Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bob Stubbs, Birmingham's First Racing Champion - Episode #6


By: David L. Morrill
@ Deadly Dave's Blog

Updated - February 16, 2017


O.V. Hunt (left) & Bob Stubbs (right)
O. V. Hunt 1914 - Birmingham, AL. Public Library Archives
I came across Robert "Bob" Stubbs story, while I was researching my article on early Birmingham, Alabama racer Gene Walker. As I found out more of his story, I realized Stubbs played a major part in the early Birmingham motorcycling history. Through his friendship with Birmingham photographer and motorcycle enthusiast O.V. Hunt some of that early motorcycling history in Birmingham, Alabama was photographed and preserved. It's time Stubbs' many contributions are shared.

Early Family History

Robert Thomas Stubbs
Bruce Crawford Collection
Robert Thomas Stubbs was born in the town of Dayton, Alabama, which is located in Marengo County in west central Alabama.  His parents, Thomas J. Stubbs and Elizabeth Gilbert-Stubbs, had 10 children. Robert was the oldest. By 1900, the family had moved to the East Lake area of Birmingham.

Bob Stubbs Bicycle - Motorcycle Racer

Like many young men, who became early motorcycle racing champions, Bob Stubbs started out as a professional bicycle racer. Bicycle racing was very popular in the late 1800s, and athletic young men across the country took to the bicycle racing velodromes to seek fame and fortune. An October 1898 Atlanta Constitution article on the Birmingham Cycle Club's first professional bicycle race lists Bob Stubbs of Eastlake as one of the race winners.

Atlanta Constitution - October 11, 1898

Beginning in 1907, motorcycle races were held on the 1 mile dirt oval at the Alabama State Fairgrounds Raceway in Birmingham. Stubbs began competing in these early races on an Indian "Motocycle." Several races of varying lengths were held each day of competition, and as he sharpened his racing skill, he often won all the races held each day.

In June, 1907, Bob Stubbs was elected President of the newly formed Birmingham Motorcycle Club. President Stubbs issued a statement to the press stating that all members were signing a pledge they would not engage in "road scorching, ungentlemanly behavior, walk by frightened horses or mules, and strictly adhere to speed regulations." The club held hill climb competitions in the Birmingham. They also sanctioned the races at the Alabama State Fairgrounds track.


On July 4, 1907, The Birmingham Motorcycle Club, held it's first series of races at the Alabama State Fairgrounds track. Robert Stubbs won four races of the races that day. Stubbs returned to the track on Labor Day  winning three races.


Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - July 13, 1907

Page 279 of the 1908 edition of Cycle & Automobile Journal featured a short article on Robert Stubbs, winning a 104 mile Alabama endurance race on a new 1908 Indian in 5 hours and 22 minutes.  The date of the race is not listed.

In October 1908, Stubbs won 11 races over 5 days of racing at the Alabama State Fairgrounds Raceway and claimed the "Southern Championship."

In October he won 13 races at the Birmingham track. In December, Stubbs went back to the Fairgrounds Raceway, this time for a 100 lap record attempt. He set a "New Worlds Record" by turning the 100 laps of the 1 mile dirt oval 107 minutes 44 seconds. This record brought Stubbs national recognition, as it was covered by major newspapers across the country.


1908 Indian Racer

For the March, 1909 Daytona Beach Speed Trials in Ormond Beach, Florida , Stubbs was hired by the Indian Motocycle Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, as a factory rider.  He was teamed with Brooklyn, New York rider Walter Goerke. They both rode the new 1909 Indians.

The Daytona, FL. Daily News - March 23, 1909

Robert Stubbs - Indian - Ormond Beach, FL.
Indian Motorcycles Club of France - Detroit Public Library Collection

Goerke set new records for 1 kilometer and 1 mile distances. The next day, Stubbs broke Goerke's 1 mile record of 45 seconds by 2 seconds. The new motorcycle speed records received worldwide press coverage.

The Times London, England - March 27, 1909
New York Times - March 26, 1909


Bob Stubbs (2nd from right) Daytona Beach 1909
Indian Motorcycles Club France
David Greenlees - The Old Motor.com
Indian Motocycle Club of France

Stubbs also logged wins at Dallas, Texas, along with Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. In May Stubs got another mention in the New York Times story about the races held on May 4th at Montgomery, Alabama.

Indian Motocycle Club of France
In August Robert Stubbs traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to compete at the newly opened Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stubbs was one of 31 professional racers from around the country that competed in the event. Trouble with the racing surface, caused several serious accidents, and Stubbs was lucky to return to Birmingham un-scathed. Stubbs Birmingham wins were included in and Indian Motocycle ad, which appeared in newspapers around the country in October 1909.

1909 Indian Motocycle Company Ad 
Chicago, IL. Daily Tribune - October 17, 1909



Stubbs traveled to Waco, Texas, and dominated the professional class races. He also traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana, and participated in the ill-fated first races held at the newly completed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


            Russell Waltour & Robert  Stubbs - Waco, TX.

Hill climb racing was gaining popularity throughout the country, and Stubbs became an accomplished hill climber. Stubbs won both the 30.5ci and 61ci motorcycle classes at the Lookout Mountain Hill Climb Race held on April 23 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The results were reported in the New York Times.

New York times - April 23, 1909

Competing on the state fair circuit Stubbs won all the motorcycle events held at Montgomery, Alabama, Waco and Dallas, Texas.  Stubbs finished the year with a second place finish in the 10 Mile Race for professional riders at the newly opened 2 mile Atlanta Speedway in Georgia.

Motorcycle Illustrated - November 15, 1909

Charlotte, NC. Evening Chronicle - November 11, 1909


Bob Stubbs finished the 1909 season with wins at Dallas, Texas.



Indian Motorcycle Company District Agent

Despite his busy racing schedule, Stubbs still managed to work as the Indian Motorcycles Distinct Representative throughout north and central Alabama. When Stubbs wasn't racing, he traveled the northern parts of Alabama by motorcycle contacting potential dealers and selling Indian motorcycles throughout his district.

In April 1910, Motorcycling and Bicycling Magazine reported Stubbs set a new record riding his Indian motorcycle from Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia in 7 hours and 5 minutes. That time broke existing Birmingham to Atlanta records for both cars and motorcycles. On May 24th, the Birmingham News sponsored a hill climb race on a mile and 2 tenths long course up Shades Mountain in Birmingham. Stubbs won both motorcycle classes and his time of 1 minute 51 seconds was 17 seconds faster than the fastest automobile time up the mountain.  In October Stubbs won 5 of 7 races at Birmingham, both races at the Montgomery Fairground, and finished the year with a win in Dallas, Texas.


Stubbs started the 1911 season with second places finishes in the Mardi Gras Speed Carnival at the New Orleans Fairgrounds.

Robert Stubbs - New Orleans 1911
Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

Stubbs crashed in Sunday's race and was struck by his bike after another rider collided with it. The accident was described in a March 1911 article in The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.


Atlanta Constitution - February 27, 1911



On July 4th, 1911, Bob Stubbs returned to his hometown of Birmingham, and beat local champ Gail Joyce in the 25 Mile Open Professional Race held in Birmingham.

Chris Price@Archive Motor - Motorcycle Illustrated - July 13, 1911
The 1911 Southern Tour Race Series returned to Birmingham in October with great controversy. National stars from around the country, including Excelsior riders Charles Balke and Jake DeRosier, came to Birmingham to take on local star Bob Stubbs for two consecutive weekends of racing during the Alabama State Fair.  Much had been made in the local press about the match up between Stubbs and his former Indian team mates Balke and DeRosier. The first weekend, Stubbs held his own securing two second place finishes and one third in the days races. DeRosier complained about the track officiating, insulting the meet referee, and stating Birmingham was "an Indian Town!" That night things spilled over at a local hotel.


The incident was reported in the October 14, 1911 issue of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review. Stubbs' wife Barbara Stubbs, was alleged to have made "insulting statements" to DeRosier, as DeRosier pushed his Excelsior off the track with a dead motor. That night, DeRosier confronted Stubbs, over Barbara Stubbs' comments, at a local hotel. A scuffle ensued between Stubbs and DeRosier. DeRosier came out the worse for it, with a cut above one eye. DeRosier alleged five of Stubbs' friends jumped in scuffle, and one of them hit DeRosier with "a slap jack or brass knuckles."  DeRosier reported it to the police, and a later issue of the magazine stated "Stubbs paid a 10 dollar fine in court the next morning."


Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 14, 1911

With the previous weekends drama, the stands at the Fairgrounds Raceway were packed with fans not wanting to miss another possible confrontation. Stubbs finished 2nd in his first race of the day, which took place without incident. In the next race of the day, Stubbs had a front tire fail, and crashed heavily. Stubbs badly injured one of his eyes,  and it was initially feared Stubbs would lose the eye. The eye injury was later determined to be less serious less serious than first thought, but Stubbs was forced to quit competition while he recovered.


When asked later if he would continue racing the magazine reported Stubbs stated" not if Mrs. Stubbs has anything to do with it." It appears Stubbs took his wife's advice, and quit solo racing. He did however, win the sidecar class at the Alabama State Fair in 1913.


Local Indian riders Gail Joyce and Richard Gayle were backed by Stubbs to represent Indian at the next round in Selma, Alabama. Joyce dominated win most of the professional class races with Gayle finishing second.

Motorcycle Illustrated - November 16, 1911
Bob Stubbs finished the 1911 racing series by being chosen one of  17 Speed Kings of 1911 by The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.


Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1911
KMP Motos Parts Collection

Birmingham Indian Dealer


Stubbs Indian Motocycles Ad
Birmingham Ledger - October 10, 1915 


When Bob Stubbs opened his Indian dealership at 1805 4th Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, Alabama is unknown. In May 1910 photos of the shop appeared in Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review Magazine.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - May 14, 1910
In 1913, Stubbs attended an annual meeting of Indian Motocycle Company District Agents in Springfield, Massachusetts.   With the release of Indian's new 15 horsepower model in 1915, Stubbs staged a famous publicity stunt. A dapperly dressed Stubbs rode the new Indian model, which pulled a wagon load passengers through downtown Birmingham. The event was photographed by Mr. Hunt and covered in the local press.


O.V. Hunt 1915 - Johnny Whitsett Collection

In early 1914, William F. Specht Jr., a racer from New Jersey relocated to Birmingham. Specht began selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles from a bicycle shop owned by Clifton Howell. Specht's shop was located just a block away from Stubbs' shop, at 1714 3rd Avenue North. They were rivals for domination of the Birmingham motorcycle market for the next few years.

Gene Walker's Mentor

In 1912, Birmingham native Gene Walker entered and won his first motorcycle race at the Alabama State Fairgrounds Raceway. Walker, who delivered mail on his motorcycle for the Post Office, was soon dominating the local races. Stubbs recognized Walker's talent, and in 1913 he hired Walker. At the time, Stubbs was one of the largest Indian dealers in the country, and was very involved in racing.

Stubbs Indian 1805 4th Avenue North Birmingham, AL. 
Gene Walker (right)
Furman Family Collection
Stubbs put Walker on a new Indian 8 valve racer and Walker began to dominate the Birmingham amateur races. Professional riders from around the country came to Birmingham for the fall race series.  Walker was able, with Stubbs assistance, to hone his racing skills competing against some of the best racers in the country.

In July 1914, Bob Stubbs entered a team of riders in an Endurance Run sponsored by the Birmingham Ledger Newspaper. At the end of the three day 860 mile event, his riders Gail Joyce and Gene Walker, finished first and second respectively.

Gail Joyce
O.V. Hunt 1914 - Johnny Whitsett Collection
Stubbs was also one of only six of the thirty one race entrants, to complete the full race distance without mechanical issues. All six finishers were riding Indians, and this was featured in an Indian Motorcycle Company promotional ad touting the reliability of their motorcycles.

Robert Stubbs - Gadsden, AL. ca 1914
Robert Scarboro Collection
Gadsden Alabama Public Library Archives

Stubbs also entered a team of riders in the 1915 Birmingham Ledger Cup Race. Stubbs Team won the overall Team Championship.

Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run Competitors
O.V. Hunt 1914 - Johnny Whitsett Collection
Stubbs encouraged Walker to enter his first professional race in October 1914. Early in the race,  Walker jumped to the lead  setting a new track lap record. Walker ran with the lead pack throughout the race, which was won by new Harley-Davidson racing team member Red Parkhurst. Walker finished third. Stubbs status as a factory rider and dealer opened doors for Walker with the Indian factory. In 1915, Walker was hired by the Indian Factory and spent most of his 10 year racing career as an Indian factory rider. He would win 19 Championship races, set numerous speed records.

Gene Walker - Indian Daytona Beach Record Run - 1920
Don Emde Collection
Even with Gene Walker's departure to Indian in Springfield, Massachusetts, Stubbs other two team riders, Gail Joyce, and Richard Gayle, dominated the Fairgrounds races in October of 1915.

Stubbs Indian Ad - Birmingham Ledger October 1915
As World War 1 approached, much of Indian and Harley-Davidson's motorcycle production went to the military. This put motorcycle dealers throughout the country in a serious bind, as they had few new motorcycles to sell. They were forced to try and survive by selling used bikes, as well as repairs and parts sales. Many shops closed their doors during the war, and never reopened. This may to be the case with Stubbs' Indian shop.


Stubbs took a job with Hobie Motor Car Company in Montgomery, Alabama in 1918. Hobie also sold Harley-Davidson and Cleveland motorcycles, and Their advertising mentions Bob Stubbs was in charge of the the motorcycle shop.

Stubbs' racing injuries had forced him retire from the rough and tumble world of  the Fairgrounds dirt track racing. He left that to his young protegees like Walker. He did however, continue to compete in sidecar long distance races on a sidecar equipped Harley-Davidson.


Stubbs final mention in the national motorcycling press, came in 1919. The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company printed a full page ad in in the September 10, 1919 edition of Motorcycling and Bicycling Magazine. The ad, which featured a photograph of the 4 Harley riders, who each obtained perfect scores in the Montgomery, Alabama endurance run. Competing on a cross country course described as "a veritable river of mud, with sand, and chuck-holes by way of variation," 



Bob Stubbs rode his sidecar equipped 1919 Harley-Davidson to a perfect score. His younger sister Lucy rode he whole event as a passenger in his sidecar.  During this time, Lucy had taken a position as school teacher in a coal mining town in the mountains east of Birmingham. At the end of the school year, Lucy was walking down the dirt road to the train station in her small town. She intended to take a train back to Birmingham for the summer. She was surprised by her oldest brother Bob, the champion motorcycle racer, on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and sidecar. He had ridden from Birmingham to give her a ride back home. The event was captured in this family photo shared by Bruce Crawford.


Robert and Lucy Stubbs - 1919
Bruce Crawford Collection
In January 1920, Earl Morrison became the distributor for Indian Motocycles in Birmingham.  Morrison had worked for Robert Stubbs at his Birmingham Indian dealership, prior to leaving for the service during World War 1. 

Motorcycle Illustrated - January 1920

 Robert Stubbs passed away at his Montgomery, Alabama home surrounded by friends and family. He was just 43 years old and was buried at the East Lake Cemetery in Birmingham. His pallbearers were mostly local motorcycle racers and dealers including Gail Joyce.

Motorcycle Illustrated - June 1, 1922

Two years later, Birmingham was again shocked to learn Gene Walker, the young racer Bob Stubbs had mentored years before, had died from injuries received in a practice crash in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

The photograph below was taken, in front of the Birmingham Ledger Newspaper office at 2027 1st Avenue North in Downtown Birmingham during the 1914 Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run, and features some of the thirty one competitors, and race officials. The tall fellow standing on the back row on the right side is Bob Stubbs. The shorter fellow, just in front of Stubbs, is Gene Walker. Birmingham photographer O. V. Hunt is seated in the front row holding the newspaper. During their racing careers, Bob Stubbs and Gene Walker, were two of the most famous sports figures in Alabama. They each played a key part in early Birmingham history, and brought the city of Birmingham to national attention.


Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run Competitors
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt 1914

Epilogue:

Recently, reader Dave Hoover, contacted me after reading this story on Robert Stubbs. He stated he had purchased this trophy about twenty-five years ago. It came from an estate sale in Omaha, Nebraska.

David Hoover Collection

The etching on the trophy states: 

10 Mile Handicap
Indian Cup 
Presented by 
Hendee MFG. CO.
Springfield, Mass
Won By
Robt. Stubs 
Time 9M - 8S

The Hendee Manufacturing Company in Springfield, Massachusetts produced Indian Motocycles. The location of the event this trophy was awarded for is unknown. It probably dates from between 1909 to 1911. If anyone has any information on this event, please contact me.


Sidecar Race Trophy - 1913 Alabama State Fair
Sandra Stubbs Collection




Sources:

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Birmingham Ledger

Birmingham News

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

Bruce Crawford Collection

Chicago Daily Tribune

Chris Price@ArchiveMoto

David Hoover Collection

Don Emde Collection

Furman Family Collection

Gadsden Alabama Public Library Archives - Robert (Bobby) Scarboro Collection

Indian Motorcycles Club of France

Johnny Whitsett Collection

KMP Motos Parts Collection

Motorcycle Illustrated

Newspapers.com

New York Times

Robert (Bobby) Scarboro Collection - Gadsden, AL. Public Library Archives

The Old Motor.com

The Times London, England


24 comments:

  1. Great story! Thanks a lot. I´m sucking this informations in to my head! Honor to the Dare Devils.

    Cheers

    Andreas

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    1. Thanks Andreas. It took a while to chase this one down. Glad you liked it!

      Deadly Dave

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    2. Wow! Was this a surprise! Robert Stubbs was my Grandfather. I am lucky to have one of his trophies from Lookout Mountain and soooo proud of it. Thank you for helping his memory stay alive.

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    3. That's great! This has happened with several of my stories. Family members run across the stories and learn more about a long gone relative. One of the great parts of writing up the lost tales!

      Deadly Dave

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    4. stubbs#1fan, I recently ran across some new information and photos on your grandfather, Bob Stubbs. I've updated the article. Please check it out.
      Deadly dave

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  2. Thanks for the blog. I'm Bob's grandson. My mother was his daughter Elizabeth. You have some photos of him and Gene I've never seen. Thanks for the stories and keeping him alive.

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    1. It was a pleasure to share your Grandfather's story. I'm glad I was able to provide some photos and information you had not seen! Deadly Dave

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    2. Anonymous, I recently ran across some new information/photos of your grandfather, Bob Stubbs. I've updated the article. Please check it out.
      Deadly Dave

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    3. I have not looked at you website for a while. New info and pictures are great. Thanks again.

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    4. Thanks, As I run across new photos, or articles, I update the stories. Gene Walker's family shared that great photo of your grandfather's shop. Bob's story is one one of my most popular pieces!

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  3. Dave, Bob Stubbs was my great-uncle, brother of my maternal grandmother, Virginia Stubbs Hatcher. I've learned more about him from your blog than I previously knew. Would love to have contact with you and stubbs#1fan, above dtd 12/7/12. I'm reluctant to do this, but here goes - abc1108@bellsouth.net.

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  4. Dave I remember seeing some photo's of Robert Stubbs while going through my Original photo's, I believe they are of the Bob Stubbs here in your article
    I will let you know when I find them again, I am going through photo's to try and decide what photo's I am going to use for my article's
    thanks Scott Bashaw

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    1. Thanks Scott. There are very few photos of Bob Stubbs from his racing career. Would love to find and share some more photos from his racing days.

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  5. Thanks for a fantastic story. I read anything I can that involves the history of any type of racing, especially at the old Lakewood Speedway.

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  6. Thank you for a fantastic story.

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  7. Thank you John, the story on Bob Stubbs is one of my personal favorites! He had a long, and colorful career, and helped many local racers including Gene Walker.

    Few folks realize the important role that Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway played in early Southern motorcycle and automobile racing. Some of the early greats of tow and four wheeled racing competed there!

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  8. Hello David! It's been a while. I hope you're doing well. I wanted to send you a picture of my grandfather's trophy and pennant. The trophy is dated April 1909. I'm not sure how to send it to you. I don't see any attachment option. Also, would it be possible to contact Dan Hoover. I would like to ask him about the trophy he purchased 20+ years ago. Thanks for your help. Hopefully I'll hear from you soon.

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  9. I'm doing some research on Robert Stubbs -- he apparently had two wives, Barbara (the Mrs. Stubbs in the articles) and later about 1919 he married Annie who was 24 years old. Do you have any additional info on either wife? Thanks so much, amazing person!

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  10. After looking at this some more, I think Annie and Barbara are the same person. Barbara M. (Maiden name Krume) was born in Germany in 1879, and died is Kansas City in 1962. I think the census worker may have screwed up her age, and listed her under her nickname Annie.

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  11. Dave, thanks for the great reportage on my great-uncle, Bob Stubbs. My maternal grandmother, Virginia Stubbs Hatcher, was so proud of him. She spoke of him often. I don't know who owns the trophy, but if he's willing to sell it at an affordable price, I'd buy it to keep it in the family. My son's a motorcycle enthusiast, owning 3, including a '67 Triumph Bonneville.

    Bruce Crawford
    BruceC76@earthlink.net

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  12. Dave, do you know anything about Richard Gayle? There's a chance Bob Stubbs and he were distant relatives. The 7th governor of Alabama was John Gayle, and the library on UofAL campus is named after his daughter, Amelia Gayle Gorgas. A Sarah Gayle was Bob's gg-grandmother.

    Bruce Crawford
    BruceC76@earthlink.net

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    1. Hi, Bruce. I the past I have not been able to find much information on Richard Gayle. That said, I just found a Gayle family tree on Ancestry.com that may have him listed. I contacted the person, who created the tree, and am waiting for a response. I'll let you know if I get anything.

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