Playing to a packed house, Joe Petrali, battle-scarred veteran of motorcycle competition, won the National Dirt Track Championship in four straight events on the Syracuse mile oval, Saturday, August 31. Never in better form and probably never in his career leading such a determined and capable field of competitors, Petrali brought the stands to their feet again and again with his displays of track generalship. Three records fell during the day and when the prize-winning championship helmet was placed upon his head, none who saw that little ceremony doubted that Joe Petrali was justly dubbed the National Champion of the dirt tracks.
With four former National Champions in the pits-Balinski, Petrali, Johnny Seymour and Jim Davis-and with some fast foreign jobs lined up for the classic, fast foreign machines manned by such riders as George Matheson, Goldie Restall, Paul McClellan, Andy Hader, Jimmie Ferguson and John Gustafson, even the time trials took on an air of dramatic tenseness.
It was eleven o’clock when the riders were called for the time trials. Ranking Champion Louis Balinski (JAP ) was called to the line. The crowd watched as he came down for the flag and sat breathless as he dived into the turn, all out, down the back stretch, still wide open. Into the turn and down the stretch-not a break in that steady, ripping exhaust. Captain Leavell, official timer announced the time-45:74 seconds. A wave of applause swept the stands for the speed showed that what was to follow would be a speed contest to be remembered.
Petrali was next. Nothing prosaic about these time trials! The customers began to rise even as he turned into the stretch, hugging the tanks and coaxing every drop of speed from his little mount. They howled with glee when the time was announced-44:30. The men in the pits, hardened to the thrills of such speed tussles, look at one another, speechless. Even Hank Syvertsen, Harley-Davidson speed doctor, wondered if his watch were right.
Freddie Toscani (Indian) wheeled the track in 45:30. The Indian contingent went wild, for one of their favorites was sure to be there in the final accounting. One after another they clicked off the time trials and the results were close to the 45-second mark in each case.
Then came the pay-off, when Jim Davis, who has ridden every Syracuse meet since 1921, and who probably knew the track better than any one rider in this meet, came down to the line, raised his hand and flew into the turn. In a perfect streamline crouch, a unit with his motor, he seemed to fly around the oval watches in the crowd told the storv even before the electric timer results were announced. Jim had turned the track in 44:28, and we knew that records would be wrecked that day.
A pause, and then the machines were wheeled out to the line for the One-Mile National Championship. Davis, Petrali, Toscani, Kathcart, Balinski and Hillbish were in the line-up. The motors were started and they rolled away. Starter Reggie Pink crouched, tense, with his flags behind him. The field came into the stretch and approached the line evenly. The motors roared, the green flag dropped, and the first competition event was on. When the field tore into the first turn a blanket might have covered them. When they came out onto the back stretch, Petrali was leading, Balinski close behind, with Davis, Toscani and Kathcart closely bunched behind. Into the turn, wide open, not a rider hit the button! The stands rose as a man! Which rider would come out of that turn first? A dramatic stillness fell. Then Petrali emerged from the turn, then Davis, Balinski, Toscani. Balinski swung into pace behind Petrali, Davis and Toscani shifted. All figured on jumping pace at the finish. The roaring crescendo of the motors brought the crowd to its feet, yelling. The field riders came out of pace and made their drive, but Joe had too much and he crossed the line, inches ahead. Balinski was in second place and Davis and Toscani were close. Wheel lengths separated them as they made their finish. Winning time was 44:32 seconds.