Harley-Davidson at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Advanced historians of American motorsport and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway know that the first motorized competition at the famous track was a motorcycle race. Did you know that the date of the track action was August 14, 1909, and was only one day of a week-long celebration of the two-wheel machines?
In the mix was a convention of the governing body - Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) - as well as a parade of bikes throughout Indianapolis and a 388-mile endurance ride to the Hoosier capital from Cleveland, Ohio.
In some ways, the endurance ride, involving 99 bikes, was the most successful event of the week. While the races at the Speedway were a fiasco hampered by the unsafe original running surface of crushed stone the long ride from Ohio amazed largely farming communities along the way.
While some roads were judged good, others were raw, craggy terrain. In spots, the riders literally picked up the machines and carried them. Erwin George Baker, a 24-year-old amateur racer at the time, would later in his career earn the name, "Cannon Ball," for his cross-continental rides. Ironically, his bike broke and he shipped it home in a railroad boxcar.
Among the riders was Walter Davidson, who joined his two brothers to incorporate the Harley-Davidson Motor Company two years earlier. Davidson finished the journey, which concluded in downtown Indianapolis in front of the Denison Hotel.
See old Walter here, in this image artifact from a photo that ran in the Indianapolis News as part of their coverage of the great motorcycle invasion of Indianapolis. Click through to First Super Speedway for detailed coverage of the amazing endurance ride that should never be forgotten.