A tro­phy from the dawn of mo­tor­cy­cling that was never won

Motorcyclist - - Contents -

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.

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