Friday, December 30, 2016

Rat Racer Returns - Episode #39

By: David L. Morrill

Updated 12-31-2016

Well, it's been about a year since I have given an update on my 1921 Harley-Davidson replica racer, which I call "Rat Racer." It's always a continuing work in progress, with several changes since I last wrote about it in Episode 29. To start with, it made an appearance in the Rat's Hole Bike Show at Ocala Bike Fest this past July. Teddy Smith, and his staff at the Rat's Hole do a first class job, and were great folks to work with.

Rat Racer at the Rat's Hole Bike Show at Ocala, FL. Bike Fest
Photo by Julius Williams
The day of the show, a photo of me sitting on Rat Racer appeared in the Ocala Star Banner article on Bike Fest. Pretty cool!

We were lucky enough to walk away with a win in the Pre 1935 Antique Bike Class and received a great plaque designed by Teddy Smith.

Rats Hole Bike Show Plaque
By Teddy Smith

With the bike show commitment completed, I could concentrate on converting Rat Racer to ride on the street. There were several problems to solve, including working brakes/clutch, and a better carburetor. I tackled the carburetion problem first. Over the past few years I have tried both period Schebler  & Linkert carburetors. The problem was neither could be leaned out enough to use on a single cylinder bike. I finally decided to go with a 1970s era 34mm Mikuni VM carburetor. Yeah, I know it's blasphemy to use a modern Japanese carburetor on a 95 year old Harley-Davidson. Funny thing is, before switching over to fuel injection, all the modern carbureted Harleys used Japanese carburetors.

The Mikuni, being a much more modern carburetor, has several advantages. First they are relatively cheap, especially compared to period alternatives. Second tuning parts are readily available and reasonably priced. Finally, I am very familiar with tuning these Mikuni carburetors from my AMA road racing days. With a little tuning, the engine ran strong throughout the rev range with the Mikuni.

The next problem was a working brake. The rear wheel assembly with the Free Wheel Clutch assembly I am using, also comes with a period style drum brake on the right side of the hub. The trouble is the hub assembly with the clutch and brake, would no fit my racing frame. I opted to use the hub with the clutch assembly, and find an alternative brake for the front end. This required a pretty significant offset in the lacing of the rear wheel to get the tire aligned with the centerline of the frame, but after a few hours of painstaking adjustment, everything lined up.

Free Wheel Clutch Rear Wheel After Alignment
After some time searching Bay, I located an early 80s Kawasaki dirt bike front wheel with a small drum brake. 

Front Wheel Assembly with Drum Brake

With all the major problems solved, it was time for a road test.

Rat Racer Road Test - November 6, 2016
Lee Merkel Field - Sylacauga, Alabama
The bike ran very well, reaching about 55pmh, tracking straight, the plug reading was good, and the front brake worked superbly. Mission accomplished!

Rat Racer - Road Ready

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Lena Cohen Rose - Early Motorcycle Thrill Show Rider - Episode #38

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: December 28, 2015

Over a year ago, I was doing research at the Birmingham Public Library Archive. As I scrolled through the microfilm of the October 1913 editions of the Birmingham News, I suddenly came across a grainy newspaper photograph of a women wearing an early leather motorcycle helmet. Because I was pressed for time, I printed out the article, without reading it.  Sadly, that article sat in a stack of some 20 pages printed out that day for over a year.

Birmingham, AL. News - October 13, 1913
One day, I shuffled through that stack looking for another article. When I came across her photo, I finally took time to read the article. It was then that I realized it documented one of the earliest known women to perform in a motorcycle thrill show.

In 1911, the first Motordrome Thrill Show was built in Luna Park on Coney Island New York. These early Motordrome shows where the precursor of the motor cycle Wall of Death Shows that still travel the country today.

New York Times - July 3, 1911

This steeply banked circular wooden track was sunk in to a hole in the ground. Descriptions in the press vary slightly, listing the track's diameter at either 65, or 80 feet. The wooden planks making up the track were laid vertically at either a 65,  or 72 degree angle. This formed a track that looked like a large saucer, hence the name "Saucer Tracks.". The riding surface of the track was only two feet wide, but the small racing cars, which first used the track could hit 50 miles an hour, ripping round the tiny Motordrome.

New York Times - April 30, 1911
The New York Daily World - August 10, 1912

Motorcycle Illustrated - August 22, 1912
Motorcycles soon took to the track as well, and large crowds of enthusiastic spectators watched the riders zip around at break neck speed, standing on a wooden platform around the top of the Motordrome. On May 18, 1912, the danger of the thrill show, struck home. Rider "Daredevil Dick" was lapping the track on his motorcycle up close to the top of the wall. Suddenly he got too high on the wall, and he and his motorcycle were propelled out of the attraction. His motorcycle struck several spectators on the way out injuring them, and "Daredevil Dick", whose real name was William Mullen, was killed.

Washington Post - May 19, 1912

About this same time, Lena Cohen, of Savannah, Georgia, was working as a stenographer and bookkeeper for a Wall Street Firm was drawn into this dangerous profession. After meeting her future husband, "Wild Billy" Rose, one of the motor dome thrill show riders in 1912, the adventuresome girl convinced Rose to teach her to ride the Motordrome.  Lena was an accomplished bicycle rider, and took to the risky sport quite easily.  Soon she quit her Wall Street job to ride in the Motordrome show. She is said to have performed at the Coney Island attraction during the summers of 1912, and 1913.

By 1913, Lena had married Billy Rose, and they were traveling with a new "portable" circular wooden motordrome that appeared in Fairground Midways across the South.

Motorcycle Illustrated - May 15 1913
The new portable motordrome is described in a September 13, 1913 Nashville Tennessean article:

Nashville, TN. Tennessean - September 13, 1913
It was similar in design to today's Wall of Death Shows, except the track was only 60 feet across, and was banked an angle of about 65 degrees. These early traveling Motordromes came to be known ad Whirl of Death attractions.

In May 1913, the American Motordrome Company's portable Whirl of Death Motordrome attraction made it's first visit to Durham North Carolina for a Carnival Fund Raiser. Durham motorcycle dealer S. E. Rochelle (far left) was photographed, along with the attraction performers, if front of the attraction.  This is one of the few known photographs of an early traveling Motordrome attraction.

American Motordrome Company Portable Whirl of Death Motordrome
Durham, NC. May 1913
S. E. Rochelle Collection - Durham County Library
Durham, NC. Daily Herald Ad - May 4, 1913
In October 1913, Lena Rose, and her husband, brought their Motordrome Thrill Show to the Midway at the Alabama State Fairgrounds in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Alabama State Fairgrounds Midway
O.V. Hunt Collection ca. 1914

A lengthy article detailing Mrs Rose's career appeared in the Birmingham News on October 3, 1913. 

Birmingham, AL. News - October 13, 1913

The Birmingham article mentions that Lena Rose tried to get the Fair Management to let do some laps on her motorcycle around the Fairgrounds Raceway's 1 mile dirt oval. The Fairgrounds Raceway was hosting National Championship motorcycle races, with some top professionals in the country, competing during the fair. Fair Management, and Race Officials, would not allow her on the track, which really disappointed Lena, as she had ridden on several dirt track, along with the Vanderbilt Cup Auto Race Course in her hometown of Savannah.

After Birmingham, there is no further mention of Lena as "Mrs. Billy Rose."  Perhaps her husband finally convinced her to give up the dangerous pursuit. Interestingly, a female Motordrome rider named Rose Moore and billed as the "Champion Motorcycle Rider of America",  begins appearing with the Allman Brothers Big Shows Motordrome in 1914. 

Lead, SD. Daily Call - June 26, 1914

It's possible, Lena and Billy split up. She may have gone on the road with another show, along with a new stage name, or it may be a totally different performer.  It is interesting there are no ads for  Rose Moore before 1914. After the 1914 season there are a couple mentions in Fair-Carnival ads for "Motordrome - Dare Devil Rose" in 1917.

What happened to spunky lady rider from Savannah, Georgia has been lost to time.  Billy Rose continued to travel with his "Wild Billy"s Motordrome, for years to come. Two 1920 ads indicate that Wild Billy Rose was still using female motordrome riders, so it's possible Lena was still performing in Billy's Show.

Billboard Magazine - January 31, 1920
Logan-Pharos, IA. - May 24, 1920
Regardless of what happened to Lena Rose, she was a veteran performer of the earliest Motordrome Thrill Show in the country, and helped start the tradition of women Wall of Death performers that continues to this day.


Billboard Magazine

Birmingham Public Library Archives

Birmingham News

Lead, SD. Daily Call

Motorcycle Illustrated

Nashville Tennessean

New York Times

O. V. Hunt Collection

Washington Post

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Twice Around the Clock at the Stadium Motordrome - Episode #37

Motorcycle Illustrated - October 3, 1912
By the fall of 1912, an exciting new sport was sweeping the country. Motordrome racing featured top motorcycle racers from around the country competing on steeply banked circular board tracks, called "Saucer" tracks for their round shape. Motordromes were built in major cities across the country, and  were typically 1/4 to 1/3 of a mile in length. They could seat crowds of up to ten thousand spectators in bleachers that surrounded the top of the tracks, and  electric lighting allowed night racing.  The best motorcycle racers in the country were hired to race on them.

New York City, boasted two of the new Motordromes just a short distance from the city. The Vailsburg Park Motordrome was in Newark, New Jersey, and the Stadium Motordrome was located in Brighton Beach, New York. These track were popular, and drew large crowds to races held several days a week.

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 1912
That changed on September 8, 1921, when popular racers Eddie Hasha, and Johnny Albright, were killed, along with six spectators in a crash at the Vailsburg Park Motordrome in Newark.

New York Times - September 9, 1912
Newark City Father's quickly closed the track, and banned motorcycle racing from the city. The Brighton Beach track stayed closed for a week in respect to the deaths of the spectators, and the two riders, who had also regularly competed at the Brighton Beach track.

Stadium Motordrome - Brighton Beach, New York
Library of Congress Collection
When the Stadium Motordrome reopened a week later, it was announced that a "Twice Around the Clock"  24 hour motorcycle race would be held at the track on September 20-21. The purse was a $5500, with the winning team of two riders receiving $2500 and a Gold Championship Cup. This was a princely sum, at a time when major races might pay $500 in gold for a win, and was clearly an attempt to draw crowds back to the track, after the tragic crash at Newark.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 1912
A total of five teams, with two riders sharing each, bike would compete in the race: 

Billy Shields & George Lochner - Indian

John Cox & James McNeil - J.A.P.

Arthur Chapple & George Spencer - Indian

  Billy Wray & William Vanderbury - Indian

 H. H. Thomas & Ray Veditz - Indian

 Earle Eckle & Herbert Ayrault were not initially entered in the event, but would play a part in the later stages of the race. All the teams rode Indian Motocycles, except the team of John Cox & James McNeil who shared a J.A.P. powered racer.  

Many racers, and fans, thought this was a foolhardy endeavor, as Motordrome races typically lasted no more than an hour or two. These races rarely involved pits stops for refueling, repairs, or rider changes. Many thought the fast, but delicate racing bikes of the time, would only last a few hours. Just how long the racing tires of that day would last on the steep wooden banking was another unknown.

Stadium Motordrome 24 Hour Competitors
Motorcycle Illustrated - October 3, 1912
At 10:10 PM on September 20th, 1912 a starter's pistol was fired and a crowd of ten thousand spectators watched as the five teams of riders took to the track. The team of George Lochner & Billy Shields, riding an Indian, quickly jumped in the lead, with the other teams in hot pursuit. At the end of the first hour Lochner & Shields led, with Chapple & Spencer in second, and Cox & McNeil in third.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912
While many thought the machines were the weak link, it was some of the riders, who were not up to the task at hand. At the six hour point, the team of Thomas & Veditz retired from the race. As the sun rose on the September 21st, many riders were complaining of leg cramps, and kidney pain. The track physician found that John Cox was having heart palpitations, and he was retired from the event.

This is the point where the race scoring started to get complicated. All the teams would spent the next 3 hours in the pits, to rest. During this break in racing, Eckle & Ayrault, were sent out on the track to keep the crowd occupied. At the end of the three hour break, Eckle was allowed to team with McNeil on the J.A.P. This was the first of several shifts in the make up riders of the teams.  At the tenth hour Vanderbury retired, so Wray teamed with Veditz.  At the twentieth hour, both Veditz and Spencer retired, leaving Wray to finish the race with Chapple.

When 10:10 PM on September 21st rolled around, Shields & Lochner on an Indian, having completed 21 hours of racing, won the race. They were followed by McNeil & Eckle in second on the J.A.P., with Chapple & Wray in third on an Indian.  Many spectators were not satisfied with the final results, and complained Eckle had been teamed with McNeil, and Eckle did not start the race. The racers were just too exhausted to make a serious issue of the final results. It was however clear to everyone, that the winning team of Shields & Lochner could have easily gone the full 24 hours.

Confusion also arouse over how many miles the top three teams had traveled during their 21 hours of racing. The winning team of Lochner & Shields were credited with having traveled 1374 miles plus two laps, some 4124 laps, around the 1/3 mile track.  It was learned track officials had estimated the number of laps each team would have traveled during the 3 hour safety break, and that number of laps was added to each teams total mileage. The Goodyear Tire Company used those mileage totals in their post race advertising.

Goodyear Tire Ad
Motorcycle illustrated - October 3, 1912
Despite the questions, race officials finalized the results, the prizes were distributed, and the first, and probably only 21 Hour Motordrome Race slipped into history. The toll this race took on all the riders, was captured in a local newspaper photograph of an exhausted Arthur Chapple taken after the race.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Library of Congress Collection

Motorcycle Illustrated

New York Times

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Racing Teams Worked 100 Years Ago - Episode #36

Updated: December 31, 2016

This photo was originally shared by Chris Price of Archive Moto. According to Chris, it shows the Indian Racing Team Camp, known as the Wigwam, at the FAM Championship Race held at Fort Erie, Ontario in July 1911.

Indian Racing Team Fort Erie, Ontario - July 1911
Chris Price @ Archive Moto
This enhanced section of the above photo, was shred by Marcello Villada. It gives us a rare glimpse into the logistics of professional motorcycle racing in the early teens. It shows Indian Racing Team members, along with the shipping crates for their race bikes.  So how did this work?

Marcello Villada Collection
The various motorcycle companies involved in racing, would prepare their bikes at their race shops. Once the bikes were prepared, they would be loaded into the crates shown in the photo, for shipping.

Maldwyn Jones and his Flying Merkel Racer
 with his shipping crate - 1914
Ralph Goins Collection
The bikes were then shipped by rail, accompanied by mechanics, to the races which were held across the the country.

Indian 8 Valve Racer
Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum Collection

In the meantime, the racing team members would receive telegrams instructing them to travel to the races, by rail, and arrive on a specific date. When the bikes arrived at the rail depot of the towns, where the races were held, the were transported to the track by either truck, of by horse drawn livery wagons.

Harley Racers headed to the Dodge City Races
R. I. Jones Collection
When the races were over, the bike were then returned to the factories, and the riders returned to their home cities.

This is a rare glimpse behind the scene of professional motorcycle racing over 100 years ago!


Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Collection

Classic American Iron

Chris Price @ Archive Moto

Marcello Villada Collection

Ralph Goins Collection

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

100 Years Ago Today - Episode # 35

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: August 6, 2015

100 Years ago today, a young Birmingham, Alabama motorcycle mail clerk, took his first step towards becoming one of the most accomplished professional motorcycle racers of his time.

Gene Walker at Bob Stubbs Indian Dealership in Birmingham, AL. ca. 1913
Furman Family Collection

On July 10, 1915, Gene Walker won the Five Mile National Championship Race at Saratoga, New York. This was Walker's first season as a member of the Indian Motocycle's Factory Racing Team.

Motorcycle Illustrated - July 15, 1915

Pittsburgh, PA. Daily Post - July 11, 1915
During his ten year racing career, Walker won 19 National Championships, numerous non championship races, and set track records at racetracks across the country.

Atlanta Constitution - September 1919

In April 1920, he set the first officially recognized motorcycle land speed record for Indian at Ormond Beach, Florida.

Indian Motocycles Wigwam News - May 1920

Indian Motocycle Ad - 1920
Walker died of injuries sustained in a practice crash in June 1924 at the age of thirty.

Birmingham, AL. News - June 1924
Indian Motocycle Memorial Ad - June 1924

Gene Walker was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of fame in 1998.

To read more about Gene Walker's career please check out Gene Walker, Birmingham's Lost racing Champion - Episode #2 @


Atlanta, GA. Constitution

Birmingham, AL. News

Furman Family Collection

Gene Walker, Birmingham's Lost Racing Champion - Episode 2

Hendee Manufacturing Company - Indian Motocycles

Indian Motocycle Wigwam News

Motorcycle illustrated

Pittsburgh, PA. Daily Post

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mooresville, North Carolina's Gray Sloop - Episode #34

Updated: May 20, 2015

Several years ago, I was researching the 1913 & 14 Savannah 300 Road Races for another episode.   I ran across O. C. Stonestreet's article Gray Sloop, Motorcycle Racer.  Gray Sloop of Mooresville, North Carolina was one of two riders killed in racing accidents during the 1914 Savannah 300 Mile Road Race. Mr. Stonestreet incorporated the article as a Chapter in his book They Called Iredell County Home, and it is shared here with his permission. Thank you Mr. Stonestreet for sharing your work.

Gray Sloop, Motorcycle Racer

By: O. C. Stonestreet

After referring to itself as "Port City of Lake Norman," for some time now Mooresville, North Carolina, has taken to calling itself "Race City, USA."  Nearly a century ago there was a Mooresville man whose life and achievements might serve to bolster Mooresville's new sobriquet. His name was Gray Sloop.

Mooresville, North Carolina's Gray Sloop
Specht's Harley-Davidson Birmingham, Alabama
O.V. Hunt Collection - July 1914 (cropped)

Gray Sloop was born in Mooresville in August of 1889, the only son of Augustus J. and Dovie Ann Sloop. Gray's father passed away in July of 1904, leaving the 15-year-old as the man of the family.

Parade in Downtown Moooresville, N.C. - 1911
Gray Sloop with Indian Motocycle (far right)
O. C. Stonestreet Collection
It is unclear just when young Sloop began making a name for himself in racing circles, but he was well-established as a motor sportsman by 1913. In late June of that year he left for Elgin, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, to participate in the Elgin Motorcycle Race to be held on the Fourth of July.

This race was described as a 250-mile contest over an eight-mile course, and was billed as the first nationally-sanctioned motorcycle race and also the first 250-mile motorcycle race in the United States.

At the time of the Elgin race Sloop was riding a Reading- Standard cycle, specially built for him by the company in Reading, Pa. Mooresville's weekly newspaper, The Enterprise, noted, "Mr. Sloop is the only man from the South entering the [Elgin] races, so far, and we predict for him one or more of the capital prizes." First prize in the Elgin Race was $500 in gold and a two-foot tall trophy, the “V Ray Cup.”

The Statesville Landmark carried more information about the coming race. "The Motorcycle, a magazine published in Springfield, Mass., in its latest issue, speaking of the unusually strong line-up for the national motorcycle race at Elgin, Ill., on July the Fourth, said, after giving a list of the most important entrants, ‘One of the latest entries to be received is from Mooresville, N.C., and is signed “Gray Sloop.” This entry puzzled the contest committee for some time and Chairman Hill was inclined to believe that some one had worked in a yacht by mistake until he looked into the matter. Then he learned that Gray Sloop is a youngster who sprang from nowhere this year and romped off with the motorcycle championship of North Carolina. Sloop will ride a Reading Standard machine in the Elgin race and he is being talked of as a dark horse who is likely to spring surprises.’"  Sloop didn't win at Elgin, but that didn't stop him.

Motorcycle illustrated - June 1914

The race was won by a Texan, Charles "Fearless" Balke, who, with a blistering average speed of 55 mph over public roads, led an Indian Motorcycles sweep of the first five finishing positions. Out of 45 cyclists who had registered for the Elgin race, 43 began it and just ten completed it.

Sloop was not among those completing the course. According to a Chicago newspaper, Sloop had to make the eighth-mile qualifying run three times before he qualified, this due to brake malfunctions. His troubles continued during the actual race.  “Sloop dropped out of the race,” reported the paper, “in the twentieth lap, after breaking over ten chains on his machine. The chains were the cause of many falls of the different riders, none of whom were injured.”

On June 8, 1914, just short of his 23rd birthday, “Fearless” Balke was killed in an accident at the Hawthorne dirt track near Chicago. Motorcycle racing was a dangerous business.

Chicago Tribune - June 6, 1914

In early July of the next year Gray Sloop did very well in what was billed as the "Southern Championship Race" from Birmingham to Atlanta and back, an endurance race. 

Gray Sloop - July 1914
Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History
By this time Sloop was not only riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, he was selling them in Mooresville.

Gray Sloop Harley-Davidson Ad
Mooresville, N.C. Enterprise - 1914

 Reported The Enterprise, "Mr. Gray Sloop returned Tuesday night from Birmingham, Ala., where he participated in the Fourth of July motorcycle races. He won not only first place, but the world's championship, making the total distance of 462 miles from Birmingham to Atlanta and return in 12 hours and 20 minutes. While en route he had twelve changes of tires and changed one wheel. His part of the prize money was considerable."

Entrants in the 1914 Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run
O. V. Hunt - 1914 

Later that same month Sloop and his modified Harley took on Charlotte's Archie Templeton, piloting an Indian motorbike, in a two-contestant, 226-mile race from Charlotte to Columbia, S.C., and back, for a $200 prize 
Templeton completed the second half of the race, about 113 miles, in 2 hours and 56 minutes, whereas Sloop had trouble with his French racing motor just four miles short of the finish line in downtown Charlotte.

It is interesting to note that both Templeton and Sloop were "on their own" when it came to avoiding speeding tickets, other traffic and other "unforeseen difficulties." At the Charlotte finish line, where about a thousand spectators had gathered, Templeton graciously remarked to Sloop, "Hard luck, old man. You raced a good race."  Sloop replied in kind, "Same back at you. A little hard luck on my part, but you deserve full glory for the race."
Next we hear of Sloop as the big winner of the professional 50-mile race held on Labor Day, 1914, on the Isle of Palms, near Charleston, S.C. 

Gray Sloop - Isle of Palms, SC. - September 8, 1914
Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

  "Riding against time on a Harley-Davidson," reported The Enterprise of September 10, 1914, "he rode one mile at the speed of 92 miles an hour. His winning time was 55 minutes and 45 seconds, with 20 hairpin turns, which gives him the championship of North and South Carolina."

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 17, 1914
It is a wonder that Sloop did so well, as about a week prior to the Isle of Palms race, Sloop was in an accident with his motorbike and two-horse surrey wagon in Mooresville. 
"Mr. Sloop," The Enterprise informed its readers, "was knocked senseless to the ground by the impact from the tongue of the surrey. His left arm struck the pole and the muscles were cut pretty severely. While down, a horse stepped on his hip. "After regaining consciousness, Sloop somehow managed to get back on his cycle, which was relatively undamaged, and get medical help. The young man certainly had grit.

Harley-Davidson Ad featuring Gray Sloop
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 22, 1914
Sloop's last race was run on Thanksgiving Day, 1914. It was the Savannah 300 Road Race in Savannah, Georgia. This was only the second time the race had been held, and Sloop had ridden in the previous year’s race. 

Harley-Davidson Racing Team - 1914 Savannah 300 Mile Road Race
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1, 1914
The course wound through the city and consisted of 27 laps of 11 miles. 

1913/14 Savannah 300 Race Course

Holding third place, Sloop had just completed the third lap when he lost control of his Harley, the same machine on which he had won the Isle of Palms Race, and ran over a small embankment was hurled through the air. He broke his back, neck, hip and leg and was dead when assistance reached him.

Gray Sloop (right) on the backstretch shortly before his fatal crash
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 8, 1914

Thus ended the life of the 25-year-old motorcycle racing enthusiast from Iredell County.
Motorcycle Illustrated - November 26, 1914

  The Enterprise quoted a Savannah newspaper:

  "An examination made after the race showed a broken handle bar had been the cause of the accident which cost the life of Sloop. It was found Sloop had fallen on Norwood Avenue and cracked the right side of his handle bar. On Dale Avenue the bar had cracked completely off and Sloop entered the dangerous curve at Waters Road and Estill Avenue with only the left handle bar to his machine. "When he ran into the rough ground, this caused him to loose control. He was thrown from his machine and went into the air. "When descending the back of his neck struck a guy wire with such force as to cause a fracture of the neck. He then dropped between the machine and the tree. During the investigation after the race the piece of broken handle bar which had fallen from Sloop's machine was found on Dale Avenue by members of the Harley-Davidson racing stable."
 His death fell like a pall over his hometown. Twenty-five young men of the town met the train carrying his body from Savannah to Charlotte and from the Queen City escorted his remains home to Mooresville. His grave in Willow Valley Cemetery was covered with flowers.

Gray Sloop's Headstone
Willow Valley Cemetery - Mooresville, N.C.
   "For many years he had been the dependence of his widowed mother and his [two] sisters, and the burden of grief falls heavy upon them," reported The Enterprise, which also referred to his handsome appearance, his affable and congenial spirit, and his simple life of purity and nobility.

His racing skills and potential in the new sport were known and admired to such an extent that an article reporting his demise was carried in the New York Times

New York Times - November 27, 1914
Although his name is unknown there today, Gray Sloop was the first to make Mooresville, “Race City, USA.”


Zeddie Kelly of the Savannah Motorcycle Club, sponsor of the race, lead the first five laps of the race, when he stopped for a spark plug problem.  Kelly quickly reentered the race, but was severely injured on lap nineteen, when his Harley-Davidson left the track, and struck a tree. He died of his injuries the next day, and was buried at laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah.  Kelly's death brought the death toll of the race to two, and the bad publicity in newspapers around the country, led to the cancellation of a proposed 1915 race.

Savannah's Zeddie Kelly shortly before his fatal crash
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review December 15, 1914

Wilmington, N.C. Morning star - November 28, 1914

About the Author:

O. C. Stonestreet, is a Iredell County, North Carolina native, is a Navy Veteran and a retired public school history and social studies teacher. He lives in Statesville, N.C., with his wife Judy, and writes a regular column for the Statesville Record & Landmark newspaper. Mr. Stonestreet is also the author of They Called Iredell County Home, which is available through


      "Will Enter the Big Race" Mooresville Enterprise, June 5, 1913.
      "Will Enter Big Race" Mooresville Enterprise, June 26, 1913.
      "To Be in Motor Cycle Race" The Landmark, June 27, 1913.
      "An Election Next Monday" The Landmark, July 1, 1913.
      Day, Donald S., "Balke, on Indian, Wins Elgin Race" The Inter-Ocean Newspaper (Chicago, Ill.), July 5, 1913.
      "Local Briefs" Mooresville Enterprise, July 10, 1913.
      "Won First Prize and World's Championship" The Landmark, July 10, 1914.
      "Gray Sloop Accepts Challenge" Mooresville Enterprise, July 23, 1914.
      "Archie Templeton Won Motorcycle Race from Gray Sloop" Mooresville Enterprise, July 30, 1914.
      "Motorcycle Collided with Surrey" The Landmark, September 1, 1914.
      "Motorcycle and Surrey Collided" Mooresville Enterprise, September 3, 1914.
      "Gray Sloop Wins Races at Charleston" Mooresville Enterprise, September 10, 1914.
      "Killed in Cycle Race" The New York Times, November 27, 1914.
      "Met Death in Savannah" The Landmark, November 27, 1914.
      "Lee Taylor Wins Motorcycle Race" Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1914.
      "Instantly Killed at Savannah" Mooresville Enterprise, December 3, 1914.
      Stonestreet, O. C., "Gray Sloop: A Man Ahead of His Time" Mooresville Tribune, July 13, 2005.

Attachment Sources:

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

Mooresville, N. C. Enterprise

Motorcycle Illustrated

New York Times

O. C. Stonestreet Collection

Wilmington, N.C. Morning Star