Updated: Jul 24
Motorcycle racing on Board Track tracks in the United States of America began at the end of the first decade of the 20th century, reached its peak around 1920 and did not survive the Great Depression, having disappeared around 1930. Initially, they made use of enclosures built for cycling events. The floor was made of wood and, due to its original function, the width of the track greatly limited the number of riders who could share the track, two at a time in most cases.
INDIAN Eight Valve, 1913, one of the first motorcycles for Board Track
The increase in the popularity of this modality implied the construction of spaces suitable for motorcycling, which would later also be used for car racing.
Motordromes were inspired by European Velodromes, the floor was wooden (51 mm x 100 mm boards), the design was usually oval or circular, the perimeters varied and could reach about 2 miles (3.2 km) – normally had 0.5 miles (0.8 kms), 1 mile (1.6 kms), 1.25 miles (2 kms), 1.5 miles (2.4 kms) and the longest 2 miles (3.2 kms) kms) -, one of the main characteristics was the degree of inclination of the curves, which was normally 45 degrees and could reach, in the most extreme cases, 50 degrees. These layouts already allowed more competitors on the track, which together with the degree of inclination of the curves allowed, in 1915, average speeds above 160 km/h.
The motorcycles used did not have brakes or suspension and were towed by other motorcycles to start the engine. The brands (HARLEY DAVIDSON, INDIAN, EXCELSIOR, etc...) that disputed the market, faced each other in these venues fighting for the image of victory that would favor commercial activity.
INDIAN Cyclone from the collection of Steve McQueen, was capable, in 1911, of reaching 180 km/h
By 1929, at least 24 runways had been built throughout the United States of America. The public adhered to this type of event en masse, in 1915 a number of 80,000 spectators were reported at the Chicago race. The riders, attracted by big prizes, showed up and put all their effort, the result of these ingredients were spectacular races.
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The sport would eventually disappear during the Great Depression due to economic problems and also, in large part, because of the physical danger it entailed. There were many fatal accidents that killed pilots and the public.
HARLEY DAVIDSON, 1923
Due to this circumstance the Motordrome came to be called, in slang, Murderdrome! The most serious accidents in memory in this modality were: - in 1912 in Newark (New Jersey), Eddie Hasha (INDIAN) entered the public inside, dragging another pilot Johny Albright, both died, having victimized 6 more people among the public; - in 1913 at Ludlow/Lagoon Motordrome (Kentucky), Odin Johnson crashed into a lamppost, the motorcycle caught fire and the aftermath was the death of the rider himself plus 8 deaths among the public in addition to an undetermined number of injuries.
The riders whose names appear only in footnotes in the history of motorcycling were, usually, young farmers coming from the farms close to the events, some of the most notable were: Jim Davis, Gene Walker, Fred Ludlow, Albert “Shrimp” Burns, Ralph Hepburn and Ray Weishaar.