Thursday, June 13, 2013

Henry Hammond Springs of Augusta, GA. - Episode #15

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

Updated: June 12, 2015

Atlanta's Henry Hammond Springs -1921
Don Emde Collection

The idea for this article came to me, while I was researching the death of early Birmingham, Alabama racer Gene Walker. The June 1924 issue of Motorcycling & Bicycling had an article on Walker's death, but also included a photograph of the dedication of a memorial to Atlanta racer Hammond Springs on the second anniversary of his death.

As I looked around for information on Springs' racing career, I found there was little information available. Springs rose from a local Atlanta racer to ride an Indian  factory prepared racer in the most prestigious national race of that time. At the time, he was the youngest professional racer in the country. While much of Hammond Springs' story has been lost to time, it is time to share what remains.

Henry Hammond Springs was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1902. Tragedy came early to the Springs family. On December 26,1909, Hammond's father, Augusta Fire Fighter Edward Springs, was killed responding to a fire. Edward Springs was driving a steamer fire truck to the scene of a fire, when he was pulled from the driver's seat, and run over by the wheels. Several years later Hammond's widowed mother Mary remarried, and the family moved to Atlanta.

Growing up in Atlanta, which was the southern capital of motorcycle racing, Hammond Springs was drawn to motorcycle racing. Racing a Harley-Davidson, Springs began honing his racing skills at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway. The one mile oval dirt track, which was located south of downtown Atlanta, held it's first motorcycle race in front of a crowd of twenty three thousand spectators on July 4, 1917. 

Lakewood Speedway
Atlanta, GA.


Professional motorcycle racing had been curtailed throughout the country during America's involvement in World War 1.  Some local racing continued during this period, which allowed amateur racers like Hammond Springs, to compete with more experienced professional racers. Springs first mention in the press was as an entry for the Lakewood Races held on July 4, 1918.

Atlanta Constitution - July 4, 1918

He is not mentioned in the results. There were no motorcycle races held at Lakewood Speedway on Labor Day. The event sponsors dropped motorcycle racing in favor of Automobile races. It was probably due to the death of Atlanta rider Ed Wilcox on the first lap of the 1917 Labor Day race at Lakewood.

When professional racing returned to Atlanta in  1919, seventeen year old Hammond Springs had already made a name for himself at Lakewood racing his eight valve Harley-Davidson.

Atlanta Constitution - May 29, 1919

In June 1919, Springs had his first serious brush with the danger involved in racing. While chasing Nemo Lancaster at Lakewood, Springs struck the rear tire of Lancaster's machine. Both rider's were violently thrown from their machines, with Springs landing on his head. The spectators, who saw the crash, feared both riders had been killed. Both Springs and Lancaster required medical attention, but later returned to the track, to watch the final races. They were a bit banged up, but not seriously injured.

Atlanta Constitution - June 1919
Furman Family Collection

The caption for this photo collage from the Atlanta Constitution states:

"At the top is a scene from the northwest turn at Lakewood snapped a few minutes before the accident occurred. At the left below is Eugene Walker who regained his title as Southern Dirt Track Champion. At the right below are the two principles in the accident. Nemo Lancaster has his right foot bandaged and Hammond Springs has a cracked dome as a result of the smash-up. Neither was seriously injured as both were back on the track to witness the ten mile championship."



On July 4, 1919, Springs finished third in the one mile trial, less than a second behind Indian riders Nemo Lancaster and Tex Richards. Rain plagued the later races, and Springs was unable to keep up his earlier pace on the wet track.


In August 1919, Hammond Springs was involved in one of the more unusual stories of early Atlanta motorcycle racing. Each year, small group of black racers competed in an outlaw race at Lakewood Speedway billed as the Grand Colored Motorcycle Championship Race. The event drew large crowds from Atlanta's black community.

While the Atlanta Indian and Harley-Davidson dealers were not directly involved in the race, several of the racers worked for them, and they often provided back door support. This may not have been purely philanthropic on the dealers part, as large side bets were often placed between them on the race outcome.

Hammond Springs had recently switched to riding for the Atlanta Indian dealer Harry Glenn, and his mechanic was black racer Hal "Demon" Wade. After Wade complained to Springs that his tired 1912 Indian racer was not up to the challenge, Springs took matters into his own hands. Without permission, Springs and Wade snuck in the Indian shop on the night before the race, and removed the new big valve racing engine from Springs' racer. Then they installed it in Wade's 1912 racer.

Atlanta's Hal "Demon" Wade - 1919

The competitive engine  allowed Wade to easily win the final race. The story came out in an article in Motorcycling & Bicycling, and in Jim Crow Atlanta, it could have certainly put an end Springs' racing career. Springs' sponsor won a tidy side bet on the race outcome with the local Harley-Davidson dealer, and all was forgiven.

With Hammond Springs success in the July 4th Atlanta races, Harry Glenn was anxious for his young rider to begin professional competition. Glenn convinced Springs' Mom to allow the 17 year old to enter the Labor Day races at Lakewood.


The Labor Day motorcycle races returned to Lakewood Speedway  in 1919. They drew large crowds and a big purse, which attracted the best riders in the South. Hammond Springs race ended with a blown engine on the first lap of the race. Rumors at the time had Hammond springs going to the Harley-Davidson team for the 1920 season.

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 18, 1919.
On July 5, 1920, Hammond Springs won the 10 mile Race at Lakewood defeating both Tex Richards and Harry Glenn.

Atlanta Constitution 
July 6, 1920

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - July 8, 1920

By 1921, Springs was making a name for himself racing in national championship races around the country as a member of the Indian Factory racing team.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - September 1, 1921
Indian dispatched a large team of riders, including Hammond Springs, to compete in premier race of the year, the Dodge City 300. Indian's Shrimp Burns turned the  fastest lap in the time trials with Hammond Springs, and Johnny Seymour tying with the 5th fastest lap.

Atlanta Constitution - June 12, 1921



Harley-Davidson dispatched a large team of riders, with Ralph Hepburn and Otto Walker setting the second and third fastest laps. As the race started, pole sitter Shrimp Burns, pulled out with mechanical problems. The heat, and the length of the race took a toll on several of the other Indian riders, who slowed with mechanical problems. The race was won Harley-Davidson's Otto Walker. The only bright spot for Indian, was Johnny Seymour's second place finish. The remaining top finishers were all Harley-Davidson mounted.

After the Dodge City race, Hammond Springs traveled to the Indian factory in Springfield, Massachusetts. During that visit, he was photographed on his Dodge City racer on the factories roof.

On August 15, 1921, Hammond Springs won the 10 Mile Professional Race on the one mile dirt track at Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Springs edged out Harley-Davidson's star rider, Jim Davis, by just two feet at the finish. Davis had won the 5 Mile Professional Race, and set a new track record earlier that day, with Springs finishing fourth.

On May 17, 1922, an article appeared in the Atlanta Constitution on local riders Nemo Lancaster and Hammond Springs entering the upcoming race at the Lakewood Speedway. In describing Springs, the article stated:


Atlanta Constitution
May 17, 1922


On May 20, 1922, Springs won the 10 Mile National Race at the Lakewood Speedway. This was Springs first win in a National Championship race, and it came in front of his hometown crowd. He also defeated local Champion, Nemo Lancaster, and his Indian teammate Gene Walker. This was the highlight of Springs career.


Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - May 25, 1922

Atlanta Constitution
May 21, 1922

But, as fate often has it in the racing game, Springs' greatest triumph was followed only nine days later by tragedy.

On May 30, 1922, Hammond Springs traveled to the half mile dirt track at Springbrook Park in South Bend, Indiana. Springs was leading the last race of the day, with Dayton, Ohio rider Eddie Brinch close behind. They collided throwing both riders from their machines. Brinch sustained a broken collarbone, but Hammond Springs died of his injuries that evening in a South Bend Hospital.

This article from Wichita Daily Eagle contains the last known photograph of Hammond Springs racing. At the time the article was written, it was boot known he had died from injuries.

Wichita, KA. Daily Eagle - May 30, 1922

The death of the daring young Atlanta rider was reported in newspapers across the country.


Atlanta Constitution - May 1922
Wichita, KA. Beacon - May 31, 1922

The coroner's inquest found the death was a racing accident and cleared both riders of responsibility for the fatal accident. Springs was nineteen, when he died. Hammond Springs was returned to Atlanta, and buried at West View Cemetery.


On the day of his funeral, Springs received a motorcycle escort to the cemetery from both the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Motorcycle Club. Atlanta motorcycling notables Harry Glenn, Hal Gilbert, Nemo Lancaster, Harry Vismore, and Charlie Hages were pallbearers at his funeral. Atlanta's motorcycle shops were closed the day of his funeral, as an act of respect for Springs family.


Hammond Spring's Funeral Notice
Atlanta Constitution 
June 3, 1922

Springs was a hometown hero in Atlanta, and on the second anniversary of his death, an elaborate memorial was dedicated at his grave site. It features a stone reproduction of the loving cup trophy, Springs received for his first race win at the Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated
June 1924


Henry Hammond Springs Memorial
West View Cemetery Atlanta, GA.

Bertha Avery Hood Collection - 2011

In the December 1922 Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated reported that Hammond's brother, Clarence Springs, had taken over long time Atlanta Harley-Davidson dealer, Gus Castle's, Atlanta business interests.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - December 28, 1922


Author's Note:

Special thanks to Don Emde and Mike Bell for their contributions to this story.


Sources:

Atlanta Constitution

Bertha Avery Hood Collection

Don Emde Collection

Find A Grave.com

Furman Family Collection

Mike Bell Collection

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated

Stephen Wright - American Racers 1900-1940

Wichita, KA. Beacon

Wichita, KA. Daily Eagle

Wikipedia.org



9 comments:

  1. I am really shocked by the info of this website and i am glad i experienced a seem over the weblog. thank you so a lot for sharing this sort of wonderful data.
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    ReplyDelete
  2. Great story of this motorcycle racing ledgend

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  3. Dave, do you mind if I use some of your pictures in this article on my ancestry page? Henry Hammond Springs was my grandmother's cousin.
    Thanks.
    J. McRae

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  4. J. McRae, no problem. That's one of the reasons I write these stories. Have been contacted by many relatives of the folks I write about, and it's always a pleasure to share information they were not aware of.

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  5. I also contribute to Find A Grave.com, and added them to Henry's online memorial at West View Cemetery:
    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=springs&GSiman=1&GScid=37684&GRid=68345617&

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  6. Thanks Dave. Do you think the man standing behind him in the first picture is his brother Clarence? They look a lot alike.

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    Replies
    1. Not sure which photo you are referring to. I have never seen a confirmed photo of Hammond's brother, but it's possible that's him standing in the background of the photo with racers Dryer, Walker, Springs, and Jones. The fellow in the background is not identified. If you have a family photos of Hammond, or Clarence Springs, and are willing to share them, I'll add them to the story.

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  7. I'm referring to the main picture of your blog. The man with his hands on Hammond's waist.He has the checkered hat and floral tie on. He looks like the same man in the picture you're referring to. The only picture I have is from when they were children so it's hard for me to compare.
    Thanks.

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  8. The Indian rider you are referring to in the Blog cover photo is Gene Walker of Birmingham, AL. It was taken at his first professional race at Birmingham in October 1914. This was before Hammond started racing, but Walker and Hammond were teammates, and raced against each other at Atlanta, and probably several other tracks. Walker was killed in a practice accident in Pennsylvania in 1924.

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