They called them “Murderdromes.”
If that’s not the kind of name to inspire a public hungry for gladiatorial spectacle and speed I don’t know what it would be…
The ‘motordromes’ of the day were lightning fast and slick circular wooden tracks surfaced with two-by-fours. They may have been modeled after the indoor tracks used for bicycle racing called ‘velodromes,’ but their steeper banking and length made the similarities end there. Riders ripped through the turns and the 60-degree banking helped them to reach speeds well in excess of 100 mph.
If you don’t think that’s all that fast, consider this: the land speed record at the time was set by Tommy Milton driving a Deusenberg at 156.047 mph – and that was in a straight line on the best road of the day.
Beverly Hills Board Track Racing (1921)
Sponsor: Indian Motocycle Company.
Preservation Details: Digital file made from a 35mm print preserved by the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.
Running Time: 6 minutes (silent, no music).
The Indian Motocycle Company, the sponsor of this film, pioneered the development of the motorcycle, and after its founding in 1901, George Hendee (America’s first national bicycle racing champion) and Oscar Hedstrom (a watchmaker who in his spare time built standard and motorized bicycles) went on to invent motorcycle racing bikes as we know them.
Indian invested heavily in specialized racing models which served as prototypes for the next generation of consumer models and dominated the racing circuits of the time. Not coincidentally, the focus on racing helped sell the Indian brand to a public hungry for speed and two-wheeled thrills.
This film was made on April 24, 1921, at the Beverly Hills Speedway in Los Angeles, California. The film is an important document in the history of motorcycle racing as it captures the short-lived Beverly Hills Speedway (1920–24) gives us all a look at the Albert “Shrimp” Burns, one of the top dirt and board track racers of the time.
Burns set a new speed record of 102.5 miles per hour for a stock motorcycle in competition at this event despite crashing – at speed – in a race earlier that day. Burns came back bloodied and bandaged to run in the final race of the day on a borrowed bike.
For all his bandaged glory and tough guy badness, Burns bought the farm just four months later at age 22 on a track in Toledo, Ohio.
We are fortunate, at least, that his moving image lives on in this precious film preserved by the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.
About the Film
The single surviving 35mm nitrate print of Beverly Hills Board Track Racing, donated by the son of a former Indian Motorcycle dealer, was preserved by the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in 2002, with a grant of contributed services from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
The film preservation work was donated by Cinetech and the video reference copy created through a gift of Erickson Archival Telecine.
The Indian Motorcycle Web site provides a good overview of the company: “History: A Legend Is Born.” For a fascinating look at the early years of motorcycle racing, see Daniel K. Statnekov’s Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing (1998), available online at his Web site, www.statnekov.com.
Check out the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum Web site for a tribute to Albert “Shrimp” Burns.
If you need to know more, and you surely do, check out The Vintagent’s story on board track racing history here…
Insuring your collectible or vintage motorcycle
As for insurance for your collectible motorcycle? You should be able to get Agreed Value coverage on a classic 1959 BSA Gold Star Catalina valued at $15,000 for somewhere around $25 a month, and that gives you the whole shooting match of coverage.
You can spend a lot less, but if you plan to ride the bikes in your collection, the above pricing is a reasonable approximation of what you can expect to pay.