In 1921, Harley-Davidson was overwhelmingly successful, winning
every National Championship of the year. In all but the 1 and 5-mile
titles, their winning times were made at record-setting speeds.
The Milwaukee firm had been victorious at the Dodge City race for
the past four events, entered the record books as the manufacturer
of the first motorcycle to attain the 100 mph mark in Britain, and
achieved the honor of winning the first race in the United States run
at an average speed of over 100 mph.
In a formal release to the trade press in December, Walter Davidson
announced that the Milwaukee company would not support an official
racing team effective with the 1922 season.
Although a limited number of their specialized racers would
be produced for the benefit of qualified competitors, William Harley
emphasized that henceforth the Engineering Department would
concentrate their efforts on solving problems that pertained to their standard, road-going machines.
Notwithstanding this change in policy, in January of 1922, the Milwaukee
manufacturer rented the Beverly Hills board track to try for some new
records. With the 32 year-old H-D team captain, Otto Walker, at the
controls, the Ottaway-designed "banjo" 2-cam was more than adequate for the
task. The race-bred Harley-Davidson (which was painted white for the
occasion) set a new record for the mile, covering the distance in 32.94 seconds,
and attaining a speed of slightly more than 109 mph. By the end of the day,
Walker had also claimed the record for 5 through 25 miles, and set a new time/distance
mark of 98.60 miles for a single hour of riding.
Despite Harley-Davidson's withdrawal from formal competition,
Indian continued to field a factory team. Jim Davis and Ralph Hepburn
switched over to the Springfield company, and in April, Davis, riding a
side-valve "Daytona," topped Otto Walker's time, riding a mile on the
boards in 32.53 seconds, at an average speed of 110.67 mph. Ralph
Hepburn was also able to better Walker's time, riding a mile at the
same track in 32.64 seconds.
Interestingly, all three men (Walker, Davis, & Hepburn) were former
Dodge City winners, and the difference (less than half a second) in
their timed runs for the 1-mile distance only served to underscore the
importance of each factory's engineering effort to attain technical superiority.
Another fact had also become apparent and that was that no single
manufacturer, despite their degree of prominence on the National
level, could dominate competition across America. On hundreds of
county fair horse racing tracks, local enthusiasts racked up creditable
victories to the benefit of their home-town Indian and Excelsior dealers.
Ignaz Schwinn, ever the keen observer of the underlying business truth
in any given situation, sharpened his racing focus. In addition to continuing
to support his very talented 1/2-mile dirt track rider, Paul Anderson, Schwinn
engaged Maldwyn Jones, a member of the recently disbanded H-D team, to
ride as Anderson's teammate. Schwinn also authorized his chief engineer,
Arthur Lemon, to build several special purpose 1/2-mile machines for Anderson and
Jones to campaign on the dirt track circuit.
Maldwyn Jones was another member of that group of turn-of-the-century boys whose
lives revolved around motorcycles. Like Jim Davis who won a pair of rubber goggles
and Otto Walker who brought home a turkey, Maldwyn never forgot his first prize:
a .22 caliber repeating rifle which he won at an Ohio county fair in 1909. Jones
continued to compete in amateur events, and in 1911 (when he was 20 years-old) he
went to work for the motorcycle manufacturer Joseph Merkel, whose plant was just
a few miles down the road from Maldwyn's hometown of Lebanon, Ohio.
At the time, Merkel did not have a factory team, but after
Jones demonstrated an aptitude for winning races, Merkel gave his tacit
approval for Maldwyn to work on racing machinery during
working hours at the plant. Still, the Merkel company did not have a
full-fledged race department or even a team, just Jones
and a few others employed by the company, who rode either antiquated
Merkel racing equipment (left over from as far back as 1905) or mostly stock
examples of the road-going Flying Merkel that the company sold to the public.
Maldwyn was both resourceful and mechanically gifted. In 1913, he adapted
an over-head valve head from a Jefferson motorcycle to fit the Merkel
cylinder and went racing on the 1/2-mile dirt tracks on which he was
most adept. Maldwyn's luck was not great in the longer races, however.
In 1913, an erroneous lap count deprived him of a win at the Savanna 300-mile road
race, and in 1914, he was again in the lead at Savannah when his locally-hired pit
crew allowed him to run out of gas at the far side of the track.
In 1916, Jones switched to Harley-Davidson where he continued to win events on the
1/2-mile dirt track circuit. Fortune still eluded him in the longer races.
In 1919, at the Sheepshead Bay 100-mile National Championship, Jones placed 2nd behind
a slower running "Shrimp" Burns because the good-natured rider from Ohio felt that it
was unsportsmanlike to pass his front-running teammate.
Despite his good nature, bad luck continued to dog him. At the 1919 Marion,
Indiana road race, Jones dropped out with a broken crank pin, and at the first
post-war Dodge City race Maldwyn was again forced out (while in the lead) with
mechanical problems. When Bill Ottaway's "wrecking crew" was disbanded at
the end of the 1921 season, Jones accepted a position with Schwinn to ride for Excelsior.
Throughout 1922, Maldwyn Jones and Paul Anderson, won race after race
against the very fast Indian 4-valves that up until then had been the dominant
force in 1/2-mile dirt track events. Public interest was heightened by
Excelsior winning times that grew ever-closer to the one-minute-mile, a feat
never before accomplished on a 1/2-mile track.
Finally, in November of 1922, Anderson entered the record books by turning
a mile in less than 60 seconds on the Winchester, Indiana 1/2-mile dirt oval.
Additionally, he set a new record for the 5-mile distance and won the 25-mile
State Championship. On the same day that Anderson was entering the record
books for this performance, his teammate, Maldwyn Jones, won the 80 cubic inch,
61 cubic inch, and free-for-all (combined amateur and professional) events
at the Dayton, Ohio hillclimb.
For a minimal financial outlay, the Excelsior company was able to capitalize
on the "landslide" of publicity. Schwinn might not be able to overcome the
competition in the so-called "National Championship" track events, but for a
relatively modest investment the Chicago industrialist could keep the Excelsior name
in the news. Schwinn was elated with the publicity and authorized his development
engineer to adapt an improved cylinder that they were using on their new 1/2-milers to
some larger displacement motors for use on Excelsior hill climbers.
Hillclimbs had become increasingly popular since the late teens, and local dealers
were always on the look out for prospective competitors. In 1922, Orrie
Steele, a die-hard Indian enthusiast from Paterson, New Jersey, rode his
factory-prepared "Daytona" to first place in the National Hillclimb Championship
contested at Egypt, New York.
Although the National Hillclimb Championship was determined each year at a
single event, every April (since 1916) the California riders held (what they
considered to be) the major up hill race of the year at San Juan Capistrano.
In 1922, at the 7th annual running of the Capistrano "climb," Indian-mounted
Floyd Clymer was the fastest man over the top. With 30,000 spectators in
attendance, the victory was of great importance to the west coast contingent of
brand-loyal Indian riders.
By this time it was apparent that Excelsior was de-emphasizing their two
cylinder motorcycle. Instead, they concentrated their sales effort on the
Henderson 4 which Schwinn had purchased (in 1917) from the Detroit-based
Henderson brothers. After moving his new acquisition to Chicago, the industrialist
must have been pleased to see his 4-cylinder model become increasingly popular
with law enforcement agencies. Except for long distance record attempts, however,
the Henderson was not suitable for professionally contested speed contests.
For the remainder of 1922, Ralph Hepburn continued to dominate professional
track racing for the Indian Motorcycle company. Although
Harley-Davidson did not field a factory team, several former H-D team riders continued
to race the special "banjo" 2-cams that had been so successful in 1921. Lack of
technical and logistic support from the Ottaway-inspired racing department, however,
frequently relegated the formerly invincible Milwaukee racers to "also-ran" finishes.
Neither of the big races (Marion, Indiana or Dodge City) were held in 1922. Instead,
a substitute 4th of July, 300-mile race was held in Wichita, Kansas on a 1 and 1/2-mile
dirt oval. Race promoters attracted the former factory pros by offering substantial
cash prizes for the first three place finishers, as well as bonus payments for laps led or for
being the leader at mile-stone distances. Additional financial incentives were offered to
the riders by the accessory and tire manufacturers.
To the delight of the home-town race crowd, Ray Weishaar, a rider from Wichita and
seven year veteran of the Harley-Davidson team, jumped into the lead at the start.
Before turning professional, Weishaar had won the Kansas state championship from 1908
through 1910, and as a result had been nicknamed "The Kansas Cyclone." As a
professional rider, however, he was often dogged with bad luck; although in
1920, Ray won the important Labor Day, Marion, Indiana road race.
In this 4th of July contest, Weishaar was off to a great start. He continued
to lead, piling up five dollar bills on every lap and raking in the $100 prize awarded
to the rider who was in the lead at the 100-mile point. Ahead by more than 3
miles at the 120-mile distance, Ray's machine hit a hole in the track, broke an
axle, and threw the unlucky rider to the ground. Uninjured, Weishaar made
his way back to the pits, and refitting a new wheel resumed the race. Shaken
and discouraged, he attempted to make up lost ground, but within a few laps he
suffered a broken valve and was forced to retire.
Weishaar's former teammate, Ralph Hepburn took over the lead on the side-valve Indian
"Daytona" that he had been campaigning all year for the Springfield company.
Although it may have seemed strange to the fans to see the former Dodge City champion
on an Indian, Hepburn was no stranger to the front-running position. At the
end, Hepburn was a distant 18 minutes ahead of the 2nd place H-D piloted by Walter
Higley. Indians also placed 3rd and 4th with another Harley placing 5th.
Hepburn won $1,200 for his day's work; Weishaar took home $500 for having led for
80 laps and being the first rider across the line at the 100-mile point; the
2nd place finisher, Walter Higley, a former H-D team rider, received $575.
It was a tough way to make a living, and some of the old stalwarts must have
thought so as well. By the end of the 1922 racing season Otto Walker, "Red"
Parkhurst, and Maldwyn Jones had all retired from the 2-wheeled sport, joining
Don Johns on the sidelines.