Early twin carb Knuck in VL Frame

Early twin carb Knuck in VL Frame
This is a fine example of KNUCKIN FUTTY! An early Bonneville Lakester sportin' a dual carb Knuck in a VL frame!! Gotta Love It!!!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Today's Knuckin Futty Spotlight.....

The restoration of Vintage Racers, whether its cars, boats, planes, or motorcycles has always piqued my interest. Racers have a unique problem vs. other items of vintage, they are often destroyed during competition, or cannibalized and updated to remain competitive in future seasons destroying their original configuration. When they are no longer competitive, they are essentially useless, and the now outdated “one-off” performance parts available at the time are very hard to find even if they were commercially produced. Because of this increased difficulty, going down this path can indeed drive you knuckin futty!!

Just like all of the early transportation industries, at the turn of the century Racers led the way when it came to innovation in the motorcycle industry. This is when racing was extremely dangerous. Race cars of the day like Ford's famous, Barney Oldfield piloted, 999 had a wooden frame and a tiller style steering wheel and certainly no rollcage. Board Track motorcycle racers of the day had no brakes and riders wore, by today's standards, no protective gear. A wipe out on a board track was often accompanied by foot long wood slivers penetrating your body if you were lucky, or death. Many sporting events and types of racing disappear over time do to lack of attendance, this was not the case with board track racing, it was the deaths of riders.

Motorcycle board track racing was the deadliest form of racing in the history of motorsports. Hundreds of lives were lost, both racers and spectators, during the relatively short-lived era of the boards. Yet in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, the dangers, motorcycle board track racing in the 1910s was one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Races attracted crowds of up to 10,000 fans. Young riders knew of the dangers, but chose to ignore them because the payoffs were so lucrative. Top racers could make $20,000 per year racing the board tracks, nearly a half-million dollars in today’s currency.”

Today's spotlight is about the re-creation of a Board Track Racer, an OHC Excelsior! What many modern Motorcycle enthusiasts do not realize is that there is really nothing new in motorcycles. The very earliest examples of motorcycle racers had many of the so-called modern performance features. 4 Cams, 2 Cams, 4 valves per cylinder, Overhead Cams, you know... all those performance buzz words used by today's motorcycle manufactures. The only thing that held these designs back, back in the day was metallurgy and manufacturing techniques available to the talented tinkerers, mechanics, and engineers of the day.

The Excelsior brand was built in Chicago, IL and used frames built by Schwinn. They were fast in the day and it did not take long for them to start breaking records.

On December 30th, 1912, Humiston circled the banked one-mile oval on his direct-drive Excelsior in 36 seconds flat, to become the first motorcyclist in the world "officially" timed at 100 mph. One week after his milestone accomplishment, "The Humiston Comet," (as he was promptly nicknamed by the press) surpassed DeRosier's record for 100 miles, trimming nearly seven and a half minutes from the fatally injured rider's best time.

Excelsior had won the race to the magic 100 mph mark and they had smashed the Indian-held record for the 100-mile distance as well. The publicity was enormous. Every school boy in America knew that a man had traveled at 100 miles per hour on a motorcycle, and that he had accomplished this feat on an Excelsior built in Chicago.”

Think about that for a moment.... for those of us who have exceeded 100mph on modern motorcycles, how fast would you be willing to push an old Board Tracker??? An engine on a glorified bicycle frame, sans brakes or protective gear, running around a steeply banked track made of wood... THINK ABOUT IT!! Absolutely knuckin futty!!

Well Excelsior, just like any company with a quality racing program did not rest on its laurels, it continued to innovate. That innovation led to the Bevel Drive OHC Racer. Overhead cams are quite common today, back then not so much, and how to drive the camshafts was another thing entirely. Excelsior chose a beveled gear drive arrangement, and it worked.

This particular OHC Racer however was short lived, and it was over before it could make its mark. The program died with it's best rider, board track racer Bob Perry on January 2, 1920. Bob Perry was close family friend of Ignaz Schwinn, owner of both Schwinn Bicycles and Excelsior. Upon hearing about the death of his friend, Ignaz destroyed the remaining OHC Excelsior's leaving nothing but a few photographs as evidence of the innovative and significantly historical racing machine's existence.

This is where this story takes an incredible turn, the re-creation of a Racing Legend, based only on photos and intuition using modern metals and manufacturing. You think you have seen art? Maybe you have seen restorations that are amazing with flawless repairs and paint that brings the project to better than new status.. What about fabrication? Have you seen some great fabricators that can see something in their head, fire up a welder or get in front of an english wheel and BAM! there it is? How about talented machinists that can create impossible things out of a chunk of metal???

Well, here is an absolute work of art, that is not only functional, but is as close as possible to the original as you can get without using a single original part. Here is the Excelsior Bevel Drive OHC Racer re-created by Paul Brodie of Flashback Fabrications.

If you admire those that take the time to restore and revive vintage racers, please take the time to check out his blog and follow along as he recreates an incredible piece of Motorcycle Racing History. Not only did he build these from scratch, he also put the engine in a modern chassis to race in vintage road racing classes so that he could iron out the engine and make necessary changes for durability, just like they would have done back in the day of factory board track racers!! Talk about Knuckin Futty!!!

Here is a link to follow to Flashback Fabrications Blog,  There are tons of quality photos to drool over, and if that was interesting, please check out the other links provided about Board Track Racing.

Thank you for re-creating and preserving history Paul Brodie!!!

Dan Hendrickson

"Thrillsand Funerals": Researching the Board Track Era of Motorcycle Racing in America's Historical Newspapers, by Larry Lawrence

Pioneersof American Motorcycle Racing, by Daniel K. Statnekov