Friday, August 1, 2014

Indy's First Race - Episode 29

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: August 17, 2014

I've had a fascination with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since my childhood. I remember taking a Sunday family ride in 1964, and listening to descriptions of the horrendous crash in the 500 Mile Race on our car radio. I have never made it to the Speedway in person, but rarely miss the 500 Mile Classic on television. Indy race fans know the Speedway opened in 1909, but few know the first event held there was a motorcycle race. Time to share this little known piece of early motorcycling history.

Indian Motorycle Club France Collection

In early 1909, construction began on a racetrack in Indianapolis, Indiana. The 2 mile oval track was surfaced with gravel and tar.

Chicago, IL. Tribune - January 24, 1909

By mid 1909, arrangements had been completed between the Federation of American Motorcyclists  (F.A.M.), and the management of the newly completed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a National Championship Motorcycle race to be held on August 13 & 14, 1909. Wire service articles about the planned races began to appear in newspapers across the country. The motorcycle races would be followed one week later by Championship Automobile Races at the Speedway. President William Howard Taft was scheduled to  take part in the opening ceremonies for the Speedway's automobile races.

Bakersfield, CA. Californian - August 14, 1909
Harrisburg, PA. Courier - July 25, 1909

Indianapolis, IN. News - July 30, 1909

Indianapolis, IN. News _ August 9, 1909
The races would coincide with the F.A.M.'s annual convention, which was also to held in Indianapolis. An August 10th article in the Indianapolis News, announced that entries for the race were closed, and that "Leading Riders of the World Will Compete." The article also went on to state that "riders had tested the track" and that "records will be smashed."

Indianapolis News - August 10, 1909
On August 11th, an unflattering cartoon, which appeared to mock the races, appeared on the front page of the Indianapolis News.

Indianapolis News - August 11, 1909

That same day, a more positive wire service article about the races appeared in papers across the country. It gave details of the races being run during the two day event, along with information on the convention, and details about the Speedway.

Warren, PA. Times Mirror - August 11, 1909

On the morning of the 13th, rain fell, and the races were postponed to the following day.

Indianapolis News - August 13, 1909
There were already concerns that the rush to complete the track's surface, prior to the scheduled races, had resulted in a racing surface that had not been properly laid. Many of the 32 race competitors entered began to complain the track surface had not been properly rolled for smoothness, was both rough and dangerous for the riders.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway - August 1909
Ramin Faz Collection
The events of the August 14 motorcycle races held at the Speedway are documented in a two page article that appeared in the August 14, 1909 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review. The article appeared under a lengthy headline, that began with:

 "Strike" precedes F.A. M. Race Meet and Program is Cut Short. Motor Speedway Proves Big Disappointment.

The entire text of that article is too lengthy to be presented, but can be read at the link below:

                          Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review August 14, 1909

Controversy started after an amateur rider J. S. Tomey crashed, at the beginning of the 10 Mile Amateur National Championship race. Tomey was not seriously injured, but was forced to drop out the the race.

Things came to a head, when professional rider, Jake DeRosier, crashed heavily. DeRosier's crash, was said to have been caused when the rough track surface ripped his front tire off the rim. DeRosier was traveling at over a mile a minute, and his injuries were appeared very serious. Word spread through the competitors, that DeRosier's injuries might be fatal. This was the final blow, which forced the rider's into action.

Wichita, KS. Daily Eagle August 15, 1909
The riders gathered and began to talk of a strike, to shut down the races. All but two of the thirty riders in the event voted to strike. However, the strike failed to materialize. The F.A.M. Official in charge of the meet stated any rider, who did not compete would be suspended from competition for sixty days.

The threat of suspension, along with word from the Speedway Hospital, that DeRozier's injuries were not serious, put an end to the threatened strike. Many of the top riders entered in the days races, did not appear to have their hearts in the competition. Spectators, and the press,  thought they were just riding around at less than full speed.

The Ten Mile National Amateur Championship Race had been postponed after J.S. Tomey's crash. When the race resumed, without Tomey, Indianapolis rider Erwin Baker took an easy win on his Indian. Baker's win in the 10 Mile national Amateur Championship Race got nationwide coverage, eclipsing the winners of both the professional race, and the other amateur classes.

Indianapolis News - July 13, 1909
The race results went out in a wire service article to newspapers around the country. That night, F.A.M. Officials met, and cancelled the remaining races scheduled for August 15th.

Washington, DC. Post - August 15, 1909

Erwin Baker, became a top competitor in professional motorcycle competitions across the country. In 1914, he set an endurance record crossing the country in eleven days on his Indian Motorcycle. That record earned him a new nickname, and he would be known "Cannonball" Baker for the remainder of his life.

Erwin George "Cannon Ball" Baker - Indianapolis, Indiana
Jake DeRosier recovered from his injuries, and went on to be hired as a factory rider for Indian Motorcycles. In 1911, he set a new World Speed Record at Brooklands in England. He died in 1913, as the result of racing injuries.

Jacob "Jake" DeRosier 1880-1913
Daniel Statnekov Collection

The following weekend, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway held it's first automobile races. The poor track surface is said to have contributed to two fatal crashes during that event.

In 1910, the track was repaved with bricks, giving it a length of 2.5 miles. The first Indianapolis 500 Mile race was held in May 1911. In 1922, one of the entrants in the 500 mile race was one "Cannon Ball" Baker, who finished 11th.

In September 2008, ninety nine years after the 1909 F.A.M. Championship Races, top motorcycle riders from around the world once again gathered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to compete in the Moto GP World Championship Races.


Bakersfield Californian - Bakersfield, CA.

Harrisburg Courier - Harrisburg, PA.

Indian Motocycle Club France Collection - Indian Motocycles Club of France on Facebook

Indianapolis News - Indianapolis, IN.

Smithsonian Library - Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - August 14, 1909

Daniel Statnekov - Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing

Warren Times Mirror - Warren, PA.

Washington Post - Washington, DC.

Wichita Daily Eagle - Wichita, KS.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

O.V. Hunt - Birmingham's Photographer - Episode 28

By: David L. Morrill

Updated - July 25, 2014

If you've ever picked up a book on the history of Birmingham Alabama, you have very likely seen an O.V. Hunt. photograph. Beginning in the early teens, Mr. Hunt photographed Birmingham's rapidly rising skyline, and recorded the events of daily life in the Magic City. Mr. Hunt was also a motorcycle enthusiast and recorded many significant motorcycle events held in Birmingham in the teens and twenties.

My own involvement with Mr. Hunt's photographs began, when Johnny Whitsett sent me a DVD containing scans of several of Hunt's Birmingham motorcycle event photographs he received from one of Mr. Hunt's relatives. Over the next several years, I attempted to identify, both the events depicted, and the subjects in those photographs.

O. V. Hunt (rear) and Robert Stubbs (front) - Birmingham, AL. ca. 1913
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Oscar Virgil Hunt was born in Bowden, Georgia in 1881. By 1900, Hunt's family had relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, and the eighteen year old Hunt was working as a day laborer. In the next few years, his passion for photography, developed into a career, and he opened a photography studio on 4th Avenue North in Birmingham.  He also worked as a photographer for the Birmingham Ledger Newspaper.

O.V. Hunt Photographic Studio - Birmingham, AL.
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Mr. Hunt developed a reputation of taking great risks to get his photographs. In 1912, climbed on to an early Biplane in the infield of the Alabama State Fairgrounds racetrack, and he took to the air above Birmingham to take aerial photos of the city. Mr. Hunt, who had mastered self promotion, often appears in photographs taken by his firm.

Edmond Heth (left) O.V. Hunt (right) - Alabama State Fairgrounds ca. 1912
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

In July 1913, Hunt, and his camera, were suspended from a steel beam suspended from the top of the Tutwiler Hotel, which was under construction in downtown Birmingham.

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives
O.V. Hunt Collection - 1913
The Alabama State Fairgrounds in Birmingham had a one mile dirt oval racetrack, which held it's first motorcycle race in 1906. Mr. Hunt was a friend of Robert Stubbs, the Birmingham dealer for the Hendee Manufacturing Company, which produced Indian Motorcycles. Stubbs, was a motorcycle racing enthusiast, having been a member of the Indian Factory racing Team.

Amateur Motorcycle Race Alabama State Fairgrounds - ca. 1912
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Stubbs had retired from track racing, but sponsored local riders Gail Joyce, Richard Gayle, and Eugene Walker. Joyce and Gayle were experienced riders having competed in races around the state for several years. Gene Walker worked for the Post Office delivering mail on his motorcycle,  and was making a name for himself competing in races at the Fairgrounds racetrack. Stubbs riders were photographed by Mr. Hunt in front Stubbs Dealership in 1913.

Richard Gayle (left), Gail Joyce (center), Gene Walker (right)
Furman Family Collection - O.V. Hunt ca. 1913

In early 1914, Hunt was hired by the new Birmingham Harley-Davidson Motorcycle dealer, William F. Specht Jr. to record the opening of his dealership at 1714 3rd Avenue North. Mr. Hunt captured the first load of ten Harley-Davidson motorcycles arriving by horse drawn wagon at Specht's dealership.

William F. Specht Jr. (far right) Specht Harley-Davidson - Birmingham, AL.
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt - 1914

Hunt took a photograph of Harley-Davidson Racing Team members Johnny Aiken (Atlanta), Bill Specht Jr. (Birmingham), and Gray Sloop (Mooresville, NC.) in front of Specht's dealership. Sadly, Gray Sloop was killed, along with Savannah, GA. rider Zeddie Kelly, while competing in the 1914 Savannah 300 Mile Road Race.
Johnny Aikens (right), Bill Specht Jr. (center), Gray Sloop (right)
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt - 1914

Interior of Specht Harley-Davidson Birmingham, AL.
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection 1914

Mr. Hunt was the official photographer for the July 14, 1914 Birmingham Ledger Motorcycle Endurance Run. This grueling event took place over several days on the public roads between Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia.  This a pre-race photograph of some of the thirty one of race competitors in from of the Birmingham Ledger Offices in downtown Birmingham.

1914 Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run Competitors
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt - 1914
The race, which was run over the next two days on the public roadways between Birmingham, and Atlanta, Georgia began at 3:00 am on the morning of July 4th. The start/finish line was in front of the Birmingham Ledger office at 1st Avenue North and 21st Street.

Start/Finish Line - Birmingham, AL. - July 1914
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

There was great controversy with the results of the1914 race, and a protest was filed by the Harley-Davidson Team. When the referee ruled against them, the Harley-Davidson team withdrew from the race leading to an Indian sweep for Robert Stubbs' Birmingham Indian race team. Team rider Gail Joyce was declared the winner.

Gail Joyce - Birmingham, AL.  - July 1914
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt

1914 Indian Motorcycle Promotional Poster
Scott Bashaw Collection

In October 1914, a race took place at the Alabama State Fairgrounds track that became an important part of Harley-Davidson's early racing history, and O.V. Hunt was there. Two of the photographs Hunt took that day have survived, and they are the only photographs of the event known to exist. The one hour Federation of American Motorcyclists race became the Harley- Davidson Racing Teams first National Championship race win. It also launched the professional racing career of a young man from Birmingham, who became one of the greats of early American motorcycle racing.

Alabama State Fairgrounds F.A.M. One Hour Championship Race
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt 1914
This starting line photograph of the Alabama State Fairgrounds race track shows the riders preparing to take to the track. The young man with the focused look seated on his Indian racer on the right of the photo is John Eugene Walker. This was the Birmingham natives first professional motorcycle race.

As a side not, you can see this photograph also captures the iconic Vulcan statue, buy Giuseppe Moretti, to the right of the grandstand. The Vulcan statute remained at the Fairgrounds until the 1930's, when it was moved to it's current location on the top of Red Mountain, and became the symbol for the City of Birmingham.

Alabama State Fairgrounds F.A.M. One Hour Championship Race
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt 1914
At the end of the one hour race, Harley-Davidson's Red Parkhurst was declared the winner, with Joe Wolters finishing second, and Gene Walker third.  Two protests were filed, but the race results were upheld. The race went down as the newly formed Harley-Davidson Racing Team's first Championship Race win, and became a key part of their advertising campaign for their 1915 model.

1915 Harley-Davidson Ad

It was also a big day for Gene Walker.  Walker briefly lead the race, and set a new track lap record. This attracted the attention of the Indian Racing Team, and Walker joined their team for the 1915 racing season. Walker went on to become one of the great riders of the late teens, and early twenties.

In early 1915, Mr. Hunt's firm took a publicity photo for Robert Stubbs' Indian dealership. The photograph touted the release of the 1915 Indian motorcycle, and appears to have been staged as a satire of Specht's Harley-Davidson 1914 horse drawn wagon photo.

Robert Stubbs Indian Publicity Photo - Birmingham, AL.
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt 1915
In this photo, Stubbs pulls a wagon full of dapper young men on a new 1915 Indian motorcycle. The message is clearly, that while Harley-Davidsons arrive in a horse drawn wagon, the new Indian can pull the wagon. O.V Hunt stands behind Robert Stubbs, who is seated on the motorcycle.

In April 1915, the second annual Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run was staged, and once again the Mr. Hunt photographed the contestants for the the Birmingham Ledger.

Birmingham Ledger - April 3, 1915
O.V.  Hunt
The 1915 event, also had it's share of controversy. At the end of the second days run from Atlanta to Birmingham, Harley-Davidson rider Willard DeGroat, and Indian rider Robert Horton were tied for the top horns. A third days run was scheduled as a tie breaker, but was rained out. Horton failed to show for the agreed on tie breaker, and DeGroat was award the over all win.

Willard DeGroat - Birmingham, AL.
Jessica DeGroat Hayes Collection - O.V. Hunt 1915
During this period, Mr. Hunt also took several photographs of sidecar equipped motorcycles. These bikes were used by local businesses to deliver goods, and provide roadside assistance to stranded motorists. The riders of the bikes, were often African American.

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection ca. 1916

With the approach of America's involvement in World War 1, motorcycle shops across the country faced hard times. The Military purchased most of the production of new motorcycles, spare parts, and tires. These were going overseas, and motorcycle dealers across the country really felt the pinch. Many dealers found it difficult to keep their doors open. In 1917, many of the young men, who had been customers of the shops were drafted.  This was the final blow, and countless shops closed their doors.

While the Birmingham Harley-Davidson and Indian dealers remained in business through the war, big changes to the motorcycle business in Birmingham came in 1919. Robert Stubbs closed his Indian dealership, and took a job managing a motorcycle shop in Montgomery, Alabama. William F. Specht Jr. returned to Atlantic City.

Gail Joyce opened the Gail Joyce Motor Company at 1709 3rd Avenue North. Although the records are sketchy, the Joyce Motor Company appears to have handled both Indian, and or Harley-Davidson sales in Birmingham during this period. Mr. Hunt continued photographing Joyce's dealership, and several motorcycle events for Joyce. After the war, motorcycles began the shift from basic transportation, to recreational use. The novelty of motorcycle events faded in Birmingham.

Gail Joyce Motor Company (center) - Birmingham, AL. ca. 1931
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection
On June 24, 1924, the Birmingham News reported the death of Gene Walker form injuries received while practicing for a race in East Stroudsburg, PA. During his career, Walker won 19 Championship motorcycle races, and set track records across the country. During the winters, he returned to Birmingham, where he worked as a Motorcycle Police Officer for the city. 1920, Walker set the first official motorcycle land speed record at Ormond Beach Florida.

Under the headline "Motorcycle Riding Has Lost It's Greatest Star in Death of Walker" Birmingham News sports reporter Zipp Newman detailed Walker's career, and the circumstances of his death. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Walker taken by O.V. Hunt in 1913.

Birmingham News - June 24, 1924
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt ca. 1913 
The Birmingham Police Department Motorcycle Unit, and a large contingency of local motorcyclists, escorted Walker's funeral procession to Birmingham's Elmwood Cemetery. It was a fitting remembrance of the young man, who put Birmingham, Alabama on the map for sports fans across the country.

Indian Motorcycle Company's Memorial Ad - 1924

In 1934, Gail Joyce died in Birmingham. His family continued to operate the Gail Joyce Motor Company and were still the Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer in the 1950s.

Oscar V. Hunt continued to photograph Birmingham's event's big, and small, for several more decades, retiring in 1953.  He passed away at age eighty one  in Birmingham, Alabama in 1962. His legacy to the Magic City are his photographs.

Birmingham The Magic City Sign - Birmingham, Al.
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection ca. 1926
Through the time machine of his lens, O.V. Hunt instantly transports us back to the streets of Birmingham one hundred years ago, and we view can the early days of Birmingham motorcycle sport. What better legacy, could he have left us?


Birmingham Ledger

Birmingham News

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Clay Nordan - A Minor Mystery Solved

Chris Price - www.Georgia Motorcycle

Hunt Family Collection

Jessica DeGroat Hayes Collection

Johnny Whitsett Collection

Kelly Stewart - Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Scott Bashaw Collection

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Tale of Two McNeils - Episode 27

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: May 1, 2014

The way in which history is recorded, can sometimes be strange. Suppose that over a hundred years ago you had two early racers, with very similar names. They competed on the professional Motordrome races at about the same time. One would die early in a tragic accident. The other would have a long career becoming one of the top racing engineers in the country. And suppose over the past 100 years historians have mistakenly merged these two individuals into one person. One McNeil's story was lost in this accident of history. It's time to unravel this tale, and set the record straight.

James "Jock" McNeil - "The Little Scot"

James "Jock" McNeil of Edinburgh, Scotland - 1912

In September 1912, a young racer from Edinburgh, Scotland named James McNeil was hired to compete at the Stadium Motordrome at Brighton Beach, New York. Articles of the time state McNeil was either a Scottish, or European Racing Champion, prior to coming to New York. In just a few weeks, the little Scot, on his English JAP racer, would become a crowd favorite, and a dominant force at the Stadium Motordrome races.

At about the same time, a young Canadian rider named Joseph Addison "J.A." McNeil was making a name for himself in Motordrome racing both in Canada, and the United States. More on him later.

Stadium Motordrome Brighton Beach, NY. - 1912
Stadium Motordrome Brighton Beach, New York
Library of Congress Collection
By mid 1912, New York City had two new Motordromes in close proximity to the City. They were the Stadium Motordrome in Brighton Beach, New York, and the Vailsburg Motordrome in Newark, New Jersey.  A group of contracted riders competed at both of the new Motordromes.

Tragedy struck on September 8, 1912, when riders Eddie Hasha, Johnny Albright, and four spectators were killed in a racing accident at the Vailsburg Motordrome. Both Hasha, and Albright had competed at the Brighton Beach track, and their loss affected both fans, and riders.  The City fathers in Newark, moved quickly to stop motorcycle racing at the Newark track. The Brighton Beach track elected to continue racing, despite the tragic events at Newark.

Stadium Motordrome Ad - New York Times 1912
The operators of the Stadium Motordrome in Brighton Beach were mindful that a similar accident at their track, could lead to a complete ban on Motordrome racing.  They had a race scheduled just two days after the Newark tragedy, and immediate steps were taken to make the track safer, and calm spectators fears. An article detailing the safety changes appeared in the New York Times a week later.

New York times - September 15, 1912
Racing resumed at Brighton Beach on September 10th. James McNeil was scheduled to compete in his first race at the Brighton Beach Motordrome that night. One can only wonder if the little Scot was re-evaluating his career choice after such a violent deadly accident just a few days before.

Scranton, PA. Truth - September 10, 1912
McNeil rode his JAP Special, which featured a frame he built, along with an Indian racing fork,  and an 8 valve English JAP racing engine. That night, McNeil was matched with Arthur Chapple, in a race. Chapple easily won the first heat, and was on his way to an easy second heat win. Chapple had a tire failure, and McNeil took the win.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 11, 1912
Scranton, PA. Truth - September 11, 1912
On September 13, 1912, McNeil won a race with John Cox.

New York Times - September 14, 1912

That weekend, Chapple again faced off with McNeil, in match races. Chapple won both races, but he would not have such an easy time beating McNeil in the future.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 15, 1912
The next event, was a grueling 24 hour race, in which two man teams would circle the track for a whole day. The rules allowed for engine changes, if necessary, and for rebuilding wrecked bikes.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912
At the end of the 24 hour grind, the team of William Shields , and George Lochnar, covered 1374 miles for the win.  James McNeil, and Earl Eckel finished second, just there miles behind Shields and Lochnar. Chapple, and Wray, finished third some 9 miles behind the leaders. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912

The final race of the season, was to be a six hour race on September 30, 1912. It's unclear if this race took place. Early winter weather hit the area, and the race results do not appear in either New York paper.

Atlanta Motordrome - 1913

For the 1913 racing season, James McNeil, and several other riders from the Brighton Beach Motordrome, took the long train ride from New York City, to Atlanta, Georgia. They came to compete at the newly opened Atlanta Motordrome. Shortly after arriving in Atlanta, McNeil picked up the the nickname "Jock," a common slang term for a Scot, from the Atlanta Press.

McNeil would be competing against established Motordrome stars like "Millionaire" Morty Graves from Los Angeles, French Champion Georges Renal, Freddie Luther of Ft Worth, Wilmer "Tex" Richards from Waco,  and Billy Shields, who he had raced against McNeil at Brighton Beach. Local rider, Harry Glenn was also an accomplished racer, with Motordrome experience, and quickly adapted to the new 1/4 mile circular Atlanta board track.

Atlanta Motordrome Ad - June 1913

On May 27, 1913 riders took to the new Atlanta Motordrome. McNeil and two other riders narrowly escaped serious injury in separate incidents. While traveling about 85 miles per hour on the steeply banked track, McNeil's front tire began to jump the rim. McNeil was able to slow his bike, and thereby escape a sure trip to the hospital.

Atlanta Constitution - May 28, 1913

This article identifies him as "Jack" McNeil, but this may be a misprint of his new nickname "Jock" He is first identified as "Jock McNeil" in an Atlanta Constitution article on June 1, 1913. 

Atlanta Constitution - June 1, 1912

On June 2, photos of McNeil along with riders Freddie Luther, and Billy Shields appeared on the Atlanta Constitution's Sports page.

Atlanta Constitution - June 2, 1912

Atlanta's unpredictable weather meant that several racing programs were scheduled, only to be canceled due to wet track conditions. The first races took place on June 14, 1913.

Atlanta Constitution - June 14, 1913.
Despite the previous cancellations, seven thousand enthusiastic fans showed up for the Opening day's races.

Atlanta Constitution - June 15, 1913
Jock McNeil, was pitted against the French Champion Georges Renel in the third heat. McNeil won both the heat race, and the six mile final. Billy Shields finished second.

Tex Richards on his eight valve Indian dominated the second race meet held on June 17th.  McNeil won two heat races that day.

Atlanta Constitution - June 18, 1913

Over the next several weeks, a rivalry developed between Tex Richards on his Indian, and McNeil on his JAP Special. The local press fueled the rivalry, which went on to include Morty Graves in a three way fight for dominance at the Motordrome.  They would swap wins in match races, much to the delight of the local race fans. Morty Graves, who was from a wealthy Chicago family, went so far as to order a new Excelsior racer to give him a competitive edge.

Swapping the track record became a regular competition between the three riders. On June 25th, Tex Richards broke the track record during a heat race. Jock McNeil won one final race, and was leading Richard in the Motordrome purse race, when his bike suddenly began to misfire. Richards took the lead, with Billy Shields in a close second. McNeil's bike came back to life and he rode the wheels off it, and was a close third at the end of the race.

Atlanta Constitution - June 27, 1913

Atlanta Constitution - June 28, 1913

On June 28th, Morty Graves smashed the one mile track record averaging 92 miles per hour on Jock McNeil's JAP Special. Graves new Excelsior had not yet arrived. Jock McNeil rode the same bike to beat Tex Richards in the nights match race.  How Graves came to ride McNeil's JAP is not reported, but McNeil was non too  happy about it.

McNeil, who secretly ordered two new JAP racing engines from London, stated he was going to break Graves record, and then go after Eddie Hasha's four lap, one mile, World's record at the July 4th race. One of the engines McNeil ordered was the newest long stroke motor, while the other an updated short stroke motor. Both motors were said to be faster than JAP engine McNeil was using at the time.

Atlanta Constitution - July 1, 1913
The July 4th races were rained out, and took place July 8th. Despite all the hype about a record attempt by McNeil, Tex Wilmer won the money races after Jock's motorcycle developed engine trouble. Rain postponed the next several scheduled races. Racing finally resumed  on July 16th. Once again Tex Richards dominated the races. Jock McNeil made an attempt to break the one mile track record but fell short by just one an hour averaging 91 miles per hour for four laps.

On July 24th, Jock McNeil won the 105 lap "Marathon" race against nine other rider, picking up the $500 prize.

Atlanta Constitution - July 26, 1913

On August 12th, the rivalry with Morty Graves came to an end, when Graves was severely injured in a race. It was initially thought Graves would lose one of his eyes, but after he laid off the racing game for a while, he made a full recovery.

Atlanta Constitution - August 13, 1913
That same night, McNeil won a heat race, and finished second in two feature races. On August 15th, Atlanta's Harry Glenn narrowly escaped serious injury when he blew a rear tire during a sweepstakes race. The racing game in Atlanta, was getting dangerous. So far, no rider had been seriously injured, but it seemed to be just a mater of time till one was seriously injured, or killed.

On August 17th, Jock McNeil decided to attempt a record run during a practice session for the days races. McNeil felt he could gain a mile an hour, or two, by running the "white boards" at the top of the  Motordrome's racing surface.
Atlanta Constitution - August 20, 1913
The press reports state McNeil had been dared by friends to run the white boards. These boards marked the top of the track, and were not intended to be part of the racing surface. He was lapping at 90 miles per hour, when the white boards gave way. McNeil was thrown from his bike, and gravely injured.

Atlanta Constitution - August 19, 1913
James "Jock" McNeil died of his injuries on August 20, 1913. McNeil's brother, who worked for the Indian Motorcycle Company was in Atlanta at the time. He came to watch his brother races, but instead had to take care of his brother's funeral arrangements.

Atlanta Constitution - August 21, 1913
James "Jock" McNeil was buried in Atlanta on August 21, 1913, but the location of his grave site is unknown. A McNeil benefit race was scheduled, but was delayed by weather until October 7, 1913. The benefit race was won by McNeil's Rival Tex Richards, and all the proceeds went to McNeil's mother in Scotland.

Atlanta Constitution - October 8, 1913
The death of Jock McNeil was just one nail in the coffin of the Atlanta Motordrome. The constant race cancellations due to weather, and the death of the popular racer in full view of spectators caused the crowds dwindle. Poor management of the track also played a major role. The Atlanta Constitution, which had regularly reported on the races with favorable articles, became highly critical of the track management.

In October 1913, a race for black riders was held at the Motordrome. This was not a popular decision in Jim Crow Atlanta, and it was widely criticized by both local motorcycle dealers, and the National racing press. The track's sanction for National Championship races was withdrawn, and that forced the track into bankruptcy in late 1913. It briefly reopened under new management in 1914, but closed after only a few races. For more information on the story of the Atlanta Motordrome, click on the link below:

In a strange twist of fate, the Atlanta Constitution reported that Wilmer "Tex" Richards had been killed in a race in Houston, Texas in March 1914. The article stated Richards was riding the same JAP Special  Jock McNeil was riding the day he was killed.

Atlanta Constitution - March 26, 1914

The report of Richard"s death proved to be premature. Despite being hurled some 275 feet outside the Houston track, Richards had miraculously escaped serious injury. He later returned to Atlanta, and continued as one of the top racers in the South for many years.

Joseph Addison "J.A." McNeil

Joseph Addison "J. A." McNeil
Daniel K. Statnekov Collection

According to a February 4, 1916 article in the Toronto World newspaper, Joseph Addison McNeil was born of Scotch parents in Prince Edward Island, Canada. By 1906, he was an accomplished bicycle racer, and moved to the United States to compete. In a July 1908, McNeil appears as a bicycle competitor in the Motorcycle and Bicycle Races taking place at the newly opened Seal Gardens Saucer Track in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, CA. Herald - July 11, 1908

The Seal Gardens track also featured some of the best motorcycle racers in the country. This was probably McNeil's introduction to the world of professional motorcycle racing. By 1910, McNeil made the switch from bicycle to motorcycle racing competing in professional races at the Los Angeles Coliseum on a Reading Standard motorcycle. In March 1910,  J. A. McNeil finished third in the 12 Mile race for professional riders at the Coliseum.

Later that year, McNeil, and several other West Coast riders including Morty Graves spent three months racing at the Wandemere Motordrome in Salt Lake City Utah. Graves and McNeil returned to Los Angeles, and continued to compete at the Coliseum.

In mid 1913,  McNeil returned to Salt Lake City to compete. He appears in Tribune reports racing an Excelsior at the Wandemere.  An August 1913 Automobile Journal article reports that J. A. McNeil competed in four motorcycle Class A Match Races at the Wandemere Motordrome. McNeil, who was riding an Excelsior motorcycle, finished second in two races, and third in two other races.

Automobile Journal - August 1913

By 1914, J.A. McNeil had been hired as a test rider for the Cyclone racers of the Joerns Manufacturing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. In October, McNeil set a new one mile speed record of 101 miles per hour, at Omaha, Nebraska.

Cincinnati, OH Enquirer - October 5, 1914
The wire service article on McNeil's record identified him as John W. McNeil. He later raised his speed record to 111 miles per hour. After McNeil's records, articles sometimes erroneously referred to McNeil, as an American from Omaha, Nebraska.  McNeil confirmed in an article in the Winnipeg Tribune that he was in fact a Canadian, having been born in Prince Edward Island, of Scottish parents. 

Winnipeg, Canada Tribune - July 1, 1915 

In 1915, Joseph McNeil, who was a machinist by trade,  left Cyclone and was hired by Ignaz Schwinn as a development rider/engineer for his Excelsior Motorcycle Company. McNeil played an important part in the development of Excelsior's engines, and for the next few years often raced the bikes he helped develop.

McNeil returned to Canada in early 1916, and enlisted in the army at the beginning of World War 1. He was seriously injured as a motorcycle dispatch rider in England, badly breaking one leg, when he struck a wagon. Press accounts erroneously reported one of his legs had been amputated, but this was not true. He did spend many months recovering in a hospital in England.

Ottawa Journal - April 5, 1919
After the war, McNeil returned to Excelsior, where he continued his development work, and also served as  the Racing Team Manager.

1920 Excelsior Racing Team - Wells Bennett, Bob Perry, J.A. McNeil, Joe Wolters

McNeil played a significant role in developing Excelsior's new gear drive overhead valve racer (pictured above). Excelsior rider Bob Perry took the new racer out for a practice run at the Ascot Park Speedway in Los Angeles in January, and was killed in a crash.

Indianapolis, IN. News - January 15, 1920
Perry was a favorite of Excelsior owner Ignaz Schwinn, and legend has it Schwinn went into the race shop, and personally smashed the racers with a hammer. That story may be more legend, than fact, but Excelsior did suspend their racing activities for part of 1920.

By September 1920, Excelsior had returned to the racing circuit, and McNeil entered the grueling 200 Mile Road Race at Marion, Indiana. McNeil was running well, but crashed through a chain link fence putting him out of the race.  He was not seriously injured.

Indianapolis, IN. News - September 7, 1920
1921, appears to have been McNeil's final year as an active rider.  The forty-one year old McNeil, left racing to his younger team riders, but continued to play a significant part in the development of Excelsior's overhead cam racing engines, and served as the Racing Team Manager.

In 1937, McNeil developed a motorcycle featuring a six cylinder automobile engine for a Bonneville salt Flats record speed record attempt.  Fred Luther attempted a motorcycle land speed record run-on the Salt Flats, but a high speed engine failure ended the record attempt.  With his retirement from racing, James McNeil faded into history.

Over the next one hundred years, the stories of two McNeils were merged into a single person, one J.A. "Jock" McNeil.. This is understandable, as the press accounts of both McNeils rarely mentioned first names. When they did, they were often wrong, i.e. John, Jack, etc. I did not find any press accounts of the time that identified J. A. McNeil by the nickname "Jock", and found no evidence he rode a JAP engined bike during his career.

It is clear, that both James "Jock" McNeil of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Joseph Addison "J. A." McNeil of Prince Edward Island, Canada each played significant roles in early racing, and deserve their separate places in Motorcycle racing history.


Atlanta Constitution

Automobile Journal - August 1913

Brooklyn, NY. Daily Eagle

Cincinnati Enquirer

Daniel K. Statnekov Collection

Indianapolis, IN. News

Ottawa, Canada Journal

Scranton, PA. Daily Truth

Stephen Wright 
American Racers 1900-1940

Toronto, Canada World New York Times

Winnipeg, Canada Tribune