1909 Motorcycle Trophy From Indy That Nobody Won

Sportscar Vintage Racing Association is bringing classic motorcycles back to IMS this month.

Kokomo Rubber race trophy from 1909
The trophy is a real curiosity. It’s one of those artifacts that surprise even historians when they learn about it.Photo: John Cote

Few knew it, but the first motorized competition at the 108-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a motorcycle race, organized by the now-defunct Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM). It was August 14, 1909, and racing was the capstone of a week of moto-themed celebration.

The Hoosier capital saw the motorcyclists as an economic boon and adorned downtown in banners and bunting. FAM not only sanctioned competition at the track but also held its annual meeting to elect officers for the coming season.

The motorcyclists included names that still resonate today—Walter Davidson, on his Harley-Davidson, and Erwin "Cannon Ball" Baker, straddling an Indian, joined 97 others on a 388-mile ride from Cleveland to Indianapolis. Some 200 less-adventurous riders converged around Monument Circle at the heart of the city for a parade around Indianapolis.

Among many events planned was a ride to Kokomo, Indiana. The Kokomo Rubber Company put up a trophy, but it was never awarded because the event was canceled due to rain. The trophy still exists, though, and is owned by Dave Goss, a Speedway memorabilia collector.

“The trophy is a real curiosity,” Goss says. “It’s one of those artifacts that surprise even historians when they learn about it. Kokomo Rubber was a victim of the Great Depression, and like the trophy, history tends to fade.”

The Sports Car Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) is this year bringing vintage motorcycles back to IMS as another feature for its fourth annual Brickyard Invitational vintage sports car Fathers’ Day weekend. Road-course racing, a judged vintage bike show, a Harley-Davidson arrive and ride, and a bike corral are planned.

“There’s some unfinished business in Indianapolis for motorcyclists,” says Tony Parella, SVRA’s CEO. “One example is that Kokomo ride. Someday, I’d like to finish it in tribute to those pioneers.”