IMS 1909 Motorcycle Races - Preparations

All but two of these articles appeared in the Indianapolis Star and all pertain to the preparations for the first motorized event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - the 1909 Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) race meet. I have also added two additional - and very brief - items published in the Indianapolis News. One was published on June 26, 1909, the other on July 9, 1909.
Attachment FAMraces010309 contains an important article in understanding the FAM organization. The main purpose of the article was to announce the strong likelihood that FAM would hold its annual conference in Indianapolis. Again, like the American Aero Club's national championship announcement the yet-to-be-constructed Indianapolis Motor Speedway was already playing a role in attracting business to the city. Another factor, the article says, was the prominence Indianapolis played "in the days of 'saucer track' racing and century bicycle racing." This is almost cetainly a reference to the Newby Oval created by Indianapolis Motor Speedway co-founder Arthur C. Newby. The FAM event was anticipated for July and while Indianapolis and the Speedway would secure the event it would be delayed to August due to slower-than-expected progress on the track's construction.
The real significance of the article is the background information it provides on FAM which is not easy to come by. The organization was founded in Brooklyn, New York on September 7, 1903 and was designed to advance motorcycle use and represent the interests of riders. The group lobbied government and like the American Automobile Association (AAA) supplied maps and information services to members. In fact FAM had a cooperative/collaborative relationship with the AAA as well as the National Cycling Association.
The article in attachment Motorcycle020709 is very brief. Published February 7, 1909 it announces the new slate of officers for the Indiana Motorcycle Club and the proposal that they formerly join the FAM structure. The decision to integrate with the national body was surely influenced by the pending FAM convention and the anticipated motorcycle race meet at IMS. The newly elected officers were Charles Wyatt, president; A.L. Dipple, vice-president; Robert Sturm, secretary and Harry Graff, treasurer. G.H. Hamilton, F.L. Willis and Louie "L.M." Wainwright (executive at Diamond Chain) were announced as directors. The group was headed to the Chicago Auto Show with Speedway President Carl Fisher to meet with FAM officials about the pitch that they bring their annual event to Indianapolis during the summer.
A week later the Star published another very small item (see attachment FAM021409) about how Fisher and the Indiana Motorcycle Club team were at the Chicago Auto Show pitching their proposition. The article is optimistic and touts the hard work of the team. By February 21 the Star was reporting that FAM meeting in Indianapolis was all but a certainty. The planned Indianapolis Motor Speedway - described not by name but as "a huge motordrome, which will include two tracks," by a "$200,000 company" that "has been recently organized in Indianapolis" - was a deciding factor in attracting FAM. Note that the article indicates the construction on the Speedway was scheduled to start the following month - March. Also note that a number of the FAM officials were formerly with the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) who had confidence in the ability of Indianapolis to host major events because of their experience with the Newby Oval.
On May 8, 1909 the Indianapolis Star published a brief article (attachment Motorcycles050809) updating FAM's plans for a national convention in Indianapolis. The article underscores the group's desire to have their convention coincide with the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for motorized competition. At this point in time that projected date was mid-July. The article also notes that FAM (curiously enough referred to as "MFAM" in the article) understood that the National Motor Vehicle Company had already reserved the track for a 10,000 test immediately following the facility's opening.
At the end of the month in the May 30, 1909 Indianapolis Star the newspaper printed a host of images (attachment IMSmotorcycles053009) of famous motorcycle riders expected to compete at the Speedway later that summer. Among those were Walter Davidson of Harley-Davidson fame; Jake DeRosier, perhaps the most marketable star in the sport at the time; Charlie Collier the English champion; A.G. Chappel; Stanley Kellogg and Fred Huyck an amateur champion who would enjoy good success at the Speedway.
A brief article published in the June 13, 1909 Indianapolis Star (attachment Motorcyclists061309) discusses prearations for the FAM national convention and how some believed it would attact "thousands" of motorcyclists to Indianapolis. A name that continues to pop up in the planning is George W. Stephens of the Indiana Motorcycle Club. He and others were on point to make the national meeting - which had always taken place in New York - in the Hoosier capital a success. In this article Speedway President Carl Fisher reports that the work on the track was moving smoothly and that he expected an end-of-July race date for the motorcycle meet. This proved excessively optomistic as would be recognized as that time came and went. The reality is that even though the races were eventually held in August the track surface was never adequate for bikes and the meet would prove to be a fiasco.
An article published in the Indianapolis Star on July 4, 1909 (attachment motorcycles070409) is a effecitvely a digest of topics about the upcoming races. The primary and lead topic concerns the Cleveland-to-Indianapolis endurance run which was meant to kick off the entire FAM event - the convention as well as the races at the Speedway. The article describes five classes of motorcycle to participate as well as restrictions in the qualifications of the riders. In some cases private owners were only allowed, in others amateurs "involved in the trade" were permitted. One class was for single-cylinder bikes, another for multi-cylincer bikes. The organizers expected at least 100 entrants. The headline announced the belief that virtually all manufacturers would be represented if not by the factories then by privateers.
George W. Stephens, mentioned above, got a by-line for a brief piece he did that stresses the unprecedented speed expected when the bikes would finally take to the Speedway. On this count there was destined to be tremendous disappointment as the races proved both excessively dangerous and, frankly, a fiasco. At the time, though, it was reasonable to think that the longest straightaways in all of track racing and the steep banking (from the perspective of those times) would produce tremendous pace. Stephens underscores the danger - which probably proved greater than what he really believed at the time he wrote the article - but that was par for the course in the brand sensationalist newspaper coverage typical in those times.
The next piece was another by-lined item this time by local rider John Merz. Merz describes the constant skidding that required continuous corrections at the handlebars. Considering the loose gravel associated with the Speedway's crushed stone racing surface it seems it should have been predictable that the course was not really suitable for two-wheelers.
Finally this article contains an image of the board of directors of the Indiana Motor Cycle Club. Each person is named so this could be a good reference if anyone was researching the organization. The names of these men, in the order they are listed in the image, are: John McGarver, George Stephens, P.C. Hudson, Lee Chapman, F.I. Willis, W.D. Dean, Gus Habich, Charles Wyatt, George Detch, G.H. Hamilton, H.A. Githens, G.H. Westing, F.O. Munter, Robert Sturm and Harry Graff. One point I want to make is with respect to the man identified as John McGarver. One of the top competitors in the FAM endurance run was a man named John McCarver whose name was misspelled in at least one instance. I have to wonder if this isn't another example of misidentifying the man.
The first Indianapolis News article is, as I said at the top, very brief. It reports on the outcome of a meeting of the Indianapolis Motorcycle Club. Committees were appointed for the national convention to be held in association with the big FAM motorcycle race meet. The convention dates were just prior to the races on August 9 through 13. The article forecasted that more than 7,000 riders and other supporters were expected to attend the meet. The committee members are listed in the article:

  • Executive: Charles Wyatt, H.L. Dipple, Harry graff, R.H. Sturm, G.H. Hamilton, F.I. Willis and L.M. Wainwright.
  • Finance: Gus Habich, George C. Detch, F.I. Willis.
  • Press: G.W. Stephens, F.O. Minter.
  • Program: H.H. Githens, Frank Willis, Lee Chapman.
  • Entertainment: G.H. Westing, Harry Graff, John McGaroen.
  • Prize: W.D. Dean, C.E. Ball, P.C. Hudson. 

The second Indianapolis News (attachment IMSmotoNews070909) article is also fairly brief. This item is a digest of news leading off with a report saying that the motorcycle meet would be guarded by soldiers from "Battery A," as well as extra Indianapolis police. The promise was that this force would not only insure the riders would have "an absolutely free and uninterrupted" race track but also, as a result, would be certain to establish new speed records without accidents. The article states these outcomes as absolute certainties, which proved anything but true.
C.A. Mariani is noted as the press agent for the FAM sanctioning body for the motorcycle meet. Here we learn that there reports of exceptional interest in the Speedway meet from the northeast and the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are highlighted. The Indianapolis headquarters for eastern riders is reported to be the incredible Claypool Hotel, which was also said to making arrangements for the newspaper fraternity's "every convenience." 
The article also provides an update on an ancillary event hosted by the Kokomo Rubber Company. This was a planned run for all motorcycle riders to Kokomo for a tour of the company facilites and a breathtaking banquet at the town country club. The organizers attracted some 500 riders and promised a souvenir of their participation.
The next item in the digest offers an item from Philadelphia that a Bradley motorcylce had been entered in the Speedway meet. This machine reportedly made a "commendable showing" at the recent Point Breeze races. Also, rider Stanley T. Kellogg, perhaps the best known of the amateur riders at the time had also entered. The Merkel-Light Company of Pottstown, Pennsylvania had also filed entries. These bikes were nicknamed "Flying Merkels" and the article says that the seven-cylinder machines were impressive performers.
Finally, a new half-mile flat track record is reported from Upper Sandusky, Ohio on July 9. Rider S.W. Martin ran five miles on the fairgrounds track at a time of six minutes, 16.5 seconds. This was a new half-mile, flat track record. Martin ran a mile in 1:14, which was 15 seconds faster than the previous mile record set at Dayton, Ohio. Keep in mind that for whatever reason Ohio was epicenter of the American motorcycle world.

FAMraces013009.pdf280.49 KB
Motorcycle020709.pdf191.5 KB
FAM021409.pdf442.67 KB
IMSmotorcycles022109.pdf276.43 KB
Motorcycles050809.pdf230.86 KB
IMSmotorcycles053009.pdf433.16 KB
Motorcyclists061309.pdf262.23 KB
motorcycles070409.pdf1.91 MB
IMSmotoNews062609.pdf420.87 KB
IMSmotoNews070909.pdf546.84 KB