From the August 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine
“Shades of Old Ascot, Tacoma and Dodge City.” Such might have been the thoughts of any old-timer as he gazed over the field of riders and observers on the day before the 200-mile Class C speedway race in Oakland.
As the hour approached noon there were almost as many machines and men in the pits as it was expected there would be the day of the race. A sidecar outfit drove through the gates and into the infield. Red Fenwick got off and started to unload an Indian. Fenwick nursed motors when they had long distance races on Muroc Dry Lakes.
A smiling faced individual stepped up to shake hands with Red and to ask who was going to ride the machine. He was Otto Walker, one time member of the famous Harley-Davidson racing team. Before Red could reply another fellow, tall and slim and smiling, stepped up to slap Walker on the back. He was Floyd Clymer.
It turned out that the machine Fenwick was fondling was to be ridden by Fred Ludlow. Red had nursed motors for Ludlow in the old days. In fact between them they nursed as high as 127 m.p.h. out of motorcycles. At the mention of Ludlow’s name Clymer was seen to rub his palms together and Walker to fidget. “I’d like to ride myself,” said Walker, “if my rheumatism wasn’t quite so bad.”
While that group was reviewing a bit of the past, the reviewing being enlivened a bit by the appearance of Ray Garner, other groups were beginning to form. It seemed almost as though the job of trying out machines had been forgotten. There was Bill Church, Les Dreisbaugh, Ludlow, Dud Perkins, Hap Alzina and others; every one an old competitor and famous in his own right.
But what started out like an old-timer’s convention was changed into a scene of hustling activity by the arrival of Sam Arena, Tom Sifton, Ed Kretz, the Rathbuns, one Sal Gotto and several more younger faces. These boys were too busy making history to discuss it. Before long motors began to warm up and shortly after machines began to turn the oval.
As if at a signal reminiscing ceased and stop watches sprang into sight. Instead of old records being recited, cogitation over the winning time of the morrow was on every lip. Some there were who took into consideration the roughness of the track, the heat, the experience or lack of experience of Class C riders and guessed that “fifty” would take it. In opposition to these conservatives were more daring minded ones who said that night speedways had changed the scheme of things and that the world would see a Class C record nearer “forty.” Of course it was the time per lap in seconds they were discussing. “Forty” would be 90 m.p.h. and “fifty” would be 72 m.p.h.
It appeared that the boys at that time on the track were getting around in “forty-seven” and “forty-eight.” Then came the pros and cons of whether or not equipment would stand the pace. At about that time someone put a watch on a lad who it developed was getting around in “forty-seven.” By the gods, who should it turn out to be but “Mose the Second” that day and night message carrier and light lighter from Muroc. Was he having a good time? At least he enjoyed himself until he found his mother had been watching him. She greeted him with, “Well, what was holding you back?”
A fellow without a helmet, using ordinary eye glasses for goggles and with about a yard of white shirt tail streaming out behind treated the assemblage to a “forty-six” or two. When he rolled into the pits a present day rider was heard to say, “Gee, that guy wasn’t doing so bad. Who is he? I wonder if he is going to ride tomorrow?”
“Yeah that fellow used to ride some I guess,” says the buddy, “His name is Clymer. I don’t think he’s ridin’ tomorrow though.”
Then came another surprise. A fellow stepped out from behind the billboard which served as a dressing room. He was dressed in leathers such as are not seen in this present day. They fitted him like a glove. There wasn’t even a button to catch in the breeze. It was Ludlow, and he walked over to the machine which Red Fenwick had just warmed up. And all up and down the line hands were seen snapping and testing stop watches. Freddie turned 50 laps altogether and approximately 25 of them he turned in “forty-four two.”
So much for a veteran, now for an out and out beginner. Sal Gotto had never been on a race track before. The first couple of times around he was admittedly scared half to death. But as the laps piled up he began to get pace on the Clymers and Ludlows and his expression of surprise gave way to one of pure joy. Sal was going to be in the race on Sunday and was he going to have fun! Finally came the time when he was going to take one more lap and then go into the pits. He was storming into the first turn with a field of about three riders close on his tail when his rear wheel was seen to part company with the machine and start off on a tour of its own, up around the railing. All eyes were riveted on Gotto. Would he be able, the first time out to ride the thing down Ha, would he? Sal earned a good hand by sticking right with that baby until he had broadsided over fifty feet on the frame and gradually came to rest fiat down, without a scratch.
While no general agreement seemed to be reached during the testing as to what the winning time would be, it was the opinion of most of the wise heads that head work was going to be an important consideration on Sunday. There would be somewhere in all that infield set-up a combination of good rider, good machine and good pit work which would win the race. It might be either make of machine and it might be almost any pit.
A chill drifting in off the ocean and a hint from lengthening shadows soon cleared the speedway of the last hanger on. Riders went home to sleep and mechanics went back to their shops to tinker and to tune.
Sunday broke a clear warm day. In fact it was only in the early morning hours that the day could be spoken of as warm. Thereafter it was just plain hot. More than one dopester stuck his finger in his mouth and held it out the window only to bring back the finger and shake his head. “Yep, those motors are going to burn up.” Fifty will take it, if anyone is smart enough to hold her down that long.”
The newspapers of Oakland had heralded the event and many of the competitors. Many of the residents of Oakland had developed an interest- not only in riders but also in machines. In a restaurant to order ham and eggs was to get in return a vacant stare from the big blonde and-”Oh are you another motorcycle man? Well, put your money on a Harley-Davidson, big boy. Put it on Harley-Davidson. I know!”
In a beer parlor the bar tender ignored your order for suds, while with watery eyes fixed in what was a sloppy imitation of a hypnotic stare he said, “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care. But, Indian is going to win. They’ve got to win. If you are riding one of those machines next door, take my advice. Hold’er stiddy.” The fact that he was talking to a one time national champion mattered not one whit. Draining another mug, and wiping his mouth on his apron he sauntered off toward the rear, pausing only long enough to mutter a final, “Yessirrr’. An Indian and hold’er stiddy.”
Then came the track once more. The usual excitement prevailed. Those in the stands wanted to be in the pits and those in the pits wanted to be in the stands. Those by the pit gate wanted passes.
One bit of news floated over the mike and was followed by a buzz of conversation in the stands. Ludlow would not ride. Various entries were too late to comply with the rules for the occasion which stipulated that a machine must be registered in the name of the rider at least twenty days prior to the event, and his was one.
Al Fergoda, the A.M.A. referee for district 36 was everywhere. In his wake there were several flurries of wrenches as special heads were taken off and machines restored to a more virgin Class C condition. Numbers were drawn for position. Riders began to don their regalia. And finally came the line-up.
Thirty-six entries were given positions in lines of four. At the signal they dropped in their clutches and belched toward the corner. So much speculation had taken place that there were many in the stands who no doubt expected a pile-up in the first turn, right from a standing , start. In fact there may have been a few on the track who expected the same thing. Anyhow, some of the riders picked up speed with every revolution while some chose a more conservative speed from the drop of the flag.
The result was a strung out field in the first lap. By the beginning of the second lap not over ten riders were in the first bunch. That ten was however composed of speed merchants of the first water. They were setting a pace that certainly looked a bit snappier than a “fifty.”
It took several laps before the crowd got straight on the numbers of the riders. Then it was found that in the lead were such men as Cordy Milne, the night speedway national champ; Sam Arena, already famed for his riding in long distance Class C events; “Windy” Lindstrom of hill and track fame on the West Coast; Burton Albrecht, and among others, Sal Gotto.
The representation of machines was fairly even. For instance Cordy was on an Indian and Arena was on a Harley-Davidson. Albrecht was on an Indian and “Windy” was on a Harley-Davidson.
One thing was evident in those early stages. The fast boys were out there “busting the breeze” with almost complete disregard for pace or anything else in the way of team work. It was just a plain case of wide open and every man for himself. Pits were frantically clicking watches and handing out signals. But for the most part the leaders didn’t seem to think they should look at the pits until around the end of a hundred miles when it would be time for gas. The day waxed warmer, the motors looked hot and every pit was flashing “Oil.”
Before long the pits began to do business. Not from among the ranks of the leaders but from among the laggards. A few machines had already been lapped and it became evident that their lack of speed was trouble rather than conservatism. Stops were made and tinkering was done and more laps were lost, some of them never to be regained.
At the fifty mile mark it seemed as though the first wild burst was over. The pace dropped a notch as riders began to take a beating from the track and began to realize that 200 miles was going to be a long trip over the route they had bargained to ride. If they really rode in a comfortable position they were so far out in the breeze that they overheated their mounts. To stay up in front it became necessary to fold up and get in out of the wind. About twenty-five miles of that, some of the boys discovered muscles in the back of the neck and around that hadn’t been there at the start. No doubt saddle corns and just a few blisters began to sprout and grow. Anyhow the pace settled to a steady grind and that grind seemed to be at a point between “forty-seven” and “forty-eight.”
At between fifty and seventy-five miles a couple of the leaders suddenly slackened and dove into the pits. On the whole there was confusion in the pits. The best organized were not getting visitors. They were regularly signaling time, tuning and such matters.
Finally came the half way mark-refueling time. Cordy had lost his lead through a pit stop. Arena had suffered a set-back by having a punctured back tire. Lindstrom was working very close with his pits and apparently riding on a definite time schedule. Jim Young was beginning to come forward, he too apparently riding on a time schedule which if followed would finish him slightly ahead of Lindstrom. Van DeMark was mushing forward but appeared to be tiring. Jack Milne was close enough to be in the running. But the best looking bet of the bunch was the rank beginner Sal Gotto. His machine sounded almost like a sewing machine it was so quiet. He was holding his own strength, seemed to have utter confidence in himself and was nursing his mount along in superb fashion.
Signals were seen to go back and forth between Gotto and his pit, but he continued on. The crowd always favors a beginner. It was being feared Gotto would run out of gas. Each time it seemed certain he must stop, he roared on past and into another lap, he roared on him a groan went up from the crowd. Sal had stopped on the back stretch. Some said the pits kept him out until he ran out of gas. His pits reported a carburetor leak. In any event that stop was the first of two or three in fairly quick succession and then Sal was too far behind to make up his loss. He did some more fine riding, his machine did some more fine running and he actually gained back a couple of laps. In his case 200 miles was too short. The race ended before he got back out in front.
As the end of the event began to come into sight it was plain that Jim Young was a strong leader. Barring trouble he looked like a winner. At that juncture coaching from various oldtimers began to take effect. Whereas at the beginning nobody was worrying about pace, later they all wanted to ride pace. In addition some of the boys who had broken down but made repairs went back out and started helping friends. The friends accordingly were pulled up a notch or two and some of the important positions began to change.
In Young’s pit were Dud Perkins and Bill Graves. They checked their watches and smiled. Bill Graves, that wizard of motorcycle mechanics, listened and smiled. Their boy was doing all right.
In a nearby pit Claude Salmon wrinkled his brow and set forward the pace of “Windy” Lindstrom and Cliff Self. Both pits just mentioned were Harley-Davidson.
From Hap Alzina’s Indian pit signals went out to Van DeMark. Van seemed unduly tired and signaled back about some trouble. Not far behind Jack Milne took unto himself the job of working out the signal given Van DeMark.
When finishes come they come in a hurry. The referee walked out on the track with the checkered flag. The crowd rustled and leaned forward. Then down the way came Young. The flag dropped. The 200 had been won. Close upon his heels came Cliff Self, Windy Lindstrom and Van DeMark. They all got the flag. Then came Jack Milne and not too far behind him that plugger Sal Gotto.
Young finished the race quite fresh. He turned a safety lap and was signaled in by his crew. When he rolled in on the next round he pulled up to the fence and casually slipped off his helmet. Because of the track grime on his face it was hard to tell just what his expression was. But, in any event he still had his mind on his crew and his motor. He idled the motor; even gunned it a couple of times. Then he shook hands with Dud Perkins who had the suspicion of a big grin on his face. Bill Graves didn’t look so down hearted either. With that they became the center of a group of photographers and friends and enthusiasts.
Quickly “Windy” and Self were admitted to the circle and arm in arm the three posed beside Jim’s machine while the victory was recorded in stills and motion picture shots.
It was a fine race, a newcomer in the C Class. And, it was won by a perfect combination of rider, mount and pit crew.
How They Finished
1st-Jim Young San Francisco
2nd-Cliff Self Oakland
3rd-Windy Lindstrom Oakland
4th-L.K. Van Demark Oakland
5th-Jack Milne Pasadena
6th-Sal Gatto .San Jose
7th-Ed Kretz Pomona
8th-Lee Jamison San Francisco
9th-Harry Scheidt Sanger
10th-Sam Arena San Jose