Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jan/Fed 2015 Edition of The Antique Motorcycle - Press Release #5

Thank you, Joe "SloJo" Gardella, and the folks at the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, for a mention of Deadly Dave's Blog, in Joe's article on his Barber Vintage Festival Century Race win in the Jan/Feb edition of The Antique Motorcycle. 

If you are a fan of old motorcycles, and are not a member of the AMCA, please consider joining:

For more information please check out History Repeats Itself In Birmingham - Episode #28

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Harley-Davidson 11K Stripped Stock, Birth of a Racer - Episode #30

Updated: January 16, 2015

By: David L. Morrill

The story of Harley-Davidson's entry in racing in 1914, is one of the great success stories of early American Motorcycle Racing. Harley-Davidson was late in entering Championship Racing. They faced stiff competition from Indian, Excelsior, and others, who all had long histories of competition at the championship level. Harley's weapon of choice, would come to be known as the 11K Stripped Stock Racer. Although it started out as little more than a production bike stripped for racing, with hard work, and perseverance, it evolved into a race winner in less than a year.

1914 Harley-Davidson 11K Stripped Stock Racer

The story of Harley-Davidson's first true racer goes back to 1910. In their 1910 Model 6 production line they listed the Model 6E. It was described as a "Factory Stock Racer, 30ci F head single." There is little other information and no available photographs of this on this early production racer.

While Harley-Davidson steadfastly avoided entering the deadly serious business of early board, and dirt track, Championship racing, they did compete in endurance run events. Around this time, road race events became popular. These events were generally run over courses made up of public road ways, and therefore did not require the specialized racing machines used in track racing.

This form of racing appealed to the Harley-Davidson management, as it highlighted both the speed, and reliability of their production motorcycles. When their customers' had success, it found it's way into their Harley-Davidson's advertising.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 1912

Harley-Davidson Ad
The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana) 

October 2, 1912
William "Bill" Ottaway
Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
The first serious step towards developing a true racer came in 1913, when William Harley hired engineer William "Bill" Ottaway away from rival Thor Motorcycles, and had developed their highly successful  Factory racers. Ottaway became  Harley's assistant in the newly formed Harley-Davidson Racing Department, and was given the monumental task of developing a competitive racer from the 1914 Model 10 production bike. Through 1913, Ottaway slowly adapted the 61ci Pocket Valve IOE (intake over exhaust) production V twin engine for racing.

Daniel Statnekov, author of Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing, believes that the basis for the race engine was a production motor built with looser tolerances for use by police departments. This motor came to be referred to as an "A" motor. That certainly makes sense, as these early engines had cast iron top ends, and total loss oiling systems. Racing drastically increased the heat, and stress engines components were subjected to.

By July of 1914, the new racers were ready for their first test in a major race. The new racers were shipped off to Dodge City, Kansas for the biggest race of the year, the 300 Mile Coyote Classic held on July 4th.

Harley Davidson Racing Team - 1914 Dodge City 300
The bikes in the Team photo above, show the production roots of the Harley-Davidson Team's new racers. They feature frames, that are similar to the 1914 Harley production V Twin frame, and spring front fork. They retain the floor boards of the production bikes. The engines appear to have new gear case covers, with oil pumps cast into them.

The blistering July heat in Dodge City, was a test of both man, and machine. The new racers showed competitive speed, but lacked the reliability for such a long event. Only two of the six teams bikes, where running at the end of the race.

Despite the set back at Dodge City, continued develop the racing engines. By the end of the initial development, the race motors would feature larger intake ports, manifold, carburetor, along with stiffer valve springs, a special cam shaft, and steel flywheels, and the oil pump, which was cast into the gear case cover mentioned earlier. These motor would come to be referred to as "Fast" motors.

Track testing continued, and in September, a two page ad touting the 11K's recent race track victories appeared in the September 22, 1914 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.

A few days later, Leslie "Red" Parkhurst won the 10 Mile Stripped Stock race at Wisconsin, and his team mate Roy Artley finished second.

While the Wisconsin race was a only regional race, Parkhurst, and Artley, did beat Excelsior team rider Joe Wolters.  Parkhurst and Stratton had the similar results at Brainerd, Michigan State Fair's 3 Mile, and 10 Mile Stripped Stock Races.

The Brainerd Daily Dispatch (Brainerd, Michigan) - September 14, 1914

Atlanta Constitution - November 15, 1914
In the October 6, 1914 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review, the first ad appears mentioning a 1915 Close Coupled Stripped Stock Model 11K for sale for $250.00. The ad claims the bike has 11 horsepower, the same as the 1915  V twin Production bikes. There is little doubt at this stage in development, Bill Ottaway was getting much more horse power, from his 11K racing engines.

The 11K racers were ready for another track test in Championship event by early October. "Red" Parkhurst traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for the One Hour FAM Championship Race. He was joined in Birmingham by Atlanta racer Johnny Aiken, and New Orleans racer Arthur Mitchell, who were provided racers through the new Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer William F. Specht Jr.

The bikes run on the one mile dirt oval in Birmingham were track bikes, featuring a short coupled racing frame, and the new girder style rigid front fork pictured below.

Arthur Mitchell at Specht's Harley-Davidson Birmingham, Alabama
O.V. Hunt - 1914
Despite stiff competition from Indian riders Gene Walker and Gail Joyce, along with Excelsior rider Joe Wolters, Parkhurst won the One Hour FAM Championship Race, along with several preliminary non championship races held at Birmingham. Parkhurst win in the Championship Race survived two post race protests, and Harley wasted little time in touting their first "Championship" win. Parkhurst's win showed the 11K racer could compete on equal footing with serious competition. This was a big step forward for the Harley-Davidson racing program.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 1914
In early November, Parkhurst won the 5 , 10, and 25 Mile Races at the San Angelo Track in Phoenix, Arizona. Team mate Roy Artley, finished second in the 10, and 25 Mile races. As a result of the positive press Harley-Davidson got from their wins in both Birmingham, and Phoenix, Harley-Davidson decided to send a full team of riders to the Savannah 300 Mile Road Race on November 25, 1914.

1914 Savannah 300 Harley-Davidson Team Riders 
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1914
At the end of the grueling event run over 11 miles of public roads, Harley-Davidson rider Irving Janke finished third. The bikes used by the team riders appear to be the same style production framed racers used in the earlier Dodge City 300. Sadly, Harley-Davidson rider Gray Sloop of Mooresville, NC., and Zeddie Kelly of Savannah, were killed in separates accidents during the event. Sloop and Kelly are in this team photo above.

Harley-Davidson made a major change to the 1915 production V twin engine, casting a new wider crankcase, with webbed reinforcement,  a wider/heavier crankshaft. Several race motors based on the new 1915 motors were built, but testing proved them to be slower, than the narrow case race motors. The narrow 1914 style case continued be used throughout the life of the pocket valve race motors. It was updated several times, with new castings to adapt to changes in cylinders, etc.

Having proved the 11K racer could be competitive, in the countries most demanding races, the bike was put into production for 1915. The new racers were provided to both factory riders, and through their dealer network to select racers. There were some eight versions of the new racer listed as "Specialty Models"for sale in 1915.

1915 Harley-Davidson 11KT

These two photos, show the two major versions of the new 11K racer. Factory rider "Red" Parkhurst is pictured with the 11TK Track Racer, and Joe Wolters with the 11KR Roadster Racer model.

Red Parkhurst - 11KT (left) Joe Wolters - 11KR (right)
Harley-Davidson Archives
Joe Wolters, who had provided stiff competition to Parkhurst at Birmingham, and denied a win in the Savannah 300, due to a last lap blown tire, had switched  from Excelsior, to the Harley-Davidson Team for the1915 racing season.

Joe Wolters - 11KR (left)  Joe Wolters - 11KT (right)
Harley-Davidson Archives

According to Tech's Harley-Davidson VIV Information Guide 1910-1920 the eight variants of the 11K Racer were:

Specialty Models

Model 11K4 - Track Racer, F head single with magneto
Model 11K5 - Roadster Racer, F head single with magneto
Model 11K12 - "Fast Motor", F head V twin with magneto
Model 11K12H - "Fast Motor", F head V twin with electrical system
Model 11KT - Track Racer, F head V twin with magneto
Model 11KR - Roadster Racer, F head V twin with magneto
Model 11KRH - Roadster Racer, F head V twin with electrical system
Model 11KTH - Track Racer, F head V twin with electric

The new racer quickly proved to be a winner, in the hands of team rider Otto Walker. In April, Walker won  the Venice, California 300 Mile Road Race. He followed that up in July, with a win at the Dodge City 300. These were two of the biggest races in the country, and Otto Walker and the new racer became a force to reckon with. The new racers had proven they could win major Championship races against the best riders in the country.

Daniel Statnekov@Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
After the 1915 season, Harley Davidson made two major changes to their new racer. The first was a new Keystone frame, which removed the frame loop under the engine, and sandwiched the engine between two mounting plates on the sides of the engine. The second was the introduction of a new overhead valve cylinder, with four valves per cylinder.

Bill Ottaway, took a "Fast" Motor" bottom end, removed the front cylinder, piston, and rod. With a rebalanced crankshaft, he created a "blanked off" four valve 30.5ci. single. Maldwyn Jones, who had recently come to Harley-Davidson from Merkle, won several races using the new engine.  Eight valve racing V twin racing engines were also built, which used the "Fast" motor single cam bottom end. The "Fast" motor bottom end was eventually replaced by a special two cam racing bottom end.

Maldwyn Jones  Harley-Davidson Blanked Off
Single Cylinder 2 Cam 4 Valve Racer
While development continued on the pocket valve engines, they were usually relegated to backup status to the eight valve racers. In the longer races, the eight valve racer, were used as rabbits, to make the competition run harder to keep up. The eight valve engines, were faster than the pocket valve motors, but did not always have the reliability to finish long races. Several of the tried and true pocket valve racers, were often entered as insure a win.

Harley-Davidson Single cam 8 Valve racing Engine

In 1921, the factory built several " blanked off" racing engines, using the latest pocket valve cylinders. These single cylinder racers were known as SCAs (single cylinder alcohol), as they they ran on alcohol. 

Harley-Davidson Keystone Frame SCA Racer
Wheels Through Time Museum Collection

Harley-Davidson SCA "Blanked Off" Pocket Valve Racing Engine
The pocket valve racing engine, which debuted with the 11K racer, stayed in production through the 1920s, with various updates of the engine cases, cylinders, etc. While it would come to be overshadowed by the eight valve racing engine, it was Harley-Davidson's first Nationally competitive racing engine, and was directly tied to the development of it's eight valve replacement.


Atlanta Constitution

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1914

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives

Brian Slark & Kelly Stewart@Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

Daniel Statnekov@Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing

Harley-Davidson Archives

Matt Walksler@Wheels Through Time Museum

Tech's Harley-Davidson VIN Information 1910-1920

The Call Leader - Elwood, Indiana - 1912

Friday, December 19, 2014

Let It Ride, Adding a Clutch to a 1921 Harley Racer - Episode #29

By: David L. Morrill

There's an old gambling expression that goes "Let it ride." This denotes letting all your winnings ride on the next bet. That expression pretty much sums up the theme for this episode.

It's been a while since I wrote Episodes #8, and #13, on building my 1921 Harley-Davidson replica racer. These two technical episodes get more page views than any of my history episodes.
While I have done a couple of updates on these earlier episodes, I've decided start a new continuing episode on upgrading my racer.

My 1921 Harley-Davidson Model J Replica Racer
Like most of my projects, this one begins with the delivery of a box. One day my wife told me I had a large box from Europe sitting in the garage. I'd been waiting for it for a couple months, and was excited to see if it would work. Once I got the box down to my shop, and unwrapped, my earlier suspicions about the amount of work this conversion would take where confirmed.

The Mystery Box
For the most part, early Harley-Davidson racers, came without clutches, transmissions, or functioning brakes. That makes them nearly impossible to ride, except on the racetrack. I decided to Convert my racer so it can be ridden at antique motorcycle events, which will require a working clutch, and brake.

In 1912, Harley-Davidson introduced a single speed clutch built into the rear wheel hub. Known as a "Free Wheel Clutch", it allowed riders the ability to have the engine running, while the bike was stationary. This clutch setup was also an option for the factory produced racers.

1912 Harley-Davidson Free-wheel Control Ad

Replica Freewheel Clutch
When I compared the clutch setup I received, to the space between my frames rear axle plates, I realized it would not even close to fitting my frame. I had been assured it would bolt on, but there was no way if would fit, as it was too wide. Fitting it to my frame would require removing the right side drum brake, and re-machining the rear hub width to narrow it. Guess I should have listened to that little voice, told me not to go down this path.

I checked the function of the clutch assembly, and it worked fine. Several folks familiar with the overseas supplier, had warned me it would be a waste of time, to try and return it for a refund. That meant that I would have to do whatever was necessary to get this clutch to work on my frame.

My weapon of choice in taking on this task, was my leather belt drive vintage South Bend metal lathe.  I think my wife's grandfather bought this lathe for the family lumber mill sometime in the thirties or forties. A few years ago, I became the care taker of this family mechanical heirloom.

My Belt Drive South Bend Metal Lathe

I've never claimed to be a trained machinist, so this project really tested my machining skills. Most of what I learned about operating a metal lathe, came from watching my grandfather, who was a master metal worker all his life.  After countless hours of measuring, and lathe work, I was able to fit it in the space available, and the clutch worked properly.

Clutch fit to my Keystone Frame

When my machine work was complete, and the clutch was fitted, it was apparent that the center line of the new rear hub, would not line up with the frames center line. This was caused by the worm gear clutch activator on the left side of the hub. The width of this mechanism, could only be narrowed slightly, and still function. I would not be able to determine just how much the rear wheel was of center until the rear wheel had a rim laced to it, and tire mounted.

Lacing and truing spoked wheels is an acquired skill best left to professionals. I usually use Buchanan Spoke & Rim to build my spoked wheels. They did the original wheels on my racer, but that was not really an option in this case. I have only laced, and trued, a couple of wheels in my time, but that was many years ago. My first mistake, was not photographing my original rear wheel before disassembling it for the spokes & rim.  I laced, and re-laced, the rear wheel countless times, before I finally got it right. Pretty much, what I remembered of lacing the first spoked wheel 43 years ago!

Finished Rear Wheel Ready for Truing
The next step is truing the rim. This two step process, and starts with horizontal truing, which allows the wheel to run true side to side.

Horizontal Wheel Truing

Once the wheel runs true horizontally, it's time to concentrate on vertical truing, which allows the wheel to run true, with no up and down hop.

Vertical Wheel Truing
After a couple of hours, everything was running true. Now comes another fun part. Mounting a modern tire to a 1.85" rim, without pinching the tube, is a real art. After about an hour of flying tire irons, and a more than few choice words, the rear tire was mounted, and held air.

Completed Freewheel Clutch Rear Wheel
With the rear wheel setup completed, my next task was to fabricate a clutch lever to activate the rear wheel clutch. I had previously ordered the rod that connects the clutch lever to the clutch, but the casting that mounts the clutch lever to the frame's seat support tube, is no longer available. After some trial, and error, I came up with a mount for the lever.

Clutch Lever in the Drive Position
Pushing the lever forward engages the clutch, and drives the rear wheel. Pulling the lever back disengages the clutch, allowing the rear sprocket to spin on the rear hub, with out driving the rear wheel. A quadrant gate on the lever mount, controls the available lever travel, and a spring loaded tensioner holds the lever in place at either the drive, or non drive setting. This video, shows the rear wheel clutch function with the engine running:

Live Engine Clutch Test Video

Now that all the fabrication was dome, and the rear wheel was mounted to the frame, it was time to determine how much the rear wheel was off from the frame's center line. This was done by checking the front and rear wheel alignment using a 6' long piece of angle iron as a straight edge.

Rear Wheel Alignment Check
The final verdict is the rear wheel is off center to the right around 3/8 of an inch. Really not as bad, as I first thought.

Front Wheel Shows a 3/8" Rear Wheel Misalignment to the Right

 Fixing the front and rear wheel misalignment will require modifying the frame's rear axle mounts. The next step is to install a functioning brake, so I can take a test ride, and see what effect it has on the bike's handling at speed. That should be interesting!

So, what lessons did I learn from this experience? 

First,  this is by far, the most expensive motorcycle project, that I've ever built. Adding the clutch contributed significantly to the total cost and time involved in this project. I was also warned by people in the know, that the clutch supplier had problems, and that using his clutch would involve a lot of work. That was true, and knowing what I know now, I would probably not do it again. I've said before, that building replicas of these old racers is not a job for amateur builders. This episode confirmed that. But in the long run, it will all be forgotten with the first blast down the road, and that's really what it's all about!

That's all for now, but please check back for future updates to this episode. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Motorcycles in the Magic City - as Seen through the lens of O.V. Hunt - Press Release # 4

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum - Birmingham, Alabama
Wekipedia Commons
In 2014, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama received a Guinness World Record Certification as the largest collection of vintage motorcycles in the world. There are some 600 motorcycles, of a total collection of 1200, on currently on display at any on time. The museum is a must do for all motorcycle serious enthusiasts.

The museum has published several of my episodes on early Birmingham motorcycle events, and personalities in their membership newsletter Vintage Inside News. A few months back, I was asked to consult with Brian Slark, and Kelly Stewart, of the Museum Staff on their new exhibition Motorcycles in the Magic City - as Seen through the lens of O.V. Hunt.

O.V. Hunt was an early Birmingham photographer, who took many early iconic photographs of Birmingham landmarks. He was also an early motorcycle enthusiast, and a close friend of the Birmingham Indian dealer Robert Stubbs.

Motorcycles in the Magic City - as Seen through the lens of O.V. Hunt
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Collection

Barber Museum's O.V. Hunt exhibit features photographs of early motorcycle competition events, as well as various motorcycling personalities of the time. I have over the last few years been able identify many of the people in these photographs. Working together, we were able to caption the events, and identify many of the people featured in the exhibits photos.  The Museum was nice enough to acknowledge my contribution to the exhibit. It is a great honor to have played a small part in this important exhibit on Birmingham's early motorcyclists.

Motorcycles in the Magic City - as Seen through the lens of O.V. Hunt
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Collection
I have been invited to assist in a presentation on the new exhibit for museum members, sponsors, and the general public: Here is then Barber Museum Press Release of the event:

"Motorcycles in the Magic City"

Join us on Wednesday, December 3rd, from 6:30 - 7:30 PM, for the first of two events on "Motorcycles in the Magic City." Curator of the O.V. Hunt exhibit, Kelly Stewart, and museum consultant David Morrill will discuss how and why motorcycles played such an important role in people's lives and livelihoods in the Magic City a century ago, as seen in the images captured by Hunt in the early 1900s. 

Be on the lookout for information about our next "Motorcycles in the Magic City" event, which will take place on January 21st, 6:30 - 7:30pm, and will feature Motus Motorcycles. 

Both these events are free for museum members and volunteers, and $25 (per event) for non-members. To purchase tickets or RSVP, visit the Barber Museum or call 205.702.8713.

It is a great honor to have played a small part in this important exhibit on Birmingham's early motorcyclists.  For more information on the career of O.V. Hunt, check out O.V. Hunt -Birmingham's Photographer Episode #25:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

History Repeats Itself in Birmingham - Episode #28

Updated: October 28, 2014

By: David L. Morrill

On October 5th, 1914, a little known event in early Harley-Davidson racing history took place in sleepy little Birmingham, Alabama. Along with Atlanta, Georgia, Birmingham had become a center of professional motorcycle racing in the South. The motorcycle races on the one mile dirt oval track at the Alabama State Fairgrounds  in west Birmingham drew large crowds, that came to see top riders from around the country.

Leslie, "Red" Parkhurst was Harley-Davidson's first factory rider, and came to town to compete in the One Hour F.A.M. National Championship Race at the Fairgrounds.  The race was meant to be another test of the newly introduced Harley-Davidson 11-K "Stripped Stock" racer. The bike had been introduced at the Dodge City 300 Mile Race on July 4th, but had not fared well. At the end of the 300 mile ordeal, only two of the five factory bikes were still running, and they were not in contention.

Harley-Davidson took a much lower key approach to the Birmingham race, sending just Red Parkhurst from the factory team. They also provided semi retired racer Arthur Mitchell, who was now living in Birmingham, with a bike for the race through the new Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer William Specht Jr.

Alabama State Fairgrounds Raceway - Birmingham, Alabama
O.V. Hunt - October 1914

As the green flag dropped that day, Parkhurst's chief competition came from Excelsior rider Joe Wolters, and local Indian rider Gene Walker. To the thrill of the Birmingham crowd, Walker led the first couple of laps, and set a new track record.  In the end though, Parkhurst overcame his competition, and led by a comfortable margin at the end of the race. Joe Wolters finished second, and Walker came in third.

After the race, two protests were filed with the F.A.M. referee by the Excelsior, and Indian teams.  The results were not confirmed until the following week, at the Chicago Motorcycle Show. when Parkhurst was presented the Birmingham trophy, along with his prize money at the Chicago Show.  Shortly after the awards ceremony, an 11-K racer was rolled out the Harley-Davidson display, along with a billboard touting the Birmingham win.

Leslie "Red" Parkhurst
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 1914
Red Parhurst's 1914 win at Birmingham went down as Harley-Davidson's first race win in a National Championship event, and played a major part in Harley-Davidson's advertising program for the upcoming 1915 model.

1915 Harley-Davidson Ad
Fast forward one hundred years, and just a few miles east of the old Fairgrounds Raceway, to the Barber Motorsports Park.  In October each year, the Park holds the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival. Over the past ten years the Vintage Motorcycle Festival has become one of the premier vintage motorcycle events in the country, and the Century Race for 100 year old motorcycles, is highly anticipated.

Joe "Slojo" Gardella has won the race several times on Harley-Davidsons he rebuilt by hand. Joe is and incredibly talented machinist/fabricator, and has competed in several of the cross county Motorcycle Cannonball Runs for antique motorcycles on his restored Harley-Davidsons. He is always a serious contender in the Century Race, having won the event several times.

Start of the 2014 Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival Century Race
 Jim Dohms - Dohms Creative Photography

When the green flag dropped on this years Century Race on Saturday October 11th, Joe Gardella jumped to the lead, and maintained that led the race wire to wire. His immaculately prepared 1914 Harley-Davidson, known as the "Gray Ghost" didn't miss a beat. As Joe crossed the finish line, I couldn't help but think back to Red Pankhurst's 1914 win in Birmingham one hundred years before. well done Joe!

Slow Joe Gardella and The Gray Ghost - Barber Vintage Fest 2014
 Jim Dohms - Dohms Creative Photography
It seems some moments in motorsports are just meant to be. Surely Red was smiling down on Joe that day, as once again Harley-Davidson was victorious at Birmingham.

Joe Gardella, along with a group of 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball Event Riders, also participated in the Parade Lap of bikes and riders from the 2014 event.


A special thank you to the staff, and volunteers of the Barber Motorsports Park and the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum for hosting this event. Also, a big thank you to my friends David Lloyd, and the folks at the Confederate Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America for organizing this event, and to my friends Jim Dohms of Dohms Creative Photography, and Rebecca Cunningham of Running Rabbit Films for sharing their incredible talents.


Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives

Confederate Chapter - Antique Motorcycle Club of America

David Lloyd 

Jim Dohms - Dohms Creative Photography

O.V. Hunt

Rebecca Cunningham - Running Rabbit Films

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Orlando's Star Lite Riders - Episode #27

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: September 12, 12014

I've said before, that many of my stories begin with a single photograph. That's the case with this story. I was scrolling through Facebook one morning, and came across a post by Dennis Adams, in an Orlando, Florida look back group. It was a photo of the old Puckett Harley-Davidson dealership on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. The photo showed some kind of awards ceremony. I contacted Dennis to get permission to use the photo in my story on Orlando racer Dexter Campbell.

Not only did Dennis Adams give me permission to use his photo, he also shared the story of his parents, Charlie and Aladra Adams, who were members of the Star Lite Motorcycle Club in the 40s, and 50s. Dennis also arranged for me to contact his father, who along with Jesse O'Brien, provided the details for this story. Without their held, it would have not  been possible.

Aladra Adam's Star Lite Riders Shirt
Charlie and Aladra Adams Collection

The story if the Star Lite Riders Motorcycle Club, begins with groups civilian motorcycle riders formed into Motorcycle Troops in the early 1940s. It was anticipated that if the United States became involved in the second World War, these troops would be an invaluable asset in patrolling Florida's long coastline. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) supported, and encouraged, the formation of the Motorcycle Troops, as a way to bring a positive image of motorcycling.

In Orlando, Florida Sidney Crenshaw formed the Orlando Troop. With the entry of the United States into the World War at the end of 1941, many of the male troop members were drafted into the service. Many used their riding skills as dispatch riders for the various armed services. Some of the female troop members continued the troop activities, until they were drawn into jobs producing war materials, and the civilian motorcycle troops folded.

Sidney Crenshaw - Orlando, Florida
Guy Ann Sheffield Collection

After World War II, Sidney Crenshaw, who was now a member of the Orlando Police Department Motorcycle Unit, was involved in the formation of the Orlando Motorcycle Club, along with Orlando Harley-Davidson dealer Lewis Puckett. The club was run out of Puckett's shop on South Orange Avenue in Orlando. Charlie Adams became one of the original members of the Orlando Motorcycle Club.

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
Charlie Adams began racing in AMA sanctioned flat track, and TT motorcycle races on a Harley-Davidson WR carrying his competition A.M.A. # 211C. The WR was prepared in Lewis Puckett's shop. He competed in races at St Petersburg, Sarasota, Ft Meyers, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and Daytona Beach, Florida. While Charlie did not win any races, he often finished second, or third.

1948 Harley-Davidson WR Flat Track Racer 

By early 1948, the membership of the Orlando Motorcycle Club had dropped significantly. A new club was formed named the Star Lite Riders, and several of the Orlando Motorcycle Club Members, including Charlie and Aladra Adams joined the new club.

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
The new club received and AMA sanction, and was run out of Lewis Puckett's Harley-Davidson shop, which had moved to 2801 South orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.

Puckett Motors - Orlando, Florida
Eric Smith Collection
The AMA sanctioned these riding clubs, which often adopted club uniforms, which the wore during rides, and club social events. These were not 1% motorcycle gangs, which drew negative publicity to the sport, with their antisocial behavior. They were groups of average riders, often referred to as the 99% of motorcycle enthusiasts , who didn't cause problems. These riding clubs participated in reliability runs, field games, social events, Promoted safe riding, and sponsored A.M.A. competition events.

Star Lite Riders relax after their weekly Reliability Run
Star Light Riders Motorcycle Field Games
Star Lite Riders Field Games
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
The Star Lite Riders sponsored the local flat track and TT motorcycle races. These races where first held at the Casselberry, Florida harness track, and later at Orlando's Ben White Raceway. Charlie Adams competed in,  and often won, these local races.

Charlie Adams shows off a trophy to Aladra Adams and a friend.
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

In the early 50s, Charlie Adams was elected as president of the Star Lite Riders. This was a little unusual, as the club was run out of a Harley-Davidson shop, and Charlie had switched to riding a 1953 Indian, along with a 250cc Zundap he rode in enduro racing. Club members were not required to ride Harley-Davidsons, and Charlie like the new hydraulic forks, and non pogo post seat. This was the final model of the Indian Motorcycle, as they closed the factory doors in 1953.

Charlie, Randy, and Sandra Adams - 1953 Indian Motorcycle
Charlie & Aladra Adams

The July 1955 edition of American Motorcycling Magazine featured an article on 17 year old club member Clyde Denzer.

American Motorcycling Magazine - July 1955
Dave Dobner Collection
In June 1956, the Star Lite Riders were awarded an A.M.A. National Safety Award banner, for the year 1955. The award was presented to club members by Orlando Chief of Police, Vernon Rodgers.

Orlando Sentinel - June 1956
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

And now for the story of the photograph that inspired this story:

Puckett Harley-Davidson Orlando, Florida ca. 1955
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

This photo shows and awards ceremony at Pickett Harley-Davidson for the Thanksgiving Turkey Run Enduro Race, which was sponsored by the Star Lite Riders.  These cross country races, were meant to test the endurance of man and machine, by riding a difficult closed course laid out through the woods outside Daytona Beach, Florida.

Jesse O'Brien stated he is the person receiving his first place trophy from Lewis Puckett's son Buddy. Lewis Puckett is crouched in the center of the photo, and Charlie, and Aladra Adams are in the back left of the photo.

Unidentified Enduro Rider
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

But, there's more to this story! It seems the prize for the race was a live turkey,. Jesse received the turkey for his win, and took it to his brother Dick's house for the family Thanksgiving dinner. Dick's wife took the turkey outside to prepare it for cooking. The turkey took one look at the knife, and escaped the scene. The turkey was last seen running down Orange Blossom Trail, and Dick had to drive down to Winn Dixie to get another turkey.

The annual Daytona Beach Motorcycle Races were known as the Handlebar Derby.  The premier event was the 200 mile road race. It was run down a section of Ormond Beach, at low tide, and then back up Highway A1A.

1958 Daytona Motorcycle Race Program Cover
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

The week long event featured both amateur, and professional Road Racing, Flat Track, Scrambles, Hill Climb, Drag Racing, Time Trials, and Endurance Run competitions. There was also an International Motorcycle Show at the Daytona Beach Armory.

1957 Daytona 200 Motorcycle Race
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

By 1958, the Star Lite Riders were sponsoring Formula A motorcycle scrambles races. Dick O'Brien, the shop Racing Manger, had developed hop up parts for the Harley-Davidson 165, which had become popular with lightweight class scrambles racers. Puckett had two riders, Jesse O'Brien, and Dexter Campbell racing the shops 165s, and they dominated races throughout Florida. Tommy Seagraves raced for Puckett in the Heavy Weight Scrambles Class.

Lewis Puckett Motors Hop Up Instructions
The October 1958 edition of the A.M.A.s American Motorcyclist Magazine reported a crowd of 3000 watched the August Formula A Scrambles race held in Orlando, by the Star Lite Riders. Dexter Campbell won the Lightweight Class, and Tommy Seagraves, won the Heavy Weight Class.

In November 1958, Charlie Adams competed in the Turkey Run Enduro, finishing second in the Class B Lightweight on his 250cc Zundap.

1958 Turkey Run Enduro Results
Charlie & Aladra Adams
Club members also competed in unsanctioned Outlaw motorcycle races run by Bill France during the Nascar races held on the same Ormond Beach Course used for the motorcycle races. These races were held on the beach side of the course, to entertain the crowd between the Nascar races.

About this time, the Star Lite Riders became involved in another interesting piece of Florida racing history. Puckett Harley-Davidson, and the Star Lite Riders, sponsored motorcycle drag races on an old auxiliary airfield south of Orlando. Lewis Puckett was asked by an up and coming Ocala, Florida auto drag racer Don Garlits.  He was making a name for himself drag racing a modified T Bucket Ford, and asked Lewis Puckett to build a Harley-Davidson to race against his T Bucket Ford.

Don Garlits 1927 Ford T Bucket Racer
Don Garlits Collection

The crew at Puckett's race shop built a 74 ci. twin carburetor Harley-Davidson Panhead, which was named Big Bertha.

Custom Bike & Choppers Magazine - March 1982
The bike was ridden in several match races with Garlits, by Charlie Winslow, and later Dexter Campbell. The Puckett riders, and Garlits, each won several of the match races.

It appears the membership of the Star Lite Riders faded in the early 60s. Many of the members now had families, and careers, which left less time for riding. The final blow, may have come, when Lewis Puckett lost the Harley-Davidson franchise for Orlando, and the Star Lite riders lost their clubhouse.

The A.M.A. sanctioned riding clubs across the country began to suffer the same fate. As these clubs faded into memories, the more notorious motorcycle gangs were left to take their place, casting a negative light on the sport through the 60s and 70s.


Charlie and Aladra Adams eventually divorced. Charlie Adams later remarried, and left Orlando in 1967. He had a long career in the music business, is retired, and living in Tennessee. Aladra Adams passed away in Orlando in 2011.

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

Dexter Campbell continued his racing career, but was killed in a racing accident at the A.M.A. National Dirt Track Race at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway on May 15, 1966.

#16 Dexter Campbell
Robbie Knight Collection
Clyde Denzer was hired by Harley-Davidson Racing Team Manager, Dick O'Brien in 1959. For the next 24 years, Denzer served as the the number two man in the Racing Department . When O'Brien retired, Clyde Denzer took over as the Harley-Davidson Racing Team Manager.

Clyde Denzer (left) and Ralph White - Daytona 1963 
Dick O'Brien left Puckett Harley-Davidson in 1957 to become the Harley-Davidson Factory Racing Team Manager. Under O'Brien's management, the Harley Racing Team became one of the most successful racing teams in the country, vitally dominating American dirt track racing. He Retired in 1983, and was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of Fame in 2001.

Dick O'Brien
A.M.A. Hall of Fame

Jesse O'Brien  retired from racing in 1957. In the early 80s he returned, and one of the driving forces behind the A.M.A. Battle of the Twins road racing class.

Jesse O'Brien (right)
Patrolman Sidney "Big Sid" Crenshaw had a distinguished career with the Orlando Police department Motorcycle Unit. He was struck by a car, and seriously injured, while working a traffic accident on West Colonial Drive in Orlando on July 7, 1965. Patrolman Creshaw died of his injuries on November 22, 1966.

Patrolman Sidney "Big Sid" Crenshaw
Guy Ann Sheffield Collection

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits went on to become a multi time National, and World Championship drag racer. He won a total of 144 National events in his series of "Swamp Rat" Top Fuel racers. He currently operates the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits - Ocala, Florida
Tommy Seagraves continued his racing career, but was killed in a racing accident at the A.M.A. National Road Race in Watkin's Glen, New York on August 14, 1960.

Tommy Seagraves - Orlando, Florida
Eddie Boomhower Collection


American Motorcyclist Association

Charlie Adams

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

Custom Bike & Choppers Magazine - March 1982

Dave Dobner Collection

Dennis Adams

Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing

Eddie Boomhower Collection

Guy Ann Sheffield Collection

Jesse O'Brien

Officer Down Memorial Page - Patrolman Sidney Crenshaw

Robbie Knight Collection

Tampa Bay History 21/01 - Civilians Protecting Civilians - 2007