When the news wires began to sing on the evening of January 19, 1936, they sang of a new road race champion. Ed Kretz, husky young sportsman from Corona, California, had done three things that day. He had won for himself the title of 200-mile road race national champion, had chalked up the first national championship for the New Year to the credit of Indian, and had added a national championship scalp to the belt of the West Coast.
It might be said the Savannah road race was started on the night of January 18th. At the Savannah hotel a rider meeting was held during which the contestants drew their numbers, listened to instructions from officials, and then voted wholeheartedly to let “sportsmanship” be the keynote of their efforts the following day. With that they retired to rest for the battle of the morrow. No doubt, though, there were many who in their dreams started bending the corners long before it came the actual day of the race.
George Blake, the Goodyear camera man and his Goodyear truck, busily engaged recording a p
Early the morning of the nineteenth riders were on the line ready for motor inspection and official examination. Mechanics were moving equipment into the pits which stretched out in a line longer than a city block. Goodyear cameramen were hustling about taking the first footage for the film of the event. E.R. Murphy, clerk of the course, was kept busy answering last-minute questions. Banter among riders good-naturedly spoke of a hot contest to come. It was a great picture, forerunning what turned out to be probably the greatest 200-mile thus far.
For weeks prior to the nineteenth dealers of the Southeastern section, together with Savannah officials, had planned every detail of the race. Arrangements had been made for the safe parking of spectators, attention given the course itself, and every possible precaution taken to safeguard the riders themselves. Even the trees near the track were wrapped with padding to provide against injury in case of a crash.
Extensive plans had been made and details worked out to provide ample checking facilities. The starting field it was found would number 68. The course was 3.3 miles long, plenty wide and, in the estimation of officials, large enough to allow all entrants to start, thus eliminating in turn the matter of elimination trials. Riders drew for position and were instructed to line up in tiers of five men each. Each line was to start 10 seconds after the line ahead. However, it was provided that credit should be given at the finish for the 10 seconds lost at the start.
Thus, riders 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 started at 1:30 P.M. sharp. The next line-riders 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, started at 1:30.10, or 10 seconds later. Then at the end of the race all those in the 6 to 10 group were given 10 seconds credit-and so it worked out clear through the field of 68. In effect, everyone started at once. Actually, they were spared the necessity of hitting the first turn in a bunch.
In the checking stand there was a caller, checker and timer for every five riders. There was one point on the opposite side of the course where everyone had to slow down almost to a stop. A counter-check was placed at that point-a master sheet being kept by several disinterested parties.
All details having been explained the night before, all that was necessary after the start of the race was for the riders to figure out the best way to get around the course the fastest.
The same kind of gasoline was used by everyone. Filling of tanks was supervised by officials and the field of 68 lined up all set for a prompt take-off at 1:30. Referee Ellis checked the entire course and then took his position ready to drop the starting flag.
In fourteen lines were riders representing 35 states. All the machines were of latest design. Engines began to roar as motors were warmed up. The crowd was on edge, fearful lest they miss a single detail of the spectacular start and the subsequent gruelling contest.