Sunday, November 1, 2015

Twice Around the Clock at the Stadium Motordrome - Episode #37

By: David L. Morrill
@ Mototique

Motorcycle Illustrated - October 3, 1912
By the fall of 1912, an exciting new sport was sweeping the country. Motordrome racing featured top motorcycle racers from around the country competing on steeply banked circular board tracks, called "Saucer" tracks for their round shape. Motordromes were built in major cities across the country, and  were typically 1/4 to 1/3 of a mile in length. They could seat crowds of up to ten thousand spectators in bleachers that surrounded the top of the tracks, and  electric lighting allowed night racing.  The best motorcycle racers in the country were hired to race on them.

New York City, boasted two of the new Motordromes just a short distance from the city. The Vailsburg Park Motordrome was in Newark, New Jersey, and the Stadium Motordrome was located in Brighton Beach, New York. These track were popular, and drew large crowds to races held several days a week.

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 1912
That changed on September 8, 1921, when popular racers Eddie Hasha, and Johnny Albright, were killed, along with six spectators in a crash at the Vailsburg Park Motordrome in Newark.

New York Times - September 9, 1912
Newark City Father's quickly closed the track, and banned motorcycle racing from the city. The Brighton Beach track stayed closed for a week in respect to the deaths of the spectators, and the two riders, who had also regularly competed at the Brighton Beach track.

Stadium Motordrome - Brighton Beach, New York
Library of Congress Collection
When the Stadium Motordrome reopened a week later, it was announced that a "Twice Around the Clock"  24 hour motorcycle race would be held at the track on September 20-21. The purse was a $5500, with the winning team of two riders receiving $2500 and a Gold Championship Cup. This was a princely sum, at a time when major races might pay $500 in gold for a win, and was clearly an attempt to draw crowds back to the track, after the tragic crash at Newark.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 1912
A total of five teams, with two riders sharing each, bike would compete in the race: 

Billy Shields & George Lochner - Indian

John Cox & James McNeil - J.A.P.

Arthur Chapple & George Spencer - Indian

  Billy Wray & William Vanderbury - Indian

 H. H. Thomas & Ray Veditz - Indian

 Earle Eckle & Herbert Ayrault were not initially entered in the event, but would play a part in the later stages of the race. All the teams rode Indian Motocycles, except the team of John Cox & James McNeil who shared a J.A.P. powered racer.  

Many racers, and fans, thought this was a foolhardy endeavor, as Motordrome races typically lasted no more than an hour or two. These races rarely involved pits stops for refueling, repairs, or rider changes. Many thought the fast, but delicate racing bikes of the time, would only last a few hours. Just how long the racing tires of that day would last on the steep wooden banking was another unknown.

Stadium Motordrome 24 Hour Competitors
Motorcycle Illustrated - October 3, 1912
At 10:10 PM on September 20th, 1912 a starter's pistol was fired and a crowd of ten thousand spectators watched as the five teams of riders took to the track. The team of George Lochner & Billy Shields, riding an Indian, quickly jumped in the lead, with the other teams in hot pursuit. At the end of the first hour Lochner & Shields led, with Chapple & Spencer in second, and Cox & McNeil in third.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912
While many thought the machines were the weak link, it was some of the riders, who were not up to the task at hand. At the six hour point, the team of Thomas & Veditz retired from the race. As the sun rose on the September 21st, many riders were complaining of leg cramps, and kidney pain. The track physician found that John Cox was having heart palpitations, and he was retired from the event.

This is the point where the race scoring started to get complicated. All the teams would spent the next 3 hours in the pits, to rest. During this break in racing, Eckle & Ayrault, were sent out on the track to keep the crowd occupied. At the end of the three hour break, Eckle was allowed to team with McNeil on the J.A.P. This was the first of several shifts in the make up riders of the teams.  At the tenth hour Vanderbury retired, so Wray teamed with Veditz.  At the twentieth hour, both Veditz and Spencer retired, leaving Wray to finish the race with Chapple.

When 10:10 PM on September 21st rolled around, Shields & Lochner on an Indian, having completed 21 hours of racing, won the race. They were followed by McNeil & Eckle in second on the J.A.P., with Chapple & Wray in third on an Indian.  Many spectators were not satisfied with the final results, and complained Eckle had been teamed with McNeil, and Eckle did not start the race. The racers were just too exhausted to make a serious issue of the final results. It was however clear to everyone, that the winning team of Shields & Lochner could have easily gone the full 24 hours.

Confusion also arouse over how many miles the top three teams had traveled during their 21 hours of racing. The winning team of Lochner & Shields were credited with having traveled 1374 miles plus two laps, some 4124 laps, around the 1/3 mile track.  It was learned track officials had estimated the number of laps each team would have traveled during the 3 hour safety break, and that number of laps was added to each teams total mileage. The Goodyear Tire Company used those mileage totals in their post race advertising.

Goodyear Tire Ad
Motorcycle illustrated - October 3, 1912
Despite the questions, race officials finalized the results, the prizes were distributed, and the first, and probably only 21 Hour Motordrome Race slipped into history. The toll this race took on all the riders, was captured in a local newspaper photograph of an exhausted Arthur Chapple taken after the race.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 22, 1912

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Library of Congress Collection

Motorcycle Illustrated

New York Times


  1. David M. writes with fuel to spark the imagination of the events easily pictured in the mind's eye ....

    1. Thank you. You are very kind. Glad you enjoyed it!