In the Course of Racing

By Miny Waln, Photography by Unknown

From the May 1936 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

Racing caught up with me when I was about eighteen. Up until then I had more or less divided my attention between motorcycles and the piccolo. Or maybe it was a clarinet. But after I bought a band uniform and the music still sounded the same I took to two wheels and stayed there.

My first racing machine was a Pope. The two of us fought for recognition on the race tracks of different Iowa fair grounds. The results were varied, though I always managed to find something encouraging in them.

About that time I met up with a fellow by the name of O’Brien. We designed a motordrome and joined the Gold Medal Shows, following the fairs. When I first started on the drome I found that it made me dizzy and I could turn only two or three laps. Centrifugal force was such that I was crushed down upon my motor and even at the speeds of 35 or 40 m.p.h. the experience left me with muscles so sore I could hardly raise my arms the first few days. O’Brien would call out the number of laps and each day I would try to get in a few more.

One night O’Brien called out “eight, nine, ten.” I noticed that I felt swell. I wasn’t tired, nor was I dizzy. So I added about three more laps. When I gave out it was all at once. Down to the bottom I went, across it and straight up the other side. Of course I got the motor shut off and then motor and I dropped to the bottom in a pile. After about 20 or 30 rides a fellow got used to it and could ride indefinitely. Then came the matter of learning stunts.

Fellows often ask what effect drome riding had and whether it helped any toward racing. Frankly it did not. To illustrate, O’Brien learned to ride in a drome. I took him out to ride my stock machine on the street and he couldn’t ride at all. He could hardly let go long enough to shift.

Just the same, in another way, the drome riding did have an effect upon my racing career. O’Brien was quite a glib talker. In every town we hit there was bound to be several of the boys who thought they were good and before long would ‘low that they could ride a drome just as well as O’Brien. At that point O’Brien would make some bets, not for riding the drome but for a race right on the fair ground track. When all bets were made he would get it worked around so that I had to do the racing. I had a Harley-Davidson that I took around with me and it was pretty fast. So, I got a chance to get in a lot of racing, against all kinds of competition. When the racing season rolled around I was really right in trim.

In 1922 I managed to come in first 38 times out of 44 starts. That brought my first trophy, which was donated by the Cedar Rapids Sports Club. By that time I had tried out various equipment but was still riding a Harley-Davidson.

Naturally in those early days of my racing I had many spills, and unlike some of the others, I did not always come through without injuries. I recall one race at Marion, Iowa, that really opend my eyes to some of the possibilities of racing. We were riding a half-mile dirt track. One fellow who was a little wilder than the rest of us took off at a tremendous speed. He got into the lead and we all fell in behind him, close to the pole. The fellow was riding faster than he could hope to last and sure enough went down in a turn. Of course there was so much dust you could not see. Out of the 14 starters, 11 of us ran over the poor fellow. Only two riders who happened to be way to the outside missed him.

When the dust cleared and I could see a little my first thought was to get back and help the fellow I had hit. Right then I didn’t know all the others had hit him too. I stood up, being the only one of eleven able to get up. Just as I was going to run back, a sight cleared out of the dust that left me almost speechless. All around me were riders and machines. I ran first to one and then to another. We were just naturally in one big heap about 200 feet from where the first rider went down. That particular time I was lucky and acquired no serious injury. Soon after I broke a leg, though, and when it healed found I was short on one side by about an inch and a half.

In ‘24 I made my first trip to the west coast to ride at Ascot which Bill Pickins was promoting at the time. Then we moved on up the coast to race at Santa Maria. They had taken the fence down around the track but had missed one post. In my time trials I hit that only post on the track and that netted me another broken leg, plus arm, ribs and internal injuries. So I went back to Iowa for the winter. While the second leg was healing the doctors kept measuring it against what they thought was my good leg. I guess nobody thought to tell them that the other leg was really an inch and a half short. They did a good job of measuring and when I got out and ready to race, after about two months of the season had gone by, I found that I was even on both sides again and my limp was gone.

I raced the balance of that season and I guess the doctors cut me down an inch and a half and got me into the right class, for I have managed to race a full season every year since.

It was at that time that we started changing back and forth across the country. We would ride at Ascot in the winter and ride in central and eastern sections in summer, hitting such places as Milwaukee, Manitowoc, Chicago, Cincinnati, Hamilton, Syracuse, Toronto, Hartford and Richmond. I was riding Indian then.

Along in ‘27 they cut us down to 21’s. At that time I took to a Harley-Davidson. We kept traveling back and forth and began working in some racing on the boards. Fresno had a board track on the west coast and Salem, N.H., had one on the east coast.

That again introduced me to new experiences. We really traveled on the boards and consequently our motors set up a terrific vibration. This in turn affected our eyes and it often seemed like we were looking through a slight fog. Lots of times it was hard to distinguish between riders and the fence.

In addition, the boards would lose a lot of splinters and these were constantly doing funny things. In one race I felt something go right into my mouth. There was no chance to spit it out and I went on through the race. When we pulled into the pits I laughed and started to call the attention of another rider to the splinter that had gone into my mouth. But when I spit it out I discovered it was a peg tooth. It had been jarred right out of my gums.

In ‘29 I switched back to Indian and in 1930 won the dirt track national championship. In ‘31 I rode all around the eastern section and got as far as Richmond where I won the 5-mile national and the 5-mile open. In the 10-mile I blew up. That was my last day of dirt track racing. Night speedway racing had been heralded on the west coast and I wanted to see what it was all about.

My speedway experience started at the first events on the short flat track at the Breakfast Club in Los Angeles. I have ridden steadily on the western circuits ever since, ranging from San Diego in the South to Sacramento in the North.

Speedway racing was still another experience for me. I was surprised at the amount of physical exertion it called for. When we came in after four laps and I found myself panting I wondered about my own physical condition. But when I saw that all the others, including “Sprouts,” who was teaching us the art of broadsliding, also panted I began to get wise that the new sport was a lot harder than it looked.

We raced at White Sox Speedway and due to a combination of inexperience, improper equipment and track the spills were many. Speed fought to throw us off the track and the hind wheel driving at right angles to the pole tried to send us into the infield. Somewhere in between was a perfect balance, but at first we would not have believed it had not “Sprouts” demonstrated that such was the case.

I rode just about every make of machine, including an imported two-stroke, the German D.K.W. It had a radiator and all the trimmings.

Possibly my dirt track experience stood me in good stead, for during the first couple of years I managed to get my share of victories. Then followed one year where everything seemed to go wrong. I guess it was just sort of a transition of some kind. Anyhow, I snapped out of it and now on a Comerford J.A.P. seem to feel more like I wanted to feel all along.

Many funny things have happened to me in night speedway racing just as they did in other types of racing. I recall one night at Long Beach, California, when a brother rider, “Lammy” Lamoreaux, drifted out on a new machine until his handle bars forced against mine. I was caught between him on one side and the crash wall on the other. What happened after that I know only through what others have told me. I guess I flipped over the bars when the machine hesitated and then after “Lammy” had passed by I got up and crawled over the fence to get my breath. When I looked around my motor was gone. It had hooked onto “Lammy” and he had carried it as far as the next turn before he went down with two machines. I had no motorcycle-he had too many!

The greatest surprise came during an event at Fresno in 1935. I was in a match with Rogers from Australia. We both felt pretty good and were sliding around shoulder to shoulder. As we went through the turn I seemed to get just a slight lead on him. But I noticed my motor began pulling very hard. Any moment I expected to see Rogers come by. I didn’t dare take time to look around and was busy trying to figure why my motor was slowing down. Then something landed on my back and something else circled my neck about half strangling me. I partly lost control and veered into the infield. There I lost control altogether, due to the heavy weight on my back, which by that time I had discovered was Rogers, and we went down together.

What had happened was that my foot rest had caught in his front wheel. My machine had been dragging his for nearly half the back stretch. How he had kept up was a miracle. They said that from the stands they could see his front tire smoking. He saw there was no chance to get loose so he made a tremendous dive onto my back and put his arms around and under my chin. If you don’t think that is a treat in the middle of a race, try it sometime.

This year I expect to ride in Northern California. The championship? Well-that is another story-one that will have to be told later in the year, when the championships are over.

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By Miny Waln
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