Hog Wild over Harley-Davidson | The “Hog Boys” of Early H-D History
During the mid-to-late-1910s, Maldwyn Jones (below) was perhaps the best dirt track racer in the Midwest– winning hundreds of regional dirt track events during his 13-year motorcycle racing career. During the mid-1910s, Jones was dominant on countless half-mile dirt-track ovals of the Midwest. In 1914, riding his Merkel, Jones won a highly publicized five-mile match race against a Mercer race car on a dirt oval in Dayton, Ohio. During this period, Jones’ racing, as well as bike and equipment design efforts kept Merkel in the spotlight even though the it had officially dropped its factory racing effort in 1910. With Merkel floundering, Maldwyn Jones accepted an offer to ride for team Harley-Davidson in 1916. Even though he was racing for Harley-Davidson, Jones continued utilizing the superior-handling chassis he had designed and developed with Merkel. In 1922, Jones was signed by Excelsior and was again runner up at the M&ATA 25-mile national dirt track championship in Milwaukee. Jones also started competing in motorcycle hillclimbing while riding for Excelsior and won a number of regional events. He retired from motorcycle racing altogether at the end of 1922 to work for Indianapolis-based Wheeler-Schebler Company– famous for its racing carburetors.
Fred Ludlow (below) was supported by Indian in the form of one of its new eight-valve racing bikes in 1914. He raced frequently around the circuits of California. The young Ludlow earned his share of wins despite having to go up against established veterans such as Don Johns, Morty Graves and the other top riders of that era. In 1916 and 1917, he focused his efforts on endurance runs and racked-up a slew of perfect scores in the long-distance contests. Ludlow served a brief stint in the Signal Corps during World War I, leaving for Europe in April of 1918 and returning from the war in August of 1919. Soon after his discharge, he was signed by Harley-Davidson’s competition manager Bill Ottoway to race for the Milwaukee-based team. Harley assembled a top-notch racing team in 1920. Known as the “Wrecking Crew”– it was chock full of talent, with Ludlow joining Ralph Hepburn, Otto Walker, Red Parkhurst and later, Jim Davis, Ray Weishaar and Maldwyn Jones, in one of the most powerful factory squads ever put together.
Fred Ludlow successfully rode in most of great races of the day, such as the Dodge City 300. He achieved his greatest success on September 19, 1921, on the famous Syracuse (New York) Mile– with Ludlow sweeping all of the national titles that day. He was perfect with five wins in five races on his factory Harley-Davidson, besting most of the top stars of the day, including the likes of Jim Davis, Don Marks, and Ralph Hepburn. It was one of the most dominant performances in the history of the sport. Ludlow’s popularity grew and Harley-Davidson sent him across the country in a sidecar to host racing film shows for various clubs and organizations interested in motorcycle racing. Ludlow’s success at Syracuse in 1921 proved to be his swan song on the race tracks of America. He was fired by Harley-Davidson in 1922 and went to work as a mechanic for C. Will Risdon’s Indian dealership in Los Angeles. In 1923, he joined the South Pasadena Police Department as a motorcycle officer, and a year later transferred to the Pasadena Police Department.
Otto Walker (below) was a leading motorcycle racer in the 1910s and early 1920s and was one of Harley-Davidson’s first factory riders. Walker won the first major race for the Harley-Davidson factory team on April of 1915– an FAM 300-mile road race in Venice, California. Walker set numerous speed records during his eight-year professional racing career. He earned the impressive distinction of being the first rider ever to win a motorcycle race at an average race speed of over 100 mph in 1921.
By 1914, Harley-Davidson was just getting into competitive racing and sponsored Otto Walker. By the end of that season he turned pro, but Walker’s pro career had no so sooner started when he was injured in a crash and forced to sit out the rest of the 1914 racing season. On April 4, 1915, Walker gave Harley-Davidson its first national victory when he won the 300-mile road race national held on the streets of Venice, California. That race was one of the biggest of the year and was contested by most of the major factory teams. Walker’s victory in that race over the established racing stars of the day was considered an upset even though he was riding for factory Harley-Davidson. Walker followed up the Venice win with an even more impressive victory in July of that year when he won the prestigious Dodge City 300, the biggest motorcycling racing event in America during that era. Even after a tire blowout and a broken lens in his goggles, Walker held on, and with a lap and a half remaining he passed Indian’s Morty Graves, who had run out of gas on the back straight with less than three miles to go. A souvenir from WWI became a signature look for Otto Walker– he began wearing a German aviator helmet instead of a standard motorcycle racing helmet during his races. Walker was also known for his unique riding style. He would arch his back on straightaways to give himself a better aerodynamic profile and his fellow competitors began calling him “Camelback” Walker. He retired after the 1922 racing season (as did fellow competitors “Red” Parkhurst and Maldwyn Jones). Walker ran a sport-fishing service on the Sacramento River and died in 1963 at the age of 73.
Jim Davis rode for both the Harley-Davidson and Indian factory racing teams. In addition to being a great racing champion, Davis also went on to become an AMA official– serving in various capacities including deputy chairman of competition. His most visible job with the AMA was as chief referee and starter. Davis earned 21 AMA national championships and a reported 50-plus pre-AMA national titles under the auspices of the FAM and M&ATA.
In 1915, Davis happened to be at his neighborhood Indian dealership when Frank Weschler, head of sales for Indian, came to visit. The owner of the dealership introduced Davis and told Weschler of the 19-year-old’s racing exploits. The dealer asked Weschler if he might send Davis a factory Indian racing machine. Davis never expected anything to come of the casual meeting, but a few weeks later the dealer called Davis into the dealership. Davis was thrilled to find a brand-new eight-valve closed-port Indian factory racer with his name on it.
In 1916, the Columbus Indian dealer took Davis to Detroit to race in the FAM 100-Mile National. Racing for the first time against unfamiliar competition, Davis, who weighed all of 120 pounds, looked at the group of grizzled veteran racers lined up for the Detroit final and considered them a pretty rough-looking bunch. Starting from the outside of the front row, Davis put his Indian first into turn one and was never headed for the entire 100 miles.
Jim Davis’ employment as a factory Indian rider came to an abrupt end in 1920. He went to a race in Phoenix, only to find that it was an invitational and that only two riders of each motorcycle brand would be allowed to ride. Two Indian riders were already invited to race. Not one to be easily deterred, Davis got the referee to agree to let him race if he got a wire from M&ATA president A.B. Coffman. Davis went to the Western Union office down the street and through the persuasion of a big box of chocolates, convinced a young lady working there that he was merely wanting to pull a gag on a friend and got her to fake a telegram that simply read: “Permit Davis to Ride.” Signed A.B. Coffman. Davis then paid a young boy a quarter to ride his bike to the track and give the telegram to the referee. Davis watched as the ref opened the telegram and then waved Davis over and permitted him to race. The following week Davis paid dearly for his shenanigans when he was suspended for a year by one A.B. Coffman. To add insult to injury, Davis was also fired from Indian for the incident. In less than 24 hours after being fired by Indian, Harley-Davidson quickly hired Davis, took care of his suspension, and he continued to race the rest of the season.
Jim Davis only raced for Harley-Davidson until 1925. Indian gladly re-hired him for the 1926 season and Davis promptly won three national titles that year on both board tracks and dirt ovals. Davis’ most successful season came in 1928, when he won six national titles and was named the overall AMA national champion, a feat he repeated in 1929. Davis won his final AMA national at Syracuse, New York, in 1930. He continued to be a one of the top competitors for the next five years.
After his retirement from racing, Jim Davis was instrumental in forming the motorcycle division of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. He worked for the Highway Patrol for 14 years. Afterwards, Davis went to work for his family-owned architectural business. He also became an official for the AMA. Jim Davis died on February 5, 2000 in Daytona Beach, FL at the ripe old age of 103.
Story Courtesy of http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com
~ Sunday Slacker Magazine