h-d racing history

A RICH RACING HERITAGE

A RICH RACING HERITAGE

 

In 1921 a motorcycle won a race with an average speed of more than 100 mph for the first time in history. That motorcycle was a Harley-Davidson. It wasn't the first time a Harley-Davidson set a record, broke through a performance barrier or raised the bar in racing.

It would not be the last time, either.

For more than 100 years, Harley-Davidson has been synonymous with excellence in motorcycle racing, and those high expectations will pace the 2010 season as well.

"Harley-Davidson motorcycles were raced almost from the very beginning of the company, first by independent owners, and then by an official racing department in 1914," said Bill Jackson, Manager of Harley-Davidson Archives. "Racing symbolized the ultimate in motorcycle challenge." Though Harley-Davidson was one of the first motorcycle manufacturers - building a bike in 1903 - that position was challenged by more than 150 other companies that entered the marketplace by 1911.

Racing, however, would quickly differentiate Harley-Davidson from the rest of the field. In fact, it would lay the groundwork for a century in which the company not only became the most-dominant motorcycle race team in history, but also the most respected manufacturer in the business.

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WINNERS FROM THE START

WINNERS FROM THE START

 

An indication the company might dominate racing came early. In 1908, Walter Davidson, president and co-founder of Harley-Davidson, rode a stock single-cylinder machine to victory in the Federation of American Motorcyclist endurance and reliability contest held on the dirt roads of the Catskill Mountains of New York. Of the 65 competitors competing in a grueling two-day, 365-mile event, nobody performed as well as Davidson. He and his machine earned the only perfect score.

A few years later, Harley-Davidson added speed to the equation by setting a new record at the 1912 Bakersfield Road Race in California. Whether it was an endurance test through muddy back roads, or speed races on the wooden board tracks popular at the time, Harley-Davidson-supported racers - eventually known as the "Wrecking Crew" – were untouchable.

"In racing, Harley-Davidson was the king and the winner's circle was its throne," said Jackson.

The onset of World War I suspended the racing schedule, but by the 1920s the company was back in the winner's circle. And not only did the "Wrecking Crew" win, but they shattered speed records as they did it. In 1921, the Harley-Davidson team became the first to win a motorcycle race at an average speed of more than 100 mph.

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PETRALI - THE NAME MEANT VICTORY

PETRALI - THE NAME MEANT VICTORY

 

Through the 20th century, several riders would uphold the tradition and pride of Harley-Davidson Racing, but the man who laid the groundwork for it all was Joe Petrali.

"Every sport has had its legendary heroes," said Jackson. "The sport of motorcycle racing had its own hero, Joe Petrali, a star whose championship performances have never been matched and not even approached."

In a six-year stretch between 1931 and 1936, Petrali amassed the most National points five times. In 1935, perhaps his best season, he won every race on the 13-stop National schedule. In 1937, Petrali set a speed record of 136.183 mph by piloting the 1937 Model E 61 cu. in. V-Twin Streamliner at Daytona Beach. He also won the National Hillclimb Championship eight years running, beginning in 1929.

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THE DOMINANCE CONTINUES

THE DOMINANCE CONTINUES

 

Racing again was halted during World War II, but afterwards, even with Petrali gone and the team driving older, pre-war designed WR and WRTT models, Harley-Davidson left no doubt who would remain in charge. In 1947 alone, Harley-Davidson racers captured the National TT, National Miniature TT and Nationals at Richmond, Va., Springfield, Ill., and Milwaukee, Wis.

In 1948, Harley-Davidson won 19 of the 23 National events, including a dominant performance at Daytona in which seven of the top 10 finishers rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In 1949, Harley-Davidson won 19 out of 24 National races.

However, by 1952 even the powerful WR and WRTT model racers were showing their age against newer and lighter designs from Europe. Harley-Davidson quickly countered with the KR, a nearly clean-sheet design built on the experiences of the WR, but which placed the side-valve engine in a smaller, lighter and stronger package. For the next 17 years, the KR and KRTT models were rarely beaten. Indeed, from 1953 through 1969, the KR and KRTT would bring Harley-Davidson 13 victories at Daytona, America's most prestigious road race.

In the National points chase, KRs won on dirt as well. Factory rider Carroll Resweber won the National Championship four years running, from 1958 to 1961. Resweber's record string of championships held until Harley-Davidson's Scott Parker broke the mark with five straight championships between 1994 and 1999.

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RACING OVERSEAS, AND THEN GOOD-BYE

RACING OVERSEAS, AND THEN GOOD-BYE

 

Harley-Davidson and Walter Villa won the 250 World Championship in Europe from 1974 through 1976 aboard the RR-250 and followed up with the 350cc crown in 1977. Meanwhile in America, Harley-Davidson unfortunately had been forced to wind down its road racing efforts. After winning at Daytona in 1969, the road racing program struggled as the motorcycle manufacturer entered a period of financial difficulties and could no longer support a team. Though the company would continue to dominate dirt track, and would make a brief return to Daytona in the Battle of the Twins in 1983, Harley-Davidson effectively said goodbye to road racing in 1973. But it was just a matter of time before it returned.

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THE REBIRTH OF A LEGENDARY TEAM

THE REBIRTH OF A LEGENDARY TEAM

 

In 1994, Harley-Davidson returned to the top level of professional road racing with the VR 1000 Superbike Race Team. Despite memorable performances during its eight-year run, including a pole position in 1996 and podium finishes by Pascal Picotte in 1999, Harley-Davidson concluded in 2001 that the VR 1000 was at the end of its development cycle and was no longer competitive in the AMA Superbike series. While the program was ended following the 2001 season, the VR 1000 Superbike racing program helped Harley-Davidson develop and refine technologies such as liquid-cooling and electronic fuel injection. The program also led to the development Harley-Davidson's first production liquid-cooled motorcycle, the 2002 VRSCA V-Rod.

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SCREAMIN' EAGLE® DRAG AND FLAT TRACK RACING TODAY

SCREAMIN' EAGLE® DRAG AND FLAT TRACK RACING TODAY

 

Harley-Davidson launched the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team in 2002 with rider GT Tonglet to compete in the NHRA Drag Racing Series, the top professional level of motorcycle drag racing. Harley-Davidson teamed with Vance & Hines Motorsports, winner of 23 NHRA titles, to develop a V-Twin engine that would be competitive with the four-cylinder engines prevalent in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. During a first season devoted to development, the Screamin' Eagle V-Rod showed promise but did not qualify for an NHRA event. In 2003, Andrew Hines joined the team as a second full-time rider and a Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines V-Rod qualified for each of 15 events on the Pro Stock Motorcycle series and made the final round of eliminations at two events, the first time a Harley-Davidson had made a Pro Stock final since 1980.

Two seasons of hard work and perseverance paid off in 2004, when the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines team won the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship. During the season, 21-year-old Hines won three Pro Stock Motorcycle events, set the national Pro Stock Motorcycle E.T. record of 7.016 seconds, was the No. 1 qualifier seven times, and became the youngest professional champion in NHRA history. Hines and teammate Tonglet qualified for all 15 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle events, combined to advance to the final round of eliminations five times during the season, set 13 track E.T. or top-speed records, and faced each other in the final round of the K&N Filters Pro Bike Klash bonus event, which was won by Hines. It was the first NHRA title won by Harley-Davidson and the first won by a V-Twin-powered motorcycle.

The winning continued for the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines team in 2005. In fact, it got better. Hines earned his second consecutive NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship with the help of two victories in five final-round appearances. He was the low qualifier of the event 10 times and reset the national E.T. record twice. Tonglet turned out to be his biggest competitor. Tonglet earned two victories in three final rounds and was the points leader following seven events. Tonglet also earned two low qualifier awards and finished a career-best second in NHRA points.

Hines joined elite company in 2006. He not only won his third consecutive NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, but also he became just the third rider in NHRA history to earn three consecutive titles, joining his older brother Matt Hines and Angelle Sampey in that select group. Hines won three races in five final rounds to claim his third championship.

Hines fell short of winning the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship in 2007, but the season was record-breaking for him in other ways – he won a career-best five-of-seven final-round appearances and set a career-best elapsed time of 6.91. Eddie Krawiec joined the team in February – just in time for the March season opener in Gainesville, Fla. Krawiec earned a trip to the semifinals in that first race with the team. Krawiec then went on to finish in seventh place overall and made two final-round appearances during his inaugural NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season.

It was Krawiec who brought the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship back to Harley-Davidson in 2008. Krawiec qualified seventh for the five-race Pro Stock Motorcycle Countdown to One playoff, and then won 14 of  20 possible Countdown rounds to win the championship in the semi-final round of the final event of the season. He also holds the distinction of being only the second racer in NHRA history to earn a national title without winning a national event during that racing season. Krawiec defeated his teammate, Hines, to win the Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle at Indianapolis, the fifth consecutive year a Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines rider has won that bonus event.

In 2009 Krawiec was a winner, and defended his title with an outstanding season. He appeared in the finals 10 times and won five of those races. He also placed second in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs during the final five races of the season, just two points shy of repeating as champion. His Screamin’ Eagle / Vance & Hines teammate, Andrew Hines, won three events in four final-round appearances, and for the fourth time won the Ringer Gloves Pro Bike Battle bonus event in Indianapolis. Over a three-race stretch (Norwalk, Denver and Sonoma), Hines and Krawiec both advanced to the final round of eliminations. All totaled, the Screamin’ Eagle / Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rods won eight of 17 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle events in 2009, the best results ever for the team.

During the 17-race 2010 NHRA Full Throttle drag racing season, Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines riders Hines and Krawiec combined for seven event wins, 11 final-round appearances, and two national ET records. Both Hines and Krawiec qualified for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Hines finished in second place. Krawiec was third.

Krawiec won his second NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship in 2011. During the season Krawiec made six final-round appearances and won four times. He was the number-one seed for the Countdown, and made four final-round appearances in six Countdown events, winning twice to take the title by 90 points. Krawiec set a new Pro Stock Motorcycle top-speed record of 199.26 mph at Gainesville in 2011. Hines made three final-round appearances and won twice in 2011, qualified for the Countdown, and finished the season in third place.

The Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines team enjoyed an outstanding season in 2012. Riders Krawiec and Hines won 15 of 16 events on the season schedule, at one point scoring 13 wins in a row. Krawiec successfully defended his Pro Stock Motorcycle title in 2012, dominating the class with nine wins in 11 final-round appearances, twice winning at three events in a row. He was the top qualifier for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and won the championship by 82 points. On March 2, 2012, Krawiec set a new NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national Elapsed Time (ET) record of 6.750 seconds at Gainesville, Fla., a mark that was surpassed later in the season by his Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle/Vance and Hines teammate, Andrew Hines. In 2012 Hines scored a career-best six event wins in 11 final-round appearances, and on Oct. 9, 2012, set a new Pro Stock Motorcycle national Elapsed Time (ET) record of 6.728 seconds at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. Hines qualified for the Countdown to the Championship playoff series, and finished second in season points.

Harley-Davidson can do more than just win in the quarter-mile drags. The Harley-Davidson XR750 has dominated on the dirt flat tracks for a generation, in the hands of the Harley-Davidson factory team and independent racers. In 2011 Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle factory team rider Kenny Coolbeth will be racing for a fourth AMA Grand National Twins series championship. Coolbeth joined the Screamin’ Eagle team in 2006 and won three races and finished on the podium at three more to take his first AMA Grand National Twins title. In 2007, Coolbeth won six times and finished in second place three times to notch another championship. Coolbeth won six of 13 races on the 2008 AMA Grand National Twins series, and finished on the podium at four other events to lock up the championship with two races left on the schedule.

Coolbeth lost his opportunity to win a fourth-consecutive Grand National Twins championship in 2009 when he was injured in a training accident prior to the Labor Day weekend race at the Springfield Mile on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. A broken shoulder kept Coolbeth, who was leading the series in points following a stirring win at the Indianapolis Mile, from racing that weekend. Blue Springs Harley-Davidson/Screamin' Eagle rider Jared Mees finished second at Springfield and opened a 15-point lead on Coolbeth with just the final race at Pomona left on the schedule. Mees, a member of the Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew, became the first champion in the long history of the Grand National series to claim the title without winning a race during the season. In 2010 Coolbeth won on the Canterbury Mile, made six other podium appearances in 16 races, and was sixth in series points. Riding in the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track series for the Harley-Davidson Factory Team, Coolbeth won at Hagerstown, made two other podium appearances, and finished the season fourth in points. Coolbeth’s 2012 season was interrupted by injury, as the Harley-Davidson factory rider broke his leg during the Lima, Ohio, race on June 30. Coolbeth missed two additional races during his recovery, but returned to scored wins at Knoxville, Iowa, and Pomona, California late in the season, and finished seventh in points. Rogers Racing/Blue Springs Harley-Davidson rider Jared Mees claimed his first AMA Grand National championship in 2012.

Harley-Davidson Motor Company produces heavyweight custom, cruiser and touring motorcycles and offers a complete line of Harley-Davidson motorcycle parts, accessories, riding gear and apparel, and general merchandise. For more information, visit harley-davidson.com.

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