Ed Kretz Wins The 200-Mile National Road Race Championship

West Coast entrant rides an Indian to the first National Championship of 1936, at Savannah

By E.c. Smith, Photography by Unknown

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.

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.

Then it came. The chief timer let down the signal to Referee Ellis who, in turn, gave the flag to the first tier. Away went five riders with but one thought, to get over the line first at the end of 200 miles. Ten seconds later the second tier roared into action; another ten and the third group, and so on until all 68 motors were flashing about the course.

As the boys left the starting line they had a long stretch of gravel or coral road. At the finish of the stretch was a short left-hand turn, banked some but rather loose, straightening out onto a short stretch of gravel. Then came another turn which led them out onto a mile and a half of macadam road down which they really “smoked.” Another turn took them back onto the gravel stretch which led back to the starting line.

The first group speeded around the course and roared toward the line. No. 2-“Wild Bill” Brady, and No. 11-Ed Kretz, were in the lead and they were setting the dizzy pace of 95 m.p.h. Sharp behind was the second group and in a flash it was by. From there on it was any man’s race.

Kretz took the lead in the first lap and that position he held until it was time for him to stop and refuel.

As will be noted by the lap report accompanying, riders began dropping out for one cause or another from the moment they had finished the first lap.

Very early in the race-after 2 laps-J.B. Anderson, Indian dealer from Columbus Ga., over-rode a turn and suffered an injury which was to end in a fatality. When he left the course the crowd miraculously split before him and Anderson crashed a tree far back from the track. He was rushed to the hospital, but died soon after.

Early in the race pit men began to get signals-“plugs,” “oil,” “tires,” etc. Those same pit men gave the crowd new thrills by putting out some record service. Less fortunate were some outfits which limped into the pits and stayed there.

Ralph Edwards and Buck O’Neil, part of Savannah’s hopes in the race, suffered a spill. Buck’s motor got to missing. He stopped at the pits, and it cost him 5 laps to find that a ground wire had suffered in the fall. With it tightened up, Buck took off again and rode like he really meant it.

When Kretz stopped for gasoline the lead changed. First L. Hilbish of Reading was out in front; then Al Chasteen from Oakland decided he liked the open spaces; then Babe Tancrede put in a bid for pace setting. In fact, within 15 laps there were almost that many different leaders. By that time nearly everyone had stopped to refuel.

The Indian crowd began pulling for Kretz in earnest. At the same time the Harley-Davidson crowd started rooting for Tancrede, who most surely was getting his bearings and forging ahead.

Along with Babe, that boy George Pepper started making the rounds in fast style. At one time Pepper was in front. No doubt he began to see first prize money in his hand, and at the time it really was his. But, just then he went into the turn and chopped. When he came off the button it was still cut out. He had fouled a plug and, of course, lost time putting in another. That plug cost George real money.

What was bad luck to Pepper was good luck to No. 70. But just as he felt his pockets begin to swell he noticed his tire doing the same thing. Pfooey went the tire, and No. 70 lost laps getting it fixed.

At 56 laps-just 5 laps from the finish-Kretz was out in front again, but apparently by about “no” seconds. He was given the hurry-up signal, and he hurried. Several other fellows were given the same signal. They all responded. By the time the 58th lap came up fans began going “screwy.” They knew that Kretz, Tancrede, Chasteen and Edwards were right in the same lap. Like the real veteran riders they were, they flashed over the line for another lap. The pits were jibberish. Fellows usually pretty sane were beginning to let go. Preparations were started to receive the finishers.

Up went the 59th lap. Necks stretched for favorites. Where was he? He sure was taking a helluva long time getting around. Had he spilled, or run out of gas or--? Time is a strange playmate at a time like that. The hands don’t go around fast enough. Pit men were trying to talk about something-anything-even to “How is your aunt ?”

Out onto the track walked the referee, a yellow flag in his hand. At his side was a chap with a huge blackboard with some rider’s number on it. Down the stretch came a blur. It took shape, a rider head down and going hard. The blackboard turned around and said No.11. He snapped past the flag, glanced at his pit and they signalled “Go.” As if he were not already going plenty strong!

In quick succession the flag was given Al Chasteen, Babe Tancrede and Ralph Edwards.

Again the worry about that last lap. But suddenly out of the bend came Kretz again. The referee walked out and waved the checkered flag. Again he waved it at Chasteen and at Tancrede. Their pits signalled a safety lap. Then came hasty checking. All eyes and ears were trained toward the checking stand. Referee Ellis was busy flagging other riders. The first ones were getting into the pits and were being surrounded by friends and workers.

Suddenly there was a hush. A noise at the speaker indicated the winners were decided. Then it boomed out, “The winner of the 200-mile national championship, Ed Kretz of Corona, California; second place, Babe Tancrede of Woonsocket R.I., and third, Al Chasteen of Oakland, California.” That was as far as the speaker got. All hell broke loose. Cameras were swept aside, long-suffering corns trod upon, Fritzie Baer was talking French-Red Armstrong couldn’t talk at all and was using his hands-Harry Pelton was smoking the wrong end of his cigar and Tancrede, Kretz and Chasteen were shaking hands and giving each other praise.

Kretz won for himself the reputation of being a good clean sportsman. Everyone was glad to see him win, regardless of the make of machine they were pulling for. In fact Bill Harley sounded the keynote of general attitude when he congratulated Kretz, told him he rode a wonderful race and that he deserved to win. Part way through the race we saw Bill near the one bad turn in the course. He asked “Who is that number eleven?” He then added, “The way he rides this bad turn he is going to be hard to beat.” There was nothing wild about the way Kretz handled his machine. He just seemed to know that he had control. And how he did push it. It is a tribute to the machine that it stood the test of the 200 miles at such a pace.

The Savannah event was well handled from beginning to end and everyone, including the contestants seemed to be satisfied. On Sunday night when Referee George Ellis presented the championship medals and the prize money there wasn’t a dissenting argument. Each of the riders in the money was given a hand. The rest of the evening was spent in friendly horseplay and hob-nobbing about the highlights of the race.

There were several nasty spills during the race. Fortunately all were such as to necessitate nothing beyond first aid, with the exception of J.B. Anderson and Summie Thomas. As already explained, Anderson was fatally injured. Summie, who comes from Spartanburg, S.C., turned out to be badly scratched and to have a broken collar bone. It was really wonderful riding on the part of all contestants which kept the whole event so free from accidents.

Credit goes to the sheriff of Chatham County for keeping the crowds back off the course. Likewise credit goes to all the officials and to the Southeastern Dealers Association for the complete detail with which everything was planned prior to the race and how things were handled during the event.

Savannah lived up to the spirit of Southern hospitality, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Gamble and his secretary, Mr. King. Likewise the newspapers extended every facility of their columns to help make the race a success.

Uncle George Blake and your humble servant spent the entire day and most of the day before the event gathering “shots” that will be fashioned into a new motorcycle film.

The winner of the event rode an Indian Sport Scout FCE861MY, equipped with Firestone Tires, Duckworth Chains, Splitdorf ignition and used Valvoline oil. The average speed for the race was 70.03 m.p.h.

A few words from the Winner

So many questions have been asked since I had the good fortune to win at Savannah that maybe I had better answer a few here for chose who haven’t a chance to ask. I am 25 years old, started riding in ‘27 when I bought my first new machine, an Indian, and have ridden “off and on” ever since. Yes, I’m married and we have two children. One is a boy 3 1/2 years old and the other is a girl who was born three days before I shoved off for Savannah. All the fellows in the race down there were good sports, and good riders. Some of the toughest competition came from fellows like Woodsie Castonguay, Jesse James, Rody Rodenburg, Babe Tancrede, Bernard Campanale and a few others. The Nortons were very fast and the Canadians good riders. The course got pretty tough coward the last, especially when It became cut up in the one bad turn. It seemed like some of the ruts were a foot deep. My motor worked like a clock. I stopped twice for gas but did not touch the machine otherwise. I want to give a lot of credit to my pit crew with Harry Pelton as manager and to the fine set of signals which were worked out for me. Everything worked out fine and that means much in any victory. There was no team work between myself and Al Chasteen the other West Coast boy. I saw him only once during the race and that was when I stopped for gas. I had a wonderful trip to the Indian factory and thoroughly enjoyed being entertained by Fritzie’s Roamers. Fritzie played a trick on me though, by announcing in two newspapers that I would give a speech at the club meeting. Yes I gave a short one. I couldn’t see any way to get out of it. Riding around in the snow on skis was great sport but the weather was pretty cold for one who was not used co it. I am glad I went to Savannah, of course happy over winning, and want to thank everyone down there for their Southern hospitality.

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By E.c. Smith
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