Since the first introduction of piston to a bicycle, men have been trying to take their machines to their absolute limit, in an attempt to prove one machine’s supremacy over the other. While nothing much has changed in the modern competitive environment, its a whole world upside down when it comes to topic of how safe the early day motorsport were. Motorcyclists in the early days of motoring were men of valour pushing machines with scarce brakes wearing any particularly substantial clothing, reaching 100mph (160kmph) with inches between each other. All this on circuits made of wooden floors!
This was motorcycle racing back then. While mad and completely berserk, the early days of board track racing was what had sparked the idea of motorsport in an enclosed area, taking on as proper racing circuits soon after. And its been since these early years of guts to glory racers that Harley-Davidson has been in pursuit of speed. As you’d imagine, over the past century of motorsport, Harley-Davidson has amassed a tall order of motorcycles that represent their accolades in speed to the world. Off these, what we have here are is a set of six vintage Harley-Davidson racing motorcycles that represent a special era in the company’s racing heritage. This collection has been curated by Wheels Through Time, and was shot to this gorgeous detail by Christopher Wilson. Text below from Dale Walkster, founder and curator of Wheels Through Time.
1921 Harley-Davidson SCA
The late teens through 1921 were innovative years for racing motorcycles in America. The dramatic interest in racing by manufactures was propelled by the fact that winning races would increase sales of production models enhancing not only the manufacturers profit margin but also giving stability to the industry in general. The terminology “board track racers” is now glamorised by the adoption of that term to all types of racing machines, In fact the true American board track racer were a very small part of all motorcycle racing efforts.
Primarily most racing machines of the day were raced on dirt tracks around America. This single cylinder model is of the dirt track variety sporting a 500cc single cylinder, countershaft drive with a special slipper clutch. Dubbed the model SCA (single cylinder alcohol) this machine was capable of speeds up to 80mph (128.7kmph).
A point to be noted is that this machine is in “as raced” condition and is considered the finest original Harley Davidson racing machine extant. Noted also the serial number of this machine is 21SCA500, making it the first of the limited number of such machines.
1930 Harley-Davidson DAR
The origin and history of this special “one off” Harley-Davidson racer is a mystery among historians today. What is known is speed competition in 1930 was a changing game. The board tracks of teens and twenty were now nearly a memory and dirt track racing during these depression years were less that the decade preceding.
The sport of motorcycle hill climbing had gained popularity in the twenty’s and was a competition that required only one thing being a challenging hill. It was not necessary to groom a round or oval track but simply invite the masses to observe daredevils known as “slant artists” climb the most notorious hills in the region. The same strategy for the manufactures as in other forms of racing was to win the race on Sunday and sell the production model on Monday. An already proven theory.
The “one off” Orange special picture is a hybrid of sorts with an unknown history. The modified Harley Davidson factory hillclimb DAH motor is fitted into a special modified chassis that would have been used on factory special dirt/board track machines of the early twenty’s. Some experts consider the purpose of this machine was to test the high speed capabilities of the special alcohol burning Hill Climb DAH motor.
Other simply marvel at the fact that such a machine has survived in the original condition from when it was created in the famous building called the “Racing Coup” locate behind the plant that has produced Harley-Davidson motorcycle for over 115 years.
1930 Harley-Davidson DAH
Probably noted as the machine that pulled Harley-Davidson out of the Great Depression the DAH Hillclimber is also of the most striking design.
To imagine that during the height of the great depression the “Motor Company” could design and manufacture a run of only 20 machines purposely built to win the Nation Championship Hillclimbs around America in order to gain the support of everyday rider and enthusiast of the sport is nothing short of a miracle. Volumes have been written of the struggles of Harley Davidson during this tumultuous era but the founding father of the company found faith in the age old adage “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”
The DA pictured is serial numbered 30 DAH510, making it the tenth in the production run of 20. The original condition of this machine makes it likely of the most notable Harley Davidson racing machines extant. It may also be noted that HD factory rider Joe Petralli raced this machine. Petralli was the most successful motorcycle race during this era. In Petrelli’s later years he associated with the late Howard Hughes and was know to be Hughes copilot in the singular flight of the famous but destined for failure plywood constructed airplane known as the “Blue Goose”
Harley-Davidson 750 WLDR
The Harley Davidson 750 WLDR was the Motor Company’s flagship racer on flat track and TT track around the country. In march of 1941 they had won Daytona on the same model featuring special Aluminium heads, special porting and cams. These machines were capable of over 100 mph (160kmph).
This machine was owned and raced by famed Harley-Davidson dealer Harry Molenaar from Hammond Indiana. Harry was close to the founding fathers of Harley-Davidson starting his franchise in 1934. The machine has documentation back to 1941 including the build sheet and factory order. Harry was famous for his patriotic RED/White/Blue paint jobs on his personal machines.
Harley-Davidson KR – The Duck Bike
The Harley Davidson KR was produced from 1952-1969. Quite a run for a factory racing machine with a side valve motor. These machines carried over the ball bearing crank and cams from the previous WR model from the 1940s. Harley Davidson won hundreds of national championships against the more modern OHV British machines.
It is well know however the AMA (American Motorcycle Association), the sanctioning body that controlled racing allowed a 30% increase in engine size for the side valve Harley and Indians. The famous Blue Goose as it is known (although the painting on the tank is a duck) is the all time national championship machine of the Late Carrol Reswebber.
Carrol was 4 time national champion from 1958-1961. He and tuner Ralph Berndt were know for lapping the field on many of the 25 and 50 mile (40 – 80 km) championship races. It is well documented that the famous “Duck Tank” came off the bike at the famous Milwaukee mile in 1960 when Harley-Davidson management gave both Carrol and Berndt the warning. The tank came of the machine at the next race. Carrol was injured in while points leader in 1962 never to race again.
Speedway racing in America started in the late 20s. this variety of short track racing was imported from England where the Rudge and Jap dominated the field. Not to be outdone Harley-Davidson build a limited run of approximately 20 of these special motorcycles to compete with the British machines. The racing primarily took place on America’s East and West Coast, where many of these short track event were held in small stadiums lit up for night racing.
It was a successful spectator event, however Harley-Davidson and the few Indian Motorcycles did not fare well. Speedway is popular in England and does have an American following. The pictured Harley Davidson speedway racer is #10 of the approximately 20 built. It was owned and amateur raced by the legendary Harry Molenaar of the Hammond Indiana dealerships simply named Molenaars HD.