From The Pages Of Racing Starting In 1909

From the November 1936 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

Racing men often remark that a speedster performs in proportion to his experience. Well, if experience has anything to do with it, I should have been a knockout. My “career” started in 1909, at old Tuilleries in Denver. From then until 1911 there were a lot of hard knocks. For a living I worked for the Mead Auto Cycle Company, which firm distributed Excelsiors in the Denver territory. At every opportunity I was out racing.

By 1912 I had managed to gain enough of that stuff called ‘’experience” so that every once in a while I found myself out in front. I turned pro. At about tha time, among the professionals, there were a number of fellows racing under the names of: Arthur Mitchell, Charlie Balke, Eddie Hasha, Red Armstrong and Joe Wolter, etc. And if you know your motorcycle racing history, you have heard that they were also out in front quite a bit. Thus, when I turned pro I learned more about that thing called motorcycle racing.

In 1912 I drifted to Dallas and was on hand for the opening of the Dallas Motordrome. In 1913 I went to Milwaukee with a bunch of Denver Motordrome riders, and I happened to be the first rider to try out the then new 4-lap drome there. When the Milwaukee season ended Glen Stokes and I went to St. Louis to finish the season in that state.

When 1914 rolled around it was back to the Milwaukee Drome again. While there Harley-Davidson came out with a racing motor and I tried it out for them on the Drome. It was fast enough, and I seemed to handle it to suit them, so they hired me to ride it in the Dodge City 300-mile on July 4th. That made me the first racer riding for the Harley-Davidson factory. In the beginning it was just a one-man team.

We shipped five machines to Dodge City and picked up some more riders on the ground. We got Ray Weishaar, Walt Higley (at present a well-known aviator in Denver), and others whom I do not recall by name right now. The motors were very fast but Harley-Davidson being just started in the racing game, we had our trouble. I had one of the fastest jobs on the track, but only lasted thirteen laps, or twenty-six miles. Forty-five riders started, and I was in second place when I went out. We learned a lot at that race.

Going back to Milwaukee, I built a short frame dirt track machine, and on August 2, 1914, won all the closed port events on the mile dirt track in Milwaukee with it. I was still the only rider on the Harley-Davidson racing “team.” Later in 1914 Alvie Stratton was taken on as a team mate for me, and we cleaned up all over the country on mile dirt tracks.

In 1915 we added more new men to the team and started winning long races on speedways and on two-mile board tracks. During that year one of the biggest events was the Venice Road Race. We went there all primed. The team consisted of Roy Artley, Otto Walker, Joe Wolter and myself. It was a wild ride. Don Johns, noted for pouring it on, decided to ride a conservative race. It was one of the few times in his career when he determined to place through conservative riding. His reward was to break a chain which became entangled in the rear wheel, and that in turn collapsed. Don went flying through the air, and was lucky to escape with minor injuries. He was on the Excelsior team. H.W. Brant, riding Thor, had a piston break and then they took him to the hospital.

Otto Walker and I rode pretty much together in that event, employing some close team work. Here’s an excerpt from a paper at the time:

“Walker and Parkhurst maintained a safe lead over their nearest rivals at all stages of the race and were seldom separated from each other more than a few feet. Dashing by the stands neck and neck, lap after lap the two appeared more like bitter rivals than team mates.”

But it was in the cards for Walker to win and for me to take second. Walker turned in a time of 4:24:17 1/5, which meant just over 69 miles per hour-a new record.

All in all, 1915 was a busy year, for it embraced other important events in addition to Venice. I raced at Oklahoma City, Grand Island, Nebraska, and many other places scattered around over the country.

To go on through the next ten years in chronological order would be to consume considerable space. On the other hand, it cannot be passed over too lightly, because during that period a lot of motorcycle history was made. Without thought of date or order, I’ll name a few of the events where a lot of the boys turned in some hard riding and where “yours truly” managed to grab off some of the honors.

One spot to be remembered by many of the old-timers are the boards at Sheeps head Bay, New York. On that track I broke the existing record for the 500-mile, the 1000-mile and the 24-hour solo. Some of the previous records had been hung up by Cannonball Baker. One of the high spots of that event was riding a wet track after a heavy rain. I rode 18 miles in 23 minutes with water standing two inches deep at spots on the boards. It was as slick as glass. Another track to come in for some racing was a one-mile dirt set up at Portland, Oregon. That track presented a good many hazards, both in dry weather and wet. So much has been said in previous stories about Portland that I won’t duplicate the details.

During that same period there was the rampage of records shattering at Daytona Beach, Florida, when Otto Walker, Fred Ludlow and I loaded up some Harley-Davidson equipment and, riding under rules established by the British A.C.U., set new world’s records for the kilometer, one-mile, two-mile and five-mile with a 61-inch pocket valve, 61-inch eight valve, 61-inch eight valve and side car, and a 68-inch eight valve solo. We ranged in speed from 102.87 m.p.h. to as high as 111.98 m.p.h. Ludlow set the pocket valve record. I drove the 61 and Ludlow rode in the sidecar, and I made the 61 and 68 solos.

We raced both ways over a mile and a kilometer to establish the record. We were a busy crew down there and the song of the sad sea waves was drowned in the roar of some very healthy exhausts. Electric timing was used with a master time piece, a chronometer tested and approved by the U.S. Naval Observatory at San Francisco and the Bureau of Standards at Washington.

No account would be complete without mention of a 200-mile national championship road race at Marion, Indiana. I made 40 laps in 3 hours 6 minutes and 33 4/5 seconds-an average of 66.6 m.p.h. Ralph Hepburn followed closely for second place. That day the Harley-Davidson team was jubilant, for it cornered $1000 of the $1100 prize money.

Between big events we hit the fairs, and that naturally took us all over the country. Every so often there would be a big event at Dodge City. In 1915, the second time the race was run, Otto Walker took first place. In ‘16 Irvin Janke was first over the line. In ‘17 and ‘18 many of the racing men were across the water. In ‘20 it was won by Jim Davis.

Along about the end of that ten-year period I was attracted to motor car racing and got off to a fair start, but was doomed for a crack-up which ended my racing career. On June 13, 1926, in a 50-mile event at the State Fair grounds in West Allis, Wisconsin, I was following one Barney Sullivan when he sheared an axle, whirled around two or three times and came to a halt in the middle of the track. I came out of the turn, crashed into Sullivan’s car and my machine turned two complete somersaults. That netted me a fractured skull, broken collar bone and numerous minor injuries. At that time I was 30 years old.

The only other racing I did after that was to keep on driving that same car in my delirium at the hospital. Eventually I snapped out of it and turned my ambition into business channels.

Needless to say I have many pleasant recollections from all those years of motorcycle racing and an as enthusiastic about that sport today as ever.

Laughing, likeable Leslie “Red” Parkhurst from a photo taken when he was a member of the Harley-Davidson racing team. Right-A recent photo of the same gentleman, when he was upon a sojourn at Atlantic City
Parkhurst driving and Fred Ludlow as passenger, making a record for 61 inch eight valve and sidecar. Right-Parkhurst setting the 68 inch eight valve solo record. Speeds ranged from 102.87 to 111.98 m.p.h.