Walter Davidson, an avid motorcyclist, began racing motorcycles as early as 1905 when the Chicago Motorcycle Club awarded him a first prize trophy for its “Ten Mile Open.” In 1907, he won at least three competitions in southwest Wisconsin and in 1908 he won the 7th Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) Endurance and Reliability Run. Held in New York State, he earned 1,000 points, a perfect score. The photo shows him after this victory.
Walter Davidson’s passion for racing was shared by his nephew, William H. Davidson, who earned a near-perfect score in the 1930 Jack Pine National Reliability Tour. Their accomplishments, along with those of other racers, helped bring national attention to the Harley-Davidson brand and solidify their reputation as powerful, reliable machines.
Walter Davidson wins the 7th Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) Endurance and Reliability Run with a perfect score.
Albert “Shrimp” Burns began racing motorcycles in 1913 when he was 15 years old. After several successes, he signed with Harley-Davidson in 1919. In his first race on the H-D team he won both a five-mile solo race and a sidecar event. He won several other races that year, placing first in 5- and 10-mile races and became a 100-mile champion. In 1920, he joined the Indian racing team and took the first national title of the 1920 season by winning the 25 mile national at Ascot Park. He continued to race until a tragic racing accident took his life on August 14, 1921.
Albert “Shrimp” Burns signed his first factory racing contract with Harley Davidson. He went on to become one of the country’s best racers.
Brad Andres of San Diego, California came back to Laconia, New Hampshire, and successfully defended his 100-Mile National Road Racing Championship. Performing brilliantly on his Harley-Davidson, he not only won the National title again from a strong field, but also set a great new course record of 1 hour, 43 minutes, 5.36 seconds. This new record smashes the old mark, also set by Brad in 1955, of 1 hour, 49 minutes, 46.36 seconds.
During the time trials, only two of the Class A riders circled the course in under 60 seconds. Brad Andres made it in 59.16 seconds and Joe Leonard, also on a Harley-Davidson, turned the course in 59.25 seconds. Another Harley-Davidson rider, Leon Applegate, was the only one in the 60-second bracket with 60.47 seconds. All eight events on the program were won by Harley-Davidson riders.
Brad Andres wins 100-miles National Road Race Championship.
Harley-Davidson, acquired by American Machine and Foundry in 1969, was purchased back from AMF by a group of 13 Harley executives just 12 years later. Because of AMF’s support during those years, Harley was able to remain the leader in heavyweight motorcycle sales, despite the fiercest competition the foreign manufacturers could provide. Still, employees were excited by the new prospects as the company regained its independence. It is rare in America that a company has the opportunity to “un-merge,” to stand on its own after having been part of a larger organization. Following months of negotiation and scores of meetings with legal and financial experts, Harley-Davidson once again became an independent company. With around $75 million invested in securities and cash (including the officer’s own money), there was strong incentive to run the most efficient, responsive operation possible.
To commemorate the buy-back, approximately two dozen company officers, along with their wives and select motorcycle press, made a cross-country motorcycle trek from the production facilities in York, PA to Harley-Davidson’s main offices on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. This 900-mile independence journey was also a ride to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, now the official charity of HOG. The ride followed a host of ceremonies at York which included the signing of documents that marked the ownership change, and pulling the first “new Harley-Davidson” motorcycle off the assembly line. This 4-day celebration began a new chapter in the company's exciting future.
“The Eagle Soars Alone” Buyback deal signed.
The Baja 500 is a 360-mile course that begins and ends in Ensenada on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. It is an annual off-road battle between motorcycles, cars, jeeps, and custom vehicles. On June 13, 1975 (a Friday, no less), Larry Roeseler and Bruce Ogilvie rode their SX-250 to a 250cc class win, an overall motorcycle win and they came in second out of all 375 vehicles in the race. They were the first and only Harley-Davidson riders to achieve such a feat.
Larry Roeseler and Bruce Ogilvie win the Baja 500 endurance race for Harley-Davidson with a time of 8 hours, 16min, and 53sec.
Marion, Indiana was host to three Federation of American Motorcycle races, each of which was won by a Harley-Davidson. On his single-cylinder stock Harley, Otis Hagen came in first in both the 5-mile stock-machine race and the 5-mile private-owners race. The Novelty Race, also held that day, was won by Caldwell, another Harley-Davidson rider. Additionally, Caldwell came in second in the 5-mile stock-machine race and third in the 5-mile private-owners race.
Although twin engines were introduced the previous year, single-cylinder engines were still the mainstay of Harley motorcycles in 1912. Hagen’s single-cylinder wouldn’t have had more than 4 horse power, yet his Harley was powerful enough to win him two races at Marion. In this year, Harley had 4 single-cylinder models available, two with battery ignitions, two with magneto electric engines. Each had a “Ful-Floteing Seat” and a belt drive, and two had free-wheel control. 1912 prices started at a mere $200.
Harley-Davidson sweeps Marion, IN races.
Perry Mack, one of the first men to race on a Harley-Davidson, set the one-mile record for motorcycles with a time of 1 minute, 16 seconds at Wisconsin’s State Fair Park. Other racers were equally successful, including Walter Davidson. Early on, the Harley-Davidson company was not officially involved with racing, but as time went on the successes of private racers could not be ignored. The company quickly learned the value of these amazing racing results. Racing was an effective advertising tool, demonstrating the power and speed of Harley-Davidson motorcycles to the general public. In 1914, Harley-Davidson created a Racing Department with a company-supported racing team.
The image shows an early motorcycle race from 1912.
Perry Mack, one of the first men to race on a Harley-Davidson, set the one-mile record for motorcycles with a time of 1 minute, 16 seconds at Wisconsin’s State Fair Park.
Vivian Bales, popularly known during her time as the “Enthusiast Girl,” was one of the first well-known women riders. After purchasing her first Harley-Davidson in 1926, she taught herself to ride and made her first long trip shortly afterwards. She traded in her old machine for a 1929 45 Twin D model and wrote in to The Enthusiast saying she was planning on making a cross-country trip. She started out from her hometown of Albany, Georgia on June 1, 1929. During the course of her trip, she met numerous dignitaries and Harley-Davidson dealers, most of whom went on to support her on her ride. She travelled for 78 days and even met President Hoover.
While Harley-Davidson did not officially sponsor her trip, they did provide her with two sweaters with the title “The Enthusiast Girl” on them and featured her on the cover of The Enthusiast. The company was also grateful for the good will she spread during her trip and Arthur Davidson called her “The Georgia Peach.” Vivian Bales Faison passed away on December 23, 2001 at the age of ninety-two.
Learn more about Vivian Bales, the “Enthusiast Girl,” in the Clubs and Competition Gallery at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
Vivian Bales left Albany, Georgia on a 5,000 mile motorcycle tour.