As board track racing was becoming the most popular motorcycle sport in
the United States, it was a natural consequence that the two partners
would join forces with the prominent builder of wooden tracks, "Jack"
Prince, to construct a "home-town" motordrome.
With an ownership in Springfield's new 1/3-mile pine-board "drome," Hendee
and Hedstrom would not only have control of their local arena, but they
would also have a "test-track" for their factory team. At least
this is what they thought in the summer of 1909, on the eve of the opening
of Springfield Stadium.
Morty Graves in the lead at Springfield, Massachusetts Boardtrack, 1910
But a race isn't a race without competition, and in each one of the dozens
of fledgling motorcycle manufacturers that had "sprung up" across the country,
there were men who dreamed of success on the race track, a victory that
would lead them to success in the marketplace. One such man was Ignaz
Schwinn, immigrant, self-made millionaire kingpin of the bicycle manufacturers,
who within two years would challenge Indian's supremacy.
There were other men who had dreams of winning races, young men who could
hear the roar of the crowd in their imagination, and envision the paycheck
that they would earn for their exploits. It was not money or glory
alone, however, that had captivated these youngsters. Each boy had
somehow "caught the fever" to race a motorized steed, a passion that was
unimaginable to the generation that had preceded them. One such boy
was "Jake" DeRosier who was born in Quebec, Canada in 1880.
When Jake was a child his family moved to Massachusetts where velodrome
bicycle racing was very popular. At seventeen, DeRosier took up
the sport, and in 1898 he got a ride on one of the French pacing machines.
The teenager was completely taken with the motor-powered tandem, and shortly
thereafter he obtained a full-time position as a rider of the new device.
This gave him experience with the gasoline engine and in 1901 he was hired by
Although DeRosier only stayed with Indian for a few months, he continued
his relationship with the two founders of the Springfield company.
Both of the partners continued to encourage Jake's participation in the
sport, tutoring him in techniques that they had learned during their own
racing careers. Over the next few years, DeRosier was successful,
capitalizing on his own natural ability and the lessons taught to him by
In July of 1908, on a "borrowed" Indian prototype, DeRosier set a
quarter-mile record at the Paterson, New Jersey velodrome. Jake's
average speed was 68.2 mph and he won the three-mile race on the same
day in a shade over 3 minutes. As a result of this performance,
the 28 year-old cyclist was added to the official Indian team.
While riding for Indian DeRosier gained fame quickly, having a talent
for close drafting and an eye for the fastest line around the track.
In 1909, Jack Prince brought the Indian star to Los Angeles to help
promote his new Coliseum motordrome. DeRosier set records
at Prince's wood-planked drome, and proved himself to the west coast
crowd by defeating California's top rider, Paul "Dare Devil" Derkum.
Continuing in 1910 and 1911, DeRosier won literally hundreds of races and
continued to set records that established him as "the man to beat" in
American motorcycle racing. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles,
huge crowds cheered Indian's colorful star rider, who wore black theatrical
tights and running shoes as his racing attire.
Although historians differ as to the reason, when he returned from an
English race tour in the late summer of 1911, Jake DeRosier was fired by
George Hendee. One story is that the Indian chief executive was
very disappointed with DeRosier's performance at the Isle of Man, and
the men's subsequent argument resulted in his dismissal. Whatever
the reason, DeRosier immediately left for Chicago where he was hired by
Ignaz Schwinn to ride for Excelsior.
The Chicago-built machines were never regarded very seriously as racing
equipment, but in 1911 that changed. Perhaps it was Ignaz Schwinn's
good fortune (for he had just purchased the company), or due to the efforts
of unheralded Excelsior engineers, but since the beginning of the year, the
company's V-twin, pocket-valve motor was nearly unbeatable. In August,
at Chicago's Riverview motordrome, an Excelsior set a record for the mile,
burning up the boards at an average speed of 88.9 mph.
As it turned out, Jake arrived just in time to take advantage of the fast,
new Excelsior motors. By September, the former Indian star was back
in the "groove," not only winning the feature event at Riverview, but also
setting an unofficial world record for the kilometer, at a speed of 94 mph.
With DeRosier setting the pace, Ignaz Schwinn's motorcycle company quickly
moved into the limelight. Within the first year of his buying the
company, the Excelsior entry was being acclaimed as the fastest bike on