Sunday, April 7, 2013

Atlanta's, Ed Wilcox - Episode #11

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

Updated - April 16, 2015

Atlanta's Ed Wilcox
The idea for this story, like many, came to me while researching another story. I was scanning through a online copy of a 1917 issue of Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated, I ran across a report of the death of racer Ed Wilcox at the Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta. I had not heard of Ed Wilcox, and decided to see what I could find.

Edward Lewis Wilcox was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1879, and grew up in Brooks, Iowa. In 1903, he married Emma Lawrence, and in 1908 they moved to Loveland, Colorado. Wilcox went to work for the Indian Motorcycle Company.

 In 1912, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he became the manager of Harry Glenn's Indian Motorcycle dealership. Glenn was an accomplished professional motorcycle racer, who regularly raced at the Atlanta Motordrome board track. Glenn also sponsored talented local riders, who raced Indian motorcycles.

Indian Motorcycles
Atlanta, GA.

Wilcox was becoming an accomplished amateur motorcycle racer on his Indian motorcycle.  Harry Glenn, mentored his employee Wilcox, in the racing game.  As an amateur racer, Wilcox did not compete in the races at the Atlanta Motordrome. Board track racing was a dangerous affair, and was left to contracted professional racers, like Glenn.

In May 1913, Wilcox entered the professional motorcycle class at the annual Hill Climb race held on Stewart Avenue outside Atlanta. The race featured regular production motorcycles, and was not open to special racing models.  Prior to the race, Harry Glenn made an exhibition run up the hill climb course in 48 seconds on the special Indian board track racer he used at the Motordrome.

Atlanta Constitution - August 25, 1913
Terry Griffith Collection
G. L. Singleton won the amateur event, and Ed Wilcox won the professional class, with a run of 57.4 seconds. Harry Glenn finished second to Wilcox.

Atlanta Constitution May - 1913

Later that year, Wilcox competed with some of the best riders in the country in the 1913  Savannah 300 American Classic Road Races. These grueling 5 hour races consisted of 27 laps of an 11.25 mile course made up of public roadways in Savannah, Georgia. The races attracted top factory riders representing most of the major motorcycle companies. Wilcox was not among the top finishers in the 1913 race, but apparently attracted attention with his ride.

In July 1914, Wilcox was a member of the Indian Factory Team that competed in the Southern Championship Endurance Race run between Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia. At the end of the three day 860 mile event, Wilcox was one of six Indian riders that completed the race with a perfect score.

The pre-race report for the November 1914 Savannah 300 Road Race in Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review mentioned Wilcox among the returning crack competitors:

The Savannah Motorcycle Club determined the 32 entrants for the 1914 Thanksgiving Day race would be started in groups of five, with  their overall starting position determined by drawing lots. Wilcox drew the number two starting position, and started in the first group of five riders. At the end of the first lap, Wilcox on an Indian was second behind Savannah Harley-Davidson rider Zeddie Kelly. They were closely followed by Excelsior factory rider Joe Wolters.

1914 Savannah 300 American Classic

On the third lap Indian rider Gray Sloop left the course in a high speed turn, struck a tree, and was killed instantly. The accident took place in full view of a large crowd of spectators. An ambulance pulled onto the track slowing the riders and jumbling the lead positions. When the track was clear, Wilcox's Indian was unable to match the speed of the factory prepared racers, and he had faded from the lead pack. On the 19th lap, Savannah rider Zeddie Kelly, who was in second at the time, crashed heavily, and was transported to the local hospital. 

 Indian 8 Valve Racer
Barber Museum Collection

Mechanical problems forced Wilcox to retire from the race on lap 24. Indian rider Lee Taylor won the race, after leader Joe Wolters slowed with a flat tire, and finished second. Wilcox was scored in 17th place. The following day Zeddie Kelly, died of his injuries. Despite the fact the 1914 race drew the largest crowd ever for an American motorcycle race, the fatalities proved too much for the City Fathers, and this was the final American Classic motorcycle race.

Wilcox started off  the 1915 season in February, with a demonstration run on a sidecar equipped 1914 Indian up Georgia's Stone Mountain with Atlanta racer Harry Glenn.

Atlanta Constitution - February 28, 1915

On February 23,1915, The Atlanta Constitution reported the Wilcox won for races at the Augusta, Georgia Fairgrounds.

Atlanta Constitution - February 22, 1915

In April, 1915, Wilcox again competed in the Atlanta/Birmingham Endurance Run. He was among 22 riders, who finished the first day's run, with a perfect score. The overall race was won by W.E. DeGroat of Birmingham, Al. on a Harley-Davidson. No other results of that event are available.

Atlanta Constitution - April 5, 1915

On May 27, 1915, Wilcox set a new one mile track record, and won the 25 Mile Race held at the track in Fitzgerald, GA.

Atlanta Constitution - May 28, 1915

On February 22, 1916, Harry Glenn, and Ed Wilcox traveled to Augusta, GA. Glenn won the 3, 5, and 15 mile races, and Wilcox finished second in each of the three races. Wilcox did beat Glenn in the Australian Pursuit Race.

Atlanta Constitution - February 23, 1916
In November 1916, Ed Wilcox dominated the races held during the Mecklenburg, North Carolina Fair.

Motorcycle Illustrated - November 16, 1916

On July 4th, 1917, the new Lakewood Speedway opened south of Atlanta. The 1 mile dirt oval known as the Indy of the South,  hosted motorcycle races as part of their opening events.

Lakewood Speedway
A pre-race article in the Atlanta Constitution, mentioned that Ed Wilcox and M. Wise were being assisted by Harry Glenn

Gene Walker of Birmingham won both the 5, and 10 Mile races on a Harley-Davidson. Wilcox's Indian team mate Nemo Lancaster finished second, and Wilcox third in both races.

Ed Wilcox returned to Lakewood Speedway on September 3, 1917 for the Labor day races. Once again, he would compete with some of the best riders in the South, Including Gene Walker, and Tex Richards.

Atlanta Constitution - August 26, 1917

Wilcox lined up, with six other riders, for the start of the five mile motorcycle race. As the race started, Wilcox was on the outside of the pack going into the first turn. Wilcox's Indian struck the wooden fence on the outside of the turn, and he sustained fatal injuries. This was the Speedway's first fatality. Wilcox's wife and young daughter were among  the large crowd  watching the race.

Atlanta Constitution - September 4, 1917

Adams County Free Press - September 5, 1917
It was originally thought Wilcox blew a tire, causing the accident. A later investigation revealed that both tires on Wilcox's Indian had air in them after the accident.

Atlanta Constitution - September 9, 1917

Wilcox's wife Emma, and her two children, accompanied Wilcox's body back to Iowa. 

Atlanta Constitution - September 6, 1917
Wilcox, who was 38 at the time of his death, was buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Corning, Iowa.

Edward L. Wilcox's Obituary
Adams County Free Press - September 8, 1917

Edward & Emma Wilcox Headstone
Walnut Grove Cemetery
Cindy Baldogo Collection

Author's Note:

In 1979 and 1981, Dale Singleton won the Daytona 200 motorcycle race for Yamaha. He was the grandson of G. L. Singleton, who won the 1913 Stewart Avenue Hill Climb in Atlanta for Pope. Dale was tragically killed in a private plane crash in 1985, while traveling to a NASCAR event. For more information on Dale's career, clink on AMA Hall of Fame link below:

Dale Singleton - American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame

Dale Singleton - AMA Hall of Fame


Adams County Free Press

American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame

Atlanta Constitution

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Collection

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Cindy Baldogo Collection

Motorcycle Illustrated

Terry Griffith Collection

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Harley-Davidson Comes to Birmingham, AL. - Episode #10

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

Updated - June 25, 2015

Specht Harley-Davidson 1714 3rd Avenue North - Birmingham, AL.
L to R - J. Aiken, W. Specht Jr., Gray Sloop
O.V. Hunt 1914 - Johnny Whitsett Collection
In the early teens, motorcycles were a popular form of transportation in Birmingham. Many businesses in town used them for moving goods, or providing services to the growing city. Motorcycles were also raced on the one mile oval dirt track at the Alabama State Fairgrounds beginning in 1906.

In early 1914, Atlantic City Harley-Davidson dealer and racer William F. Specht Jr. moved to Birmingham and opened the first Harley-Davidson dealership in Cliff Howell's bicycle shop at 1714 3rd Avenue North. The opening of the dealership was explained in an article in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper.

Atlanta Constitution - March 29, 1914

The first wagon load of Harley-Davidsons that arrived in Birmingham was captured by photographer O. V. Hunt. Specht Harley-Davidson was located across the street from Bob Stubbs’ Indian dealership, and  they would be rivals for the next few years.

1914 Harley-Davidsons arrive in Birmingham  
O.V. Hunt 1914 - Johnny Whitsett Collection

Interior of Specht Harley-Davidson - ca. 1914

During the 1914 Southern Series , Specht and his friend and fellow Harley-Davidson dealer/rider Sloop Gray of Mooresville, North Carolina won races at Meridian, MS. , Anniston, AL. and Charleston, SC. They were featured Charleston, SC. They were featured in a Harley-Davidson factory ad in the September 22, 1914 issue of The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.

In October, Specht got a chance to challenge his rival Bob Stubbs at the Fairgrounds Raceway. Harley-Davidson factory rider Red Parkhurst beat several of Stubbs' young riders and won the F.A.M. One Hour Championship Race on the new 11-K racer.

Harley-Davidson 11K Racer (Left)
Stripped Stock Model (Right)

The Birmingham win went down as Harley-Davidson's first Championship race win, and played a key part in their advertising for the 1915 model. 

1915 Harley-Davidson Ad

A letter from Specht praising the new Harley-Davidson model appeared in a full page ad.

By October 1915, Specht Harley Davidson had moved to a new location at 310 North 17th Street.

Birmingham News - October 9, 1915
By January of 1917, the dealership had changed names to the Harley Davidson Sales Company of Birmingham, and again relocated to 1616 Third Avenue North. They were regularly advertising in publications like Popular Mechanics selling Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Pope, Merkel, and Henderson Motorcycles.

In December 1917, an article, and photograph, appeared in Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated which announced the Birmingham dealership at 1616 Third Avenue North had been taken over by Charles A. Merkel of Rochester, NY.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - December 20, 1917

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - December 27, 1917

Motorcycle dealerships throughout the country were hit hard by the shortages of new motorcycles and parts caused by America’s involvement in World War 1. Merkel's Harley-Davidson Sales Company survived the war, but he closed the dealership in 1919. 

William F. Specht Jr. returned to New Jersey, and became a top contender in National Championship Hill Climb events throughout the Northeast. 

In early 1919, Gail Joyce opened the Gail Joyce Motor Company at 1709 3rd Avenue North in Birmingham. 

Gail Joyce Motor Company - Birmingham, AL. ca. 1931
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection
Although the record is a little spotty, it appears he handled both Indian, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles until his death in 1934. His family took over the business, and were still the Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer in the early 1950s.


Atlanta Constitution

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Birmingham Alabama Public Library Archives 

Birmingham News

Johnny Whitsett Collection

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated

O. V. Hunt Collection