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On a HARLEY-DAVIDSON, the speed land record set by Joe Petrali!

Text: Luís Cardoso

Photos: web

On March 13, 1937, a time when speed land records played an important role in the marketing of motorcycle and automobile brands, Joe Petrali, riding a now unlikely HARLEY-DAVIDSON, set the fabulous mark of 219.17 km /h on the sands of Daytona beach!

This mark took eleven years to be beaten by Rollie Free in Bonneville!

Apart from the historic achievement, the photos, testimony to the aerodynamic demand, are worth recording this memory in themselves!


In 1936, HARLEY-DAVIDSON decided to launch itself into speed trials.

Previously, some private had used motorcycles with HARLEY-DAVIDSON engines, but this was the first official involvement.

It started with a 1937 EL model that was powered by the then new 61ci overhead valve Knucklehead engine.

They then added low handlebars and made a custom fairing using part of a gas tank that was reshaped to fit the front forks.

As an additional aerodynamic effort: a rear fairing.

In March 1937 the bike was ready to attempt a new record, during testing it was discovered that the rear fairing produced enough unwanted vibration to be removed for the final record attempt.

The rider: "smokey" Joe

Joe was born in San Francisco, California on February 22, 1904.

Petrali's taste for motorcycles began to grow in California as a child, he watched the Class A racers of the 1910s, such as Charles “Fearless” Balke or Don Johns.

He later adopted Charles' style and began wearing similar leather pants and leg warmers throughout his career.

At the age of 14, he obtained his first national victory when he participated in an "economy run" race held at the California State Fairgrounds, in Sacramento.

Petrali continued to participate in endurance races over the next three years, among others, he participated in an endurance race that was recognized as a record, a marathon that lasted three days and four nights, after all other riders withdrew, the race was considered a tie between Petrali and his boss Archie Rife.

Petrali was a Class A racing champion, competing in board track, dirt track, speed records and hillclimb. won a record total of 49 AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) national championship races, his last victory was on August 29, 1937, this record of victories lasted 55 years until it was broken by Scott Parker in 1992.

In 1937, on the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida, Joe set a world motorcycle speed record of 219.17 km/h with an experimental 61 cubic inch HARLEY-DAVIDSON OHV.

His mark, on sand, was never surpassed, although the speed mark was surpassed 11 years later in Bonneville.

Petrali died of a heart attack on November 10, 1973, in Casa Grande, Arizona, while participating in an "economy run".



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