Jet Propelled No. 79 Sam Arena

By Al Fergoda, Photography by Unknown

From the February 1946 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

In six of the West Coast’s postwar events-in the half-milers at Dixon and Tulare, the Modesto class “C” hillclimb, the Stockton and Clovis half-milers and the San Rafael T.T.-one rider has won every event he entered except one, and in the lone exception he rode neck and neck with the leader until he spilled, a hundred yards from the finish line.

Weak competition has not been the reason for his record. At Clovis and Stockton he was pitted against the Coast’s top-rank riders. At Dixon, where he won the Time Trials, his heat, the trophy dash, and the Main Event, his fellow-contestants were skilled and able, as they were at Modesto and San Rafael and Tulare.

Sam Arena, No. 79, top man for his district, winner of every start from 1941 to 1945, has what it takes. In the opinion of the writer, he is the outstanding motorcyclist of all time, judged on the basis of versatility, honesty, and extraordinary ability.

San Jose’s favorite son got his start early. At fourteen, he acquired his first motor vehicle-a Smith Motor Wheel attached to his bicycle. Shortly after, he purchased his first real motorcycle, an old job which was followed by several others until 1933, when he went to work in Tom Sifton’s Harley-Davidson shop in San Jose.

Sam’s first entry into com petition took place shortly after this time, when short track racing was just beginning on the West Coast. Winning his first event, a class “B” four-lap six-man heat in a meet at Emeryville Speedway, a fifth-mile flat oval in the Bay District, he was transferred to Class “A” and given the now-famous number “79”. His first major race, on a rugged course which was a keen test for recognized veterans, came early in 1934, when, on a stock motorcycle, he won at the Northern California Gypsy Tour at Lake Yosemite.

Win followed win throughout 1935-in his own district, in Florida, back again at Hollister, California, where heavy sand and a rough course which drew blisters on the hands of every competitor brought out his stamina. Then, in the fall of ‘35, Sam signed up with “Putt” Mossman for a tour of New Zealand and Australia and a season of short-track racing. At the season’s end he came back to marry his one and only, Myrtle Scott, and together they toured across the United States and thence to join Mossman and his troupe in England. There Sam represented his country well against the finest competition in the world, making the official team of Hackney Wick.

Short track racing was at its height when he returned to the Bay District the next year, and four northern California tracks were operating every night. He won every start at the San Francisco Motordrome, which was considered the roughest night speedway course in the district, and distinguished himself in the same way at Emeryville and the other speedways.

However, when he returned to class “C” racing, he found his pull to the top a long and tough one. His competitors had gained far more experience on heavier machines than he, and throughout 1936 and 1937 he had to go to work all over again, and content himself with 2nd and 3rd places in an effort to regain his top position.

In 1938, however, he struck his stride in class “C” competition, four straight wins in the weekly races on Neptune Beach’s quarter-mile T.T. course. He continued to be one of the top men throughout the season, and in the fall won the Pittsburg, Calif., T.T. race. At the final Pacific Coast event for that year, the 2nd Oakland 200-miler, Sammy truly showed his mettle. Against a field of the best men in the country, he won the event and broke all records from 10 to 200 miles on a class “C” motorcycle. Sam’s average for the 200 miles was the spectacular time of 83 m.p.h., as against the former record of 74 m.p.h.

By Al Fergoda
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