Making History in 1920

"Hap" Scherer, E. J. Henry of Firestone, and R. W. Enos pose with Ludlow in the sidecar and Parkhurst on the motorcycle

Motorcycle speed records shattered on the sand in Daytona Beach

Stormy seas greeted the Harley-Davidson team arriving in Daytona Beach on Feb.  8, 1920. For five days, "Hap" Scherer of the advertising department, racing team manager R. W. Enos, and racers Fred Ludlow, Otto Walker and Leslie "Red" Parkhurst waited while high tides wrecked the normally smooth beaches.  

They'd come south to test their machines on the sturdy straightaways conducive to high speeds, planning to bring new data to the engineers back in Milwaukee—and hoping to set new records, too. Also in town was R. A. Leavell, Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association (M. & A. T. A.) official referee, who supervised and recorded time trials and oversaw a complex, accurate electronic timing machine needed to achieve a world record. It was the only such machine in the country.   

The wait was worth it: despite the softer sand, Harley-Davidson made big headlines. It began with Fred Ludlow setting new world's professional motorcycle records by covering a kilometer in 21.75 seconds—102.87 miles an hour—on Feb. 13. Following another delay due to inclement weather and racing conditions, Leslie Parkhurst topped Ludlow's speed two days later. From there, Harley-Davidson continued to break and set records.  

Parkhurst achieved the ultimate speed records on Feb. 16. Red sped 1 kilometer in 19.98 seconds, and a mile in 32.45 seconds, each at about 111 mph, topping all world's motorcycle records at the time. This event also debuted the bullet racing sidecar. Ludlow folded himself into the sidecar and Parkhurst hurtled him down the beach multiple times on Feb.17, setting eight new sidecar records. It's no surprise that magazines later reported Ludlow was covered in bruises following these runs.  


The headlines of The Enthusiast boasted that thirty records were set during the trials. This included both M. & A. T. A. official records and unofficial records in the unrestricted class. Official professional records were set on 61-inch motorcycles per M. & A. T. A. rules, but Parkhurst achieved the fastest times on a 68-inch machine to set unofficial, unrestricted class records. In addition to professional records by Ludlow and Parkhurst, Daytona local Ralph E. King ended the trials by setting amateur records for Harley-Davidson, at speeds just under 100 mph, on Feb. 20 and 21.