now that I have a career and a family, I’ve started to explore that appreciation in earnest, especially my fascination with motorcycles. I live 10 minutes from my office, so I figured a motorcycle would be a great commuter.
My first three builds made me realize how much I enjoy having my kids with me in the garage. Café racers displayed in my office became conversation pieces that led to more barn finds. I had to find a way for my family life, work life, and personal hobby to overlap. That’s how Alaska’s inaugural vintage motorcycle show was born.
In the days leading up to the show, my garage was transformed into a staging area. One of my neighbors walked over holding a sticky note. “I grew up with this guy,” he said. “He has MS and isn’t able to ride anymore.” Then, he handed me the note. On it was written: “1964 Harley Panhead Arlen Ness Chopper.”
In Alaska, anything worth saving is going to be in a shed or garage—someplace not exposed to the elements. If you meet the right people who help you uncover cool stuff, that stuff is probably going to be on the good side, great even, of whatever it is. And it’s going to have a unique story.
I drove out to look at the Panhead. The bike had been chopped in the late ’60s or early ’70s. It had a magneto, cloth-wrapped plug wires, lacquer paint, and a juice brake with a raked-out 12-over front end. It was period appropriate with a coffin tank— a time machine. I knew I had to have that bike.
You can imagine all of the issues that come with a bike that had been idle for 30 years. We started chipping away and slowly brought the Panhead back to life. With help from Ron Harvey at Harvey’s Custom Classics, we got it back on the road. The digger runs like a top now. It’s more reliable and leaks less than my British bikes. My heaven is 55 mph in third gear.
I’ve met some unique characters who have helped me uncover some cool stuff. With my kids now involved in restoring pieces from the past, I hope that they, too, grow up with an appreciation for old stuff. Only time will tell what they do with that appreciation and life lessons learned in the garage with dad.