Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
by Daniel K. Statnekov
|©1998 - 2006 Daniel K. Statnekov |
At the same time that the H-D company was proclaiming its
non-involvement in racing, William Harley was offering William "Bill"
Ottaway (the engineer in charge of Thor's racing department) a
position as his assistant at Harley-Davidson.
Born in Canada in 1877, Ottaway studied engineering and mechanics as
a youth, and subsequently moved to the United States where he held a
number of positions in industry before joining Thor in 1909. Although
the Thor motorcycle had never been in the running at the top-flight level
of competition, under Ottaway's leadership the Aurora, Illinois manufacturer
had posted important wins in enduros as well as on various dirt tracks.
In 1910, the Thor racing team won an important enduro in Philadelphia,
and for the next several years Thors were increasingly in contention.
By 1913, Ottaway's "tuned" motors were setting nationally recognized dirt
track records. The Thor engineer's reputation as a motor builder
was well-earned and William Harley's decision to hire him was an inspired
In Milwaukee, Ottaway's first assignment was to engineer the improvement
of the basic twin cylinder engine that had first appeared in 1909, but
had not been introduced in the marketplace until 1911. The 36
year-old engineer immediately undertook speed-tuning experiments,
spending considerable time balancing the H-D V-twin, and modifying
it with improvements that he had pioneered at Thor.|
Utilizing this modified production engine as his powerplant, Ottaway
designed a special racer for limited production, cataloged as the
Model 11-K. After extensive testing, Harley-Davidson entered
their new racer in the 1914 Dodge City, Kansas 300-mile road race.
Although only two of their six entrants were still running at the end of
the race, Harley-Davidson made an initial strong showing when one of their machines
was practically tied for the lead at the 120-mile point with the eventual
winner, Glenn "Slivers" Boyd (who earned his nickname in 1909 after a board track
fall which resulted in numerous splinters) who was riding a standard-valve
Indian. Ironically, Bill Briar, riding an Ottaway-tuned Thor racer,
placed second in the first running of the Dodge City Classic.
An exhausted and filthy Glenn Boyd after his victory at Dodge City
Both William Harley and William Davidson attended the race and were
noticeably pleased with their motorcycle's speed. Harley-Davidson's
entrance in a major race, with machines that were obviously prepared for
competition, announced the change in their company philosophy. The
two founder's comments at the race, however, suggested that in the future
their participation would be limited to supporting dealers interested in
racing; no factory team was to be established.
This changed in November of the same year when Milwaukee fielded its
first fully-supported factory team at the Savannah 300-mile National
Championship road race. Irving Janke, one of six H-D entrants,
finished a strong 3rd behind Indian and Excelsior. Sports writers
noted in the trade press that Bill Ottaway's careful team organization
and attention to reduced pit stop time had much to do with their excellent
Page installed: Nov. 15, 1996 |
Page revised: June 28, 2003