Updated: January 17, 2016
By: David L. Morrill
The story of Harley-Davidson's entry in racing in 1914, is one of the great success stories of early American Motorcycle Racing. Harley-Davidson was late in entering Championship Racing. They faced stiff competition from Indian, Excelsior, and others, who all had long histories of competition at the championship level. Harley's weapon of choice, would come to be known as the 11K Stripped Stock Racer. Although it started out as little more than a production bike stripped for racing, with hard work, and perseverance, it evolved into a race winner in less than a year.
|1914 Harley-Davidson 11K Stripped Stock Racer|
|Early Teens Harley-Davidson Racer|
Doug Olson Collection
While Harley-Davidson steadfastly avoided entering the deadly serious business of early board, and dirt track, Championship racing, they did compete in endurance run events. Around this time, road race events became popular. These events were generally run over courses made up of public road ways, and therefore did not require the specialized racing machines used in track racing.
This form of racing appealed to the Harley-Davidson management, as it highlighted both the speed, and reliability of their production motorcycles. When their customers' had success, it found it's way into their Harley-Davidson's advertising.
|Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 1912|
The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana)
October 2, 1912
|William "Bill" Ottaway|
Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
Daniel Statnekov, author of Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing, believes that the basis for the race engine was a production motor built with looser tolerances for use by police departments. This motor came to be referred to as an "A" motor. That certainly makes sense, as these early engines had cast iron top ends, and total loss oiling systems. Racing drastically increased the heat, and stress engines components were subjected to.
By July of 1914, the new racers were ready for their first test in a major race. The new racers were shipped off to Dodge City, Kansas for the biggest race of the year, the 300 Mile Coyote Classic held on July 4th.
|Harley Davidson Racing Team - 1914 Dodge City 300|
The blistering July heat in Dodge City, was a test of both man, and machine. The new racers showed competitive speed, but lacked the reliability for such a long event. Only two of the six teams bikes, where running at the end of the race.
Despite the set back at Dodge City, continued develop the racing engines. By the end of the initial development, the race motors would feature larger intake ports, manifold, carburetor, along with stiffer valve springs, a special cam shaft, and steel flywheels, and the oil pump, which was cast into the gear case cover mentioned earlier. These motor would come to be referred to as "Fast" motors.
Track testing continued, and in September, a two page ad touting the 11K's recent race track victories appeared in the September 22, 1914 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.
A few days later, Leslie "Red" Parkhurst won the 10 Mile Stripped Stock race at Wisconsin, and his team mate Roy Artley finished second.
While the Wisconsin race was a only regional race, Parkhurst, and Artley, did beat Excelsior team rider Joe Wolters. Parkhurst and Stratton had the similar results at Brainerd, Michigan State Fair's 3 Mile, and 10 Mile Stripped Stock Races.
|The Brainerd Daily Dispatch (Brainerd, Michigan) - September 14, 1914|
|Atlanta Constitution - November 15, 1914|
The 11K racers were ready for another track test in Championship event by early October. "Red" Parkhurst traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for the One Hour FAM Championship Race. He was joined in Birmingham by Atlanta racer Johnny Aiken, and New Orleans racer Arthur Mitchell, who were provided racers through the new Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer William F. Specht Jr.
The bikes run on the one mile dirt oval in Birmingham were track bikes, featuring a short coupled racing frame, and the new girder style rigid front fork pictured below.
|Arthur Mitchell at Specht's Harley-Davidson Birmingham, Alabama|
O.V. Hunt - 1914
|Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 1914|
|1914 Savannah 300 Harley-Davidson Team Riders |
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1914
Harley-Davidson made a major change to the 1915 production V twin engine, casting a new wider crankcase, with webbed reinforcement, a wider/heavier crankshaft. Several race motors based on the new 1915 motors were built, but testing proved them to be slower, than the narrow case race motors. The narrow 1914 style case continued be used throughout the life of the pocket valve race motors. It was updated several times, with new castings to adapt to changes in cylinders, etc.
Having proved the 11K racer could be competitive, in the country's most demanding races, the bike was put into production for 1915. The new racers were provided to both factory riders, and through their dealer network to select racers. There were some eight versions of the new racer listed as "Specialty Models"for sale in 1915.
|1915 Harley-Davidson 11KT|
These two photos, show the two major versions of the new 11K racer. Factory rider "Red" Parkhurst is pictured with the 11TK Track Racer, and Joe Wolters with the 11KR Roadster Racer model.
|Red Parkhurst - 11KT (left) Joe Wolters - 11KR (right)|
|Joe Wolters - 11KR (left) Joe Wolters - 11KT (right)|
According to Tech's Harley-Davidson VIV Information Guide 1910-1920 the eight variants of the 11K Racer. Production numbers are provided, when listed in the guide:
Model 11K4 - Track Racer, F head single with magneto
Model 11K5 - Roadster Racer, F head single with magneto
Model 11K12 - "Fast Motor", F head V twin with magneto
Model 11K12H - "Fast Motor", F head V twin with electrical system
Model 11KT - Track Racer, F head V twin with magneto
Model 11KR - Roadster Racer, F head V twin with magneto
Model 11KRH - Roadster Racer, F head V twin with electrical system
Model 11KTH - Track Racer, F head V twin with electric
The new racer quickly proved to be a winner, in the hands of team rider Otto Walker. In April, Walker won the Venice, California 300 Mile Road Race.
|Daniel Statnekov@Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing|
|1915 Harley-Davidson Ad|
Motor Cycle Illustrated
Bill Ottaway, took a "Fast" Motor" bottom end, removed the front cylinder, piston, and rod. With a rebalanced crankshaft, he created a "blanked off" four valve 30.5ci. single. Maldwyn Jones, who had recently come to Harley-Davidson from Merkle, won several races using the new engine. Eight valve racing V twin racing engines were also built, which used the "Fast" motor single cam bottom end. The "Fast" motor bottom end was eventually replaced by a special two cam racing bottom end.
|Maldwyn Jones Harley-Davidson Blanked Off |
Single Cylinder 2 Cam 4 Valve Racer
The production numbers for some of the 11K racers produced between 1915 and 1918 are listed on Tech's Harley-Davidson VIV Information Guide 1910-1920 as follows:
11KT (Twin - Track) - 37
11KR (Twin - Road race) -121
16S (Single - Track) - 12
16T (Twin - Track) - 23
16R (Twin - Road Race) - 82
17S (Single - Track) - 5
17T (Twin - Track) - 1
17R( Twin - Road Race) - 12
18R (Twin - Road Race)
The eight valve engines, were faster than the pocket valve motors, but did not always have the reliability to finish long races. Several of the tried and true pocket valve racers, were often entered as insure a win.
|Harley-Davidson Single cam 8 Valve racing Engine|
In 1921, the factory built several " blanked off" racing engines, using the latest pocket valve cylinders. These single cylinder racers were known as SCAs (single cylinder alcohol), as they they ran on alcohol.
|Harley-Davidson Keystone Frame SCA Racer|
Wheels Through Time Museum Collection
|Harley-Davidson SCA "Blanked Off" Pocket Valve Racing Engine|
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1914
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives
Brian Slark & Kelly Stewart@Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History
Daniel Statnekov@Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
Doug Olson Collection
Matt Walksler@Wheels Through Time Museum
Tech's Harley-Davidson VIN Information 1910-1920
The Call Leader - Elwood, Indiana - 1912