Thursday, February 2, 2017

Montgomery, Alabama's Van Diver Park Race Track - Episode #40

By: David L. Morrill
@ Mototique

Updated - February 17, 2017

This episode is a continuation of my search for early Alabama motorcycle racing history.

In the early 1900s, motorcycle racing was sweeping the country drawing large crowds of spectators to local horse tracks, and the new wooden  motordromes. By 1909, Birmingham, Alabama was the established motorcycle racing capital of Alabama. The Alabama State Fairgrounds Raceway began holding motorcycle races in July 1907. Birmingham Indian Motocycle dealer, Robert Stubbs, was recognized as the Southern Champion. Stubbs was a member of the Indian Factory Racing Team, that set several speed records at Ormond Beach, Florida in March of 1909.

Robert Stubbs - Ormond Beach, Florida - March 1909
Chris Price @ Archive Moto

Montgomery, Alabama's Capital City, would soon follow Birmingham in embracing the motorcycle racing craze. In 1907, the legislature of the State of Alabama passed a bill funding upgrades to fairgrounds around the State of Alabama. The Montgomery County Fairgrounds was the recipient of $8,500. to up grade their facilities. Among the improvements added in the next year, was a large horse track. The exact length, and dimensions, of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds track at Vandiver Park are lost to time, but from the few surviving photos, it appears to be a 1 mile oval dirt track. Horse racing was a popular fair exhibition, and with the increasing popularity of automobile racing, the Vandiver Park track also began hosting automobile meets. Motorcycle racing was soon to follow.

In May of 1909, a motorcycle race was included at the Fairgrounds race track Automobile Meet. Bob Stubbs traveled to Montgomery, and "easily won the 5 mile handicap." Stubbs also rode a 5 Mile Exhibition for the crowd that day.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - May 5, 1909

When the professional motorcycle races held in conjunction with the 1910 Montgomery County Fair during October rolled around, Bob Stubbs again dominated, and his win received coverage in the national racing press.

Motorcycle Illustrated - November 1, 1910

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 29, 1910
With the formation of the Montgomery Motorcycle Club in mid 1911, amateur racers were ready to tackle the big  dirt oval. The club held a members only session at Vandiver Park in late August 1910, and planned a regular race in September. These events were mentioned in the September 7, 1911 edition of Motorcycle Illustrated magazine.

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 7, 1911
On September 26, 1911, the club hosted it's first amateur race. The proceeds from the race went in support of the Anti-Tuberculosis League of Montgomery.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 9, 1911
In October, 1911, the Montgomery County Fair returned to the Capital City, hosting both amateur, and professional motorcycle races. Just a week before the fair, Bob Stubbs, received a serious eye injury during a race at Birmingham. While Stubbs was on his way to a full recovery, his wife convinced him to retire from track racing. This opened the door for one of Stubbs' sponsored riders, Gail Joyce to replace Stubbs.

Bob Stubbs Indian Riders -Birmingham, AL. ca. 1913
Richard Gayle, Gail Joyce, Gene Walker
Furman Family Collection
This would not be a cake walk for Gail Joyce. He would face serious competition at the Montgomery race from Texas rider Eddie " The Texas Cyclone".  Hasha, who was quickly proving he was one of the best riders in the south. In September of 1910, Hasha had defeated Bob Stubbs at Waco, Texas riding an early Harley-Davidson racer loaned to him, by Harley-Davidson co founder Arthur Davidson.

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 15, 1910
This was a rare move for Harley-Davidson, who had up to that point had avoided the deadly business of track racing. For the Montgomery race, Hasha, like Gail Joyce, would be back on his Indian twin cylinder racer.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 28, 1911
When Hasha, and Joyce squared off on the track, later that week, Hasha won three races, with Joyce claiming two races. Period press accounts sometimes confuse Gail Joyce's first name, with his Stubbs Indian teammate Richard Gayle's last name.

Eddie " The Texas Cyclone" Hasha - 1912
The next race event held was held in conjunction with an aviation, and automobile exhibition at the Spring Celebration on March 4, 1912.
Motorcycle Illustrated - March 7, 1912
That event was followed up on March 10, 1912, holding the races that had been rained out the previous weekend.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - March 16, 1912
Sadly, on September 9, 1912, Eddie "The Texas Cyclone" Hasha, along with fellow rider Johnnie Albright, and 5 spectators were killed in a horrendous crash at the Vailsburg Park Motordrome board track in Newark, New Jersey.

Asbury Park, New Jersey Press - September 9, 1912
I have been unable to find any further mention of motorcycle races at the Vandiver Park track in the period motorcycle press. There is however one item I found, which may explain why the track did not hold more races. During the 1912 Montgomery County Fair, Aviator Louis Mitchell was killed in a crash barnstorming over the Fairgrounds track. This followed a similar fatality during the fair in Birmingham a week earlier. Some ten thousand spectators observed the Vandiver Park crash, and City father's may have re-evaluated such dangerous exhibitions, and races.

Greenville, Alabama Advocate - October 30, 1912
The racetrack at Vandiver Park had been used as a training site for Alabama National Guard units beginning in the early teens. With America's build up to entering World War 1, the Vandiver Park racetrack/Montgomery County Fairgrounds site was condemned. It was taken over by the United States Army, as a training site in 1916, and renamed Camp Sheridan. It was just 50 years from the end of the Civil War, and having a U. S. Army camp named after a prominent Yankee general just a few miles from the original Capital of the Confederacy, was probably not very popular with some Montgomery residents.

 While I was unable to locate any period racing photos of the track, a portion of one of the dirt track's turns and straight away can clearly be seen between the building in this photo of Camp Sheridan.

Camp Sheridan @ the old Vandiver Park Race Track - ca. 1917
State of Alabama Archives
Camp Sheridan was mentioned one final time in the February 7, 1918 edition of Motorcycle Illustrated magazine. The article was about a visit by the Goodyear Friars of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. The Friars were entertaining former Goodyear employees, who were receiving Army training at both Camp Sherman in Ohio, and Camp Sheridan in Alabama.

Motorcycle Illustrated - February 7, 1918
The site of the old Montgomery County Fairgrounds and race track is marked by a State of Alabama Historic Marker, recognizing it as the scene of Camp Sheridan during World War 1.


Asbury Park, New Jersey Press

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - Smithsonian Collection

Chris Price @ Archive Moto

Furman Family Collection


Greenville, Alabama Advocate

Motorcycle Illustrated - Hathi Trust Collection

State of Alabama Archives

State of Alabama Historic Markers

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