Motorcyclist Archives 1938: 100-Mile TT Championship, Vintage Harley-Davidson Ad

From the Archives: The Motorcyclist Magazine June 1938 issue

June 1938 issue of Motorcyclist magazine
"The" Motorcyclist was already in production for 26 years when the June 1938 issue came out. Cover price was 20 cents.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

This 79-year-old race report from The Motorcyclist chronicles the pageantry of T.T. Racing in the late 1930s with much fanfare. The setting was Hollister, California, and was run in conjunction with the Northern California (motorcycle) Rally. Unlike modern rally/race events, the rally took place over the course of the weekend and the main 100-mile T.T. event was held on Monday. Riders and clubs came from Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Southern California and Texas. Also of special note was the appearance of one racer from Rhode Island, but more about him later.

Vintage Firestone motorcycle tire ad
The lead photo shows approximately 5,000 spectators filling the stands in Hollister, CA, to watch the national 100-mile T.T. race. A Firestone ad on the opposite page touting the virtues of their Triple-Safe tires for Harley and Indian motorcycles.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

According to the author Chet Billings, estimates measured the crowds at about 5,000 over the course of the weekend with 1,200 riders signed up to compete in competitions ranging from bike design, group riding demonstration, and costumes. In attendance was a “special committee” of California Highway Patrolmen at the request of the rally officials. Special instruction was given to the peace officers to confiscate the machines of those that got “overly exuberant”. In total of the 1,200 registered machines, 25 “made the Bastille”.

Saturday was mainly a roll into town and set up of operation for the event by most. That night, there was a dance held 12 miles out of town in Bolando Park that was billed and lived up to the advertising of dancing all night under the stars.

1938 Harley-Davidson TT racers
Action shots from Bolado Park along with photos of T.T. racers Milton Iverson (the winner), Harrison Reno (second place), and Armando Magri (third). All three rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

Sunday was when competition began with heat races and the 25-mile Pacific Coast T.T. Indian pilot Ed Kretz, a native from Los Angeles, won the race, which was followed by a parade of clubs, drills and “stunt features” along Main Street. The article goes on to describe some of the costumes and custom bike designs. After the parade the drill teams retired to the Modesto Ball Park to continue with the pageantry.

1938 100-Mile AMA National T.T. Race results
Results of the 1938 100-Mile AMA National T.T. Race along with rally prizes and awards.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

Monday was the main event at Bolando Park Course. The track had been modified with a sharp left after the grandstands out into the countryside where the riders encountered hills, sand, a dry stream bed and rock fields. The approximate length of the course was 1 mile and three quarters. A complete list of machines was not given but of the 21 bikes listed (of 42 competitors) the field was mostly made up of H-D 61s and Indian 75s with at least one Triumph 30.50.

The fastest riders were lined up in the back of the pack and lines were started a few seconds apart from each other to avoid a traffic at the first turn. The race started without incident and there were no crashes of stalled motors as the swarm disappeared into the distance of the first lap. The first rider appeared 1:48 later to complete the first of 75 laps. [Editor's Note: The course was quoted as being 1.75 miles and the results show a total of 75 laps. The math on that would be 131.25 miles!]

The Motorcyclist Hall of Fame 1938
The Motorcyclist Hall of Fame on the inside back cover of the June 1938 featured a portrait photo of the 100-mile National T.T. Championship winner Milton Iverson.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
Vintage 1938 Harley-Davidson print ad
The center spread advertisement in the June 1938 issue came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. "Swing Into the Saddle of a 1938 Harley-Davidson and See the Country!"Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

The race was long and there were lead changes and riders moving up from behind to finish on the podium. Of special note by the author was Babe Tancrede from Rhode Island. Billings singles him out for two important reasons: first for being a uniquely solid rider who finished in the position he started the race (21st) and second, for the distance he traveled to be there. This was the first East-West competition to take place in the West and came with great responsibility. Babe rose to the challenge and showed great sportsmanship and ability. All of this done without ever riding a western course before the race. Besides different surfaces to contend with it appeared to the writer that Babe was geared incorrectly for the course.

At the end of the race the podium consisted of (in order) Matt Iverson, Harrison Reno, and Armando Magri. All pilots were on H-D 61s. Of special note, Magri of Sacramento, CA, was described as “not sensational to watch, Magri just sits there and saws wood”. Of the 42 who started the race, only 27 finished.

Motorcyclist's Uncle Frank
"Uncle Frank" was our tech expert back in 1938.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

Motor Tuning...For the Beginner by Uncle Frank

This tech piece by The Motorcyclist's resident expert at the time known as Uncle Frank, appears to be the final installment in a series written for the beginning Class C competitor. "Unk" as he refers to himself as, had previously covered the major points of motor tuning and has seen results. At the races, the 1938 staff of The Motorcyclist had seen riders and machines that have followed this sagely advice and in those cases, the motorcycles have been up front.

Below is a list of the major points of Unk’s article and a brief description of each:

On Lubrication – Most modern machines (of the time) seem to run best on the suggested oil unless a higher compression has been applied to the motor. The best all around solution are the standard oils with the addition of a bit castor bean oil if heat seems to be an issue. Avoid running straight castor as it tends to gum up motors. Uncle Frank describes in some detail the best solutions for oil based on the type of oiling system – splash system motors vs. wet sump motors.

Spark Plugs – Spark plug selection is important especially in higher compression motors. Both Harley-Davidson and Indian offer hot and cold plugs. It is suggested that you run the coldest plug possible without running into fouling. Also of critical importance is the spark plug gap. Be certain to gap the plugs before installing. Battery ignition systems generally run from .028" to .030" and magneto ignitions are most commonly gap from .020" to .022".

Physical Training for Motorcycle Competition – In competition, fitness is maybe one of the most important subjects. It is amazing that over 80 years ago this was said of European riders but it still holds true, the riders from Europe should be looked to for their dedication to physical fitness and exercise. A body not up to the demands of the sport aboard a machine that is will not win a race. Pay attention to these components and as the author says "Do not stuff yourself with hamburgers, hot dogs, pop, and beer [before a race]."

Duckworth motorcycle chains
Baldwin-Duckworth Chains were good enough for “Frenchy” and good enough to be factory-equipped on Harley and Indian motorcycles in 1938.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

Drink Little Before Riding – This may be a bit of a dated concept but quite important at the time. A full bladder could burst. "When that happens, the chances of recovery are slim". Modern medicine should be able to address this better than it did in 1938.

Booze and False Courage – A drink or two of "hard likker" for courage may be a sign that you shouldn't be competing. If this is not enough encouragement, any AMA referee can eliminate any rider who has been drinking or cannot safely handle the machine.

Dress Properly for Competition – No rider should practice or compete without proper head gear or clothing. Suggested clothing includes leather britches [over cloth] and a tight-fitting sweater or tight-fitting leather jacket. Proper footwear should never include oxfords although Uncle Frank points out there are regularly riders who do wear these and have lost toes and feet. The competitive rider should also consider wearing a proper crash helmet or headgear. The distinction between the two is that a crash helmet has a hard exterior and head gear is a soft leather item similar (or identical) to football helmets of the time.

Wear Clean Underclothes – Often overlooked but also of importance. Showing up at the starting line freshly washed and wearing clean underclothes can make the difference in the event of a crash. The author spends a fair amount of time speaking about germs and wounds... Clean clothes have residual soap and are free of dirt and body oils that might cause infections. The same could be said for socks.

Overall, this 79-year-old article is still valid today and should be considered by any rider in competition or not.