Jake De Rosier Profile, 1910

This is the best single article (two different copies of the same article in the attachments) I have yet to find on Jake DeRosier. I honestly believe you can't find a better backgrounder written during his lifetime on this brave pioneering champion of the motorized two-wheelers than what you will find here. DeRosier was severely injured during the first motorized competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909.
Originally published in the Sunday, March 20, 1910 Indianapolis Star, the article was part of  a special supplemental section about the upcoming March 28 Indianapolis Automobile Show presented by the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association (IATA). Key features of the event were the Floral Parade, contests at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and concluding banquet at the Denison Hotel. In those days motorcycles and automobiles were more frequently lumped together simply because they were both part of a general revolution of motorized transportation.
The article provides an excellent overview of his career up to 1910. DeRosier died three years later after suffering extensive injuries to one of his legs in an accident during March 1912. He endured nearly a year of suffering and three operations before succumbing to complications from the final operation. This article chronicles his extensive list of injuries as well as his long list of accomplishments throughout his career. It also captures the spirit and spunk of a diminutive man that knew no fear - and always played at the top of his game.
Beginning with a list of gruesome injuries incurred by DeRosier up to 1910 it becomes readily apparent the man had an indomitable spirit. Among the injuries:

  • Compound fracture of the left shin
  • Four-inch cut in the back and deep cut over right eye
  • Fractured skull
  • Fractured left leg and ankle
  • Broken left forearm
  • Broken ribs (3-inch piece of rib bone removed by surgeons)
  • Ruptured blood vessel near bladder which hemmorhaged profusely (this was an injuryed incurred at the first 1909 motorcyle race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  • Broken nose
  • Burned legs from motor exhaust
  • Artery severed in right forearm.

The list goes on, but you get it. There is an added benefit to digging into this prose as the writer has a delightful style. Consider this excerpt: "He has had all kinds of accidents, from cracking his head to having his feet burned, and he has probably gouged enough big splinters out of board racing tracks to build a small-sized cottage, with a chicken house and a backyard fence stringing out behind." The writer describes DeRosier as - what is by all other accounts corroborated - a small, even diminuitive man, "a slight, slender fellow that a strong Christmas breath might blow over."
Despite being a runt he had a reputation for never backing down from a fight, not even when the confrontation was with someone of state authority - like an officer of the law. An example is cited where DeRosier, fresh from a skull-fracturing accident, went to Madison Square Garden to witness a race but when an opportunity to fill an unexpectedly vacant seat popped up he was on it. The opportunity was short-lived when the machine broke down. Back in the stands he watched a friend intently until the rider fell. DeRosier hurdled the railing to rush to his buddy's aid. That's when the police officer stepped in. Jake's response? Get into a shoving match of course. He was quickly subdued and spent a night in jail.
DeRosier reportedly began his career in 1894 like many future motorsports racers of his time - as a bicycle racer. Racing the relatively new "safety bicycles" on steeply banked wood velodromes was immensely popular in the 1890s and proved a logical transition to cars and motorbikes. When DeRosier earned so much money as an amateur champion the racing organizers declared him a professional. I am not clear on the ramifications of this reclassification but the decision motivated him to look at the newly emerged motorcycles. This started with the well documented trend of bicycle racing to use motorbikes to pace the field. Basically the motorized bikes ran in front of the manual bikes to break up the air and effectively allow those peddaling behind to attain greater speed at the same level of effort.
He started with motorbikes provided by Henri Fournier, the famous auto racer and aviator. DeRosier's first experience came at Waltham, Massachusetts in 1898 in the first motor-paced bicycle race ever conducted in America. He continued providing this service until 1905 when he began to actually race against other motorcycles. It was during his motorbike pacing days - in 1902 - when he had the skull fracture injury and subsequent confrontation with the policeman mentioned above.
Just 10 days after his overnight stay as a guest of New York City his tire blew as he was pacing a bicycle race. In addition to getting slammed to the hardwood the bike bounced on top of him. The list of resulting injuries included gashes above his eye and on his back as well as a compound fracture of his left shin. The bone was split lengthways and doctors stitched it back together with wire. He reportedly did not enjoy the benefits of anesthesia.
In 1906 DeRosier broke his left ankle during a race against Fred Hoyt on a half-mile dirt track. That injury required four weeks to heal. Just five months later he broke his arm after hitting a pothole while riding his motorcycle on a dark Fall River, Massachusetts road at night. In 1907 in another match race against Hoyt another tire blew and his chest was crushed when the handlebars landed on him. Several ribs were broken and after a three months in the hospital with his chest swelling surgeons elected to operate. They found a three-inch chunk of rib "floating" in his abdomen. They removed it and he eventually healed.
His most famous accident came at the first motorized races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. That was during a match race with Ed Lingenfelder. He suffered numerous lacerations and contusions against the track's then crushed stone surface. Those wounds were deep and contaminated with the "taroid" paving material Speedway management had used. He also had internal bleeding and continued to hemorrhage for a week. Just as surgeons prepared for another operation - a risky proposition in the times - the bleeding stopped. It was, reportedly - a ruptured blood vessel near his bladder.
The nature of the design of bikes in the day presented tremendous risks of burns. The port holes of the motor burned his legs toe to knee over the years leaving a patchwork of scars. The board tracks were hazardous as well and the stories have it that DeRosier endured knife-like wounds from splinters three and four inches long.
While DeRosier's list of injuries were and still are amazing his accomplishments were at least as numerous. In 1910 he held all the speed records for the motorized two-wheelers from one to 100 miles. His mile record was 43.2 seconds made at Springfield, Massachusetts the home of his Indian factory team. His five-mile record was three minutes, 48 seconds and for 10 miles seven minutes, 43 seconds. He was in talks with Brickyard officials at the time to go for some speed records at the newly paved track but for whatever reason that opportunity never materialized.

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