Cycle News

Cycle News 2021 Issue 26 June 29

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 130 of 139

M otorcycle racing's early days were brutal. There was little to no thought about rider safety. Instead, there are photos of 1920s- era road races where unprotected telegraph poles, fence posts, and even spectators lined the course in its fast sweepers. Countless riders were killed on America horse-racing tracks, hitting thick wooden fences with little more than a leather cap to protect them. Of all the forms of mo- torcycle racing, board track had to be the most lethal. Riders were on the very edge of traction with total- loss oiling systems wetting down the boards. An ugly front-page-making crash on a New Jersey board track that killed riders and spectators started an outcry as motorcycling as a blood sport. The link to that cruel past in our sport gradually faded, but, amaz- ingly, there was one high-profile ex-champion who, not only sur- vived the era, but lived to the ripe old age of 103. Jim Davis was the link to motorcycling's deep past, and he was sharp as a tack, grant- ing interviews all the way to his final days. I had the privilege of sitting down with Davis at Daytona in the mid-1990s. I asked for a half-hour and that turned into a 90-minute in- terview filled with amazing stories of races, motorcycles and the person- alities of a century of motorcycle racing, all told in Davis' unique and humorous demeanor. It was per- haps the most important interview I ever had the chance to conduct. Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1896, Davis' father was a bicycle racer and, as a boy, Jim also en- joyed bicycling. He started riding a Yale motorcycle when he was in fifth grade. "There were five or six other kids in my neighborhood with mo- torcycles, which still had pedals on them, and we were always racing each other," remembered Davis. "I won the first official race I entered and won a pair of rubber goggles and a quart of oil. I was on top of the world." In 1915, Davis happened to be at his neighborhood Indian dealer- ship when Frank Weschler, head of sales for Indian, came to visit. The owner of the dealership intro- duced Davis and told Weschler of the 19-year-old's racing exploits. The dealer asked Weschler if he might send Davis a factory In- dian racing machine. Davis never expected anything to come of the casual meeting, but a few weeks later the dealer called Davis into the dealership. Davis was thrilled to find a brand-new eight-valve closed-port Indian factory racer with his name on it. By 1916, Davis was well known in the area of Columbus, but he had never been out of the state of Ohio and rarely even outside his home- town. The Columbus Indian dealer took Davis to Detroit to race in the FAM 100-Mile National. Racing for the first time against unfamiliar competition, Davis, who weighed all of 120 pounds, looked at the group of grizzled veteran racers lined up for the Detroit final and considered them a pretty rough-looking bunch. Starting from the outside of the front row, Davis put his Indian first into turn one and was never headed for the entire 100 miles. "After the race, a guy came up to me and asked how much money I won," Davis recalled. "I didn't know anything about it. When I went up to the podium, they gave me a gold medal and $100. I couldn't believe my eyes! A CN III ARCHIVES P130 Jim Davis TREASURED SURVIVOR BY LARRY LAWRENCE

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Cycle News - Cycle News 2021 Issue 26 June 29