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

by Daniel K. Statnekov

©1998 - 2006 Daniel K. Statnekov   
Chapter 18

Although the Dodge City Classic had not been held since 1916, the first post-war running of the premiere event once again captured the attention of the motorcycle fraternity.  In 1920, the race boiled down to a contest between Indian and Harley-Davidson.  Of the fifteen riders that started, eight rode for the Springfield company while seven rode for Milwaukee.

Three of the Springfield riders piloted Indian-8's, with five men on machines powered by a specially-tuned rendition of the Powerplus.  Since the Florida speed trials, where the Indian side-valve had established eight new world records, Franklin's record-setting motor was referred to as the Indian "Daytona."

All seven members of the Harley-Davidson team rode machines powered by the pocket-valve version of the "banjo" 2-Cam race motor.  Unlike their Springfield competitor, the Milwaukee company did not field any of their 8-valves.  Following Indian sales strategy (which for years down-played the fact that their racers were powered by non-standard motors), H-D management felt that there was a public relations benefit to the fact that their pocket-valve racer resembled the product that they sold to the public.

Given the number of distractions, it's hard to imagine that the average spectator would have noticed small differences between the various motors.  There was just too much else to see.  In addition to the carnival that had set up on the edge of town, daredevils from Oklahoma had been hired to put on some special aerial stunts for the entertainment of the crowd.  On the morning of the race, the daredevils attempted to negotiate a change from a speeding automobile to an airplane flying overhead.

Just as one performer climbed from the automobile to the ladder suspended from the plane, the ladder caught on the rear spring of the car causing a spectacular crash in front of the grandstand.  When the wreckage was finally cleared away, and the participants of this misadventure taken to the hospital (fortunately, no one was killed), the race finally got underway.

Two Indian-8's, piloted by "Shrimp" Burns and his Alabama teammate, Gene Walker, jumped ahead at the start.  Exchanging the lead frequently, the Springfield riders led until the 24th lap when Harley-Davidson's Maldwyn Jones, taking advantage of the "Shrimps" pit stop for a tire change, slipped into 2nd place.  On the 33rd lap, Maldwyn took over the lead from Gene Walker when the Indian rider made a pit stop, allowing two other members of the Milwaukee team, Freddy Ludlow and Jim Davis to take over the 2nd and 3rd place slots.

Jones stretched out his lead and passed the 100 and 200-mile marks, establishing new records for both distances on a dirt track.  Shortly after the 200-mile mark, the "Shrimp" was back in contention.  He battled Jones for the lead for about 15 laps until he was forced into the pits for another tire change.  At about the 250th-mile, Maldwyn was ahead of the field by 2 miles, one complete circuit of the Dodge City track, when the brass spark plug clip separated from the wire to his front cylinder and he was forced into the pits.  The repair was accomplished quickly, but his pusher was unable to restart Jones' over-heated engine, and the Harley leader was forced to retire.

Jim Davis, a 20 year old, "seasoned" professional, then took over the lead with the two Indian riders, "Shrimp" Burns and Gene Walker, "hot on his heels."  Burns set a terrific pace on his Indian-8, trying to make up the ground that he had lost due to his frequent stops for fresh tires.  The Oakland, California "boy wonder" circled the 2-mile prairie race track in a minute and 17 seconds, achieving a 94 mph average that was only one second short of the lap record set by Don Johns on his Cyclone in the 1915 event.  Unable to withstand the stress, Burns' engine finally failed, and he was forced to join Maldwyn Jones on the sidelines.

Davis, the newest recruit to the Harley team, held the lead to the finish, completing the race at an average speed of 81 and 1/2 mph, nearly 6 minutes and 2 mph faster than the record set by Irving Janke at the 1916 event.  Davis' time demonstrated that Ottaway's 2-cam, pocket-valve engineering was even faster than the pre-war 8-valves.  Eugene Walker, on an Indian-8, finished 2nd, four minutes behind the leader;  while Ray Weishaar captured 3rd place honors and recorded the fastest lap (92 & 1/4 mph) made on a Harley-Davidson.

Although Dodge City was a disappointment for Maldwyn Jones, there was an interesting connection between Maldwyn and the winner, Jim Davis.  In 1913, when Jim was 13 years-old, he had accompanied his father on a business trip to Savannah, Georgia.  In his youth Davis' father had been a bicycle racer, and as a diversion the senior Davis took his son to the Savannah road race.  Jim became enthralled with the excitement of the event, and became a fan of the daring and personable rider, Maldwyn Jones, who led the field of contestants around the course.  The boy joined in the disappointment of the crowd when an erroneous lap count deprived Maldwyn of the win and instead gave the victory to Excelsior's Bob Perry.

The Savannah 300-miler was but a single event in hundreds of races in which Maldwyn Jones would compete, but for Jim Davis it was the event that would ignite his interest in motorcycle racing, and set him on the path to becoming a world champion.  Upon returning to Ohio, Jim persuaded his father to buy him a Yale motorcycle, and eventually the older Davis consented to allow his then fourteen year-old son to race.  In his first race at Lancaster, Ohio, Jim, riding a borrowed Indian twin, won a pair of rubber goggles and a quart of oil.

The young rider continued to show promise.  After a couple of years of racing at county fairs, the Indian dealer in Columbus secured a 1916 factory machine for Jim, and entered him in a sanctioned 100-miler at Detroit.  "It was a push start on a mile track with 25 or 30 riders elbow to elbow at the starting line," Davis recalled.  "I was fortunate;  I took the lead at the start and stayed in front to the finish.  I won a hundred dollars, and thought I was a millionaire."

At his father's insistence, Jim attended the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, finding time between classes to practice on the old 1-mile dirt track at the site of the present day L.A. Coliseum.  Jim Davis had an ideal life at college, taking time off to race motorcycles while lettering in track and baseball.  When the war ended, the collegiate motorcycle racer resumed riding for the Indian team.

He won feature races for the Wigwam throughout 1919 and early 1920, competing mostly in the second tier of professional events that were a mainstay of entertainment for the motor-sport crowd.  In the Spring of 1920, Davis left Indian and was immediately hired by Harley-Davidson.  Three months later, with his Dodge City victory inscribed in the record books, Jim Davis had established his reputation as a National star.

In September of 1920, the two major companies prepared to do battle again, this time for the windfall of publicity that would accrue to the winner of a 200-mile race held on Labor Day in Marion, Indiana.  Starting positions were established by lottery, and "Shrimp" Burns drew the very last position.  Before the race, the "Shrimp" announced that he would be in the lead by the end of the very first lap.  At the start, the crowd gasped and everyone was on their feet when the brash Indian rider "blasted" around the track on his side-valve "Daytona."

He rode the ditch and the bank alongside the narrow track, breaking through and away from the others like a scared rabbit fleeing from a pack of hounds.  Described later by the press as a "blazing crimson comet," the "Shrimp" rocketed through "no man's land" in the backstretch, startling the other riders as he went by them in the rough.  By the time the field had circled the 5-mile race course, Burns had passed everyone and was just ahead of the 2nd place rider, Ray Weishaar, as they re-crossed the starting line to begin the second lap of the race.

He continued on at full throttle, and in the 13th lap the Indian pilot set a new course record of 4 minutes and one second for the 5-mile circuit.  On the 21st lap, just after he set a new world record for the 100-mile distance, Burns' chain parted company.  He replaced it in under six minutes and "hurtled" back into the race.  Within 50 miles he had made up the lost time and was only 37 seconds behind the leader when the "Shrimp's" luck ran out again.  This time, the flailing end of another broken chain fractured his fuel lines, forcing him out with just 40 miles left in the race.

Ray Weishaar captured first place honors and bragging rights for H-D with Leonard Buckner, on an Indian "Daytona" just behind.  Jim Davis placed 3rd.  Weishaar's 1920 winning time trimmed nearly 18 minutes off "Red" Parkhurst's previous years' record, and once again demonstrated Harley-Davidson's latest technical accomplishment.  Shrimp Burns' record-setting performance reiterated the point that the Indian entry was still a contender.

Halfheartedly, Excelsior entered a 5-member team at the 1920 Marion race, Schwinn's loss of enthusiasm for competition becoming more and more evident as the months passed following Bob Perry's fatal accident.  Nevertheless, Excelsior riders placed 4th, 5th, and 6th on antiquated "Big-Valve" machinery, the Chicago industrialist having halted any further development of the McNeil and Perry designed overhead-cam model.

Barely two weeks after the Marion race, Shrimp Burns set a 10-mile dirt track record in Cleveland on another "Daytona" side-valve.  In setting the record, the 22 year-old Burns defeated Jim Davis, who for the Cleveland race piloted an 8-valve version of Ottaway's banjo 2-cam, illustrating once again that there was still a race on between the two industry leaders.

As it turned out, Indian won 14 of 17 National Championships in 1920, generating enough hoopla to keep the presses in Springfield rolling with a string of announcements of victory after victory.  On the other hand, Jim Davis' and Ray Weishaar's Dodge City and Marion, Indiana wins accounted for 500 miles of National titles for Harley-Davidson.  The published accounts of their success, in what were considered to be the two most important events of the year, fulfilled H-D's PR expectations.  The management of the Milwaukee company could only hope that their factory would stay busy with orders from a public inflamed by the clamor in the motorcycle press.

A sad note at the end of the 1920 racing season was the death of Edward "Teddy" Carroll, who died of Tuberculosis in November, barely a year after his valiant rides at the 1919 Marion road race and the Sheepshead Bay board track.  Twenty-six years old at the time of his death, the Springfield, Massachusetts home-town boy and loyal Indian enthusiast, passed into the shadow world of bygone racers, his accomplishments preserved in faded news clippings and in the memory of his friends and co-workers.  Although his life had only encompassed a handful of years, Teddy Carroll had known the thrill of the race and the glory of coming home a champion.

Webmaster:  daniels@statnekov.com

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