Monday, October 14, 2013

Lakewood Speedway, Atlanta's Early Racetracks - Episode #18

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

Updated - March 12, 2014

Lakewood Speedway
Atlanta, GA.


 With the opening of the Lakewood Speedway in 1917, professional motorcycle racing returned to the Atlanta. The one mile dirt oval was built the fairgrounds in Lakewood, GA. south of downtown Atlanta, and featured a large lake in the center of the track. 


The first motorcycle races where held at Lakewood Speedway on July 4, 1917. A four race program, including five, ten, and fifteen mile professional races, and a five mile amateur dash. 


Atlanta Constitution July 4, 1917

Professional motorcycle racing had been curtailed during World War 1 and both Indian and Harley-Davidson had released their factory riders.  The Atlanta race still drew top professional riders from around the South. Gene Walker, and Tex Richards on Harley-Davidsons, would face a strong group of riders including Harry Glen, Ed Wilcox, and Nemo Lancaster. They were all riding Indians for the Atlanta dealer. Walker, a former Indian factory rider, was racing a privately entered Harley-Davidson due to the suspension of the factory racing program by Indian. 

After a long hot day of horse races, the motorcycles took to the track for their races. This brought the crowd to their feet, as the riders ran neck and neck at break neck speed on the dusty one mile dirt track. Gene Walker won the five and ten mile races, with Nemo Lancaster finishing second and Ed Wilcox finishing third in both races. No results were listed for the fifteen mile race, which may have been cut from the program due to delays in the earlier horse racing program. The amateur race was won by Atlanta's J. Parmalee. 

The second motorcycle race held at Lakewood Speedway in September 1917 was marred by the death of one of the riders. On the first lap of the race, Atlanta's Ed Wilcox, who was jockeying for position, lost control of his Indian motorcycle, and crashed into the turn one fence. He died of his injuries. The crash was witnessed by his wife, who was a spectator.


Atlanta Constitution
September 4, 1917


Shortly after Lakewood Speedway opened, they revived the annual race for black riders, first held at the Atlanta Motordrome in 1913. A new group of riders, now known as "Atlanta's Black Streaks, competed in annual races until 1924. This was highly unusual in the Jim Crow south, and the coverage of the race in the motorcycling press often reflected the racist attitudes of the time.



Atlanta Black Streak Racers - 1919
By 1919, Atlanta had become the center of Championship Motorcycle Racing in the south, and the Lakewood Speedway races drew some of the fastest riders in the country. In September, top riders from around the country came to Atlanta to compete in the F.A.M. Championship races at Lakewood Speedway.

Atlanta Constitution
May 5, 1919

The entrants included Harley-Davidson riders Albert "Shrimp" Burns, and Ralph Hepburn. Atlanta's Nemo Lancaster, The Southern Champion, and Birmingham, AL.'s Gene Walker were on Indians. Walker, was the previous Southern Champion.  Gene Walker and Nemo Lancaster would also compete against each other in a five mile match race to determine the Southern Racing Champion.

Gene Walker leads Shrimp Burns
Lakewood Speedway - 1919
Furman Family Collection

When the dust settled on the days races, Walker had broken the track record, and won the one, five, and twenty mile races, along with the five mile Southern Championship race.


Gene Walker went on to become one of the top racers in the country, winning 19 Championship races, and setting numerous track records, before he was killed in a racing accident in 1924.


Atlanta Constitution - July 2, 1921
In the early 20s, the popularity of motorcycle racing began to drop off in Atlanta. This may have been due to the fact that more folks were now using automobiles, rather than motorcycles, for transportation. Lakewood Speedway shifted the focus of it's racing program, to automobiles. Several of Atlanta's motorcycle racing stars, like Harry Glenn, and Tex Richards, began to compete in the auto races at Lakewood.  This was the end of the first great period of motorcycle racing in Atlanta. The track continued to hold occasional championship motorcycle races, but there is little documentation available on this period of Atlanta motorcycle racing history.

On September 2, 1929 Olin "Easy" Pickens was killed on the first lap of a motorcycle race at Lakewood. Witnesses stated he was thrown from his bike, after he blew his rear tire, and struck the outside fence. The turn one section of the Lakewood Speedway, was very tricky, and the dust kicked up limiting riders vision was always a problem. This is the same spot where Ed Wilcox was killed in the 1917 race.

Olin Edgar "Easy" Pickens (on bike)
Daryl Pickens Collection

Waco, TX. News-Tribune - September 3, 1929
After World War II, Lakewood Speedway began to hold NASCAR stock car races. This continued until 1960, when the Atlanta Motor Speedway opened 20 miles south of Atlanta in 1960. 

On August 8, 1948 Lakewood was the scene of one of the American Motorcyclist Associations most memorable events. Riders Billy Huber and Bobby Hill finished the 10 Mile National Race in a dead heat. This is the only time in AMA history of a dead heat finish in a National Race.

#71 Bobby Hill - Indian,   #7 Billy Huber- H-D   Lakewood Speedway - August 8, 1948
Chris Price @ Archive Moto

# 7 Billy Huber - H-D,  #13 Ted Edwards -  H-D,  #71 Bobby Hill - Indian
American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame

American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of Fame - Billy Huber

The event is described in the AMA's Hall of Fame page for Billy Huber:

"One of Huber's most notable races occurred on Aug. 8, 1948, at the 10-Mile National at the Lakewood Park mile in Atlanta. Coming into the final lap of the race, Indian's Bobby Hill held a 30 yard lead over second-place Huber. Huber cut the lead in half during the first turn, holding his position on the back straight. Hitting the final turn wide open, Huber drove out of the corner on the inside and pulled up behind Hill. Capitalizing on the draft, Huber swung out with the finish line only 150 yards away, and pulled neck mad neck with Hill. Both riders crossed the finish line simultaneously in a photo finish, setting a Lakewood Park record of 7:46.47. President Benton of the Lakewood Park Speedway declared both riders winners, and both received first-prize money."


Pottstown, PA. Mercury - August 9, 1948


Lakewood Speedway - 1948
Chris Price @ Archive Moto


In 1966, the Lakewood Speedway claimed another rider. On May 15, 1966, Orlando, FL. flat track racer Dexter Campbell was competing in the AMA Dirt track Championship Race at Lakewood. Campbell led the pack into the first turn on his KR-750 Harley-Davidson, but lost control of his bike, and was thrown into a guardrail on the outside of the track.  He bounced back onto the track, and was struck by other riders. Campbell died of his injuries.


Dexter Campbell
Robbie Knight Collection
Campbell's death was eerily  similar to the death Ed Wilcox, the Atlanta rider killed in the same spot of the first lap of the Championship race 48 years earlier. 

Lakewood continued to host A.M.A. National dirt track races through the early 70s. Three time A.M.A. Grand National Champion Bart Markel made his final appearance in Grand National competition at the 1972 Atlanta National, finishing 12th.


Bart Markel
Imc.Narod.Ru Collection

On  March 16, 1973, motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel came to the Lakewood Exhibit hall for three motorcycle jumps. Knievel made three successful jumps on his Harley-Davidson XR-750. The jumps took place on Friday, March 16 thru Sunday March18, 1973. 


Evel Knieval - Harley- Davidson XR-750
The Daily Grid - blog. calendars.com
Lakewood Speedway continued to host In September 1973, Lakewood Speedway hosted the American Motorcyclist Association's Atlanta Mile National Gold Cup Races. Top riders from around the country competed in this two day event.


DadsVintageAds.com

As the focus of racing in Atlanta, shifted to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the crowds at Lakewood races dwindled, and the track was closed in 1979.  Professional motorcycle racing would not return to the Atlanta area, until Road Atlanta opened in Braselton, GA. in the early 1970s.

With the passage of time, Atlanta’s role in early American motorcycle racing history has faded from memory, but during the teens and early twenties, the city played an important role in early racing history.

Sources:

American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of Fame

Atlanta Constitution

DadsVintageAds.com

Dana Haley

Daryl Perkins Collection

Deny Haven

Furman Family Collection

Imc.Narod.Ru Collection

Jesse O'Brien

Lucille Campbell Gatewood

Mike Bell

Motorcycling and Bicycling

Newspapers.com

Professional Flat Track Memorial

Robbie Knight Collection

Terry Griffith

The Daily Grid - blogcalenders.com

3 comments:

  1. Is Valisburg still standing? I've seen something in newark that looks like a dilapidated Valisburg, yet I've never been able to find it again, and it was only 6 months ago. Anyone know if this is what I saw and/or its location?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know for sure Jimmy,but I suspect not. I've never heard of any of the track still standing. There was a September 2012 article in the paper up there detailing the 100th anniversary of the Vailsburg Motordrome accident. It is no longer online, but showed the park today, and made no mention of any of the track still standing.

      Delete
  2. No, Valisburg is now the side of houses.

    ReplyDelete