Thanks to the ingenuity of several American bicycle manufacturers, motorcycles and motordrome racing captured the hearts of millions of spectators during Prohibition. George M. Hendee’s Indian marque was frequently taking victory on wooden tracks around the country, with the scrappy Albert “Shrimp” Burns famously crashing at 107 mph during the 25-mile event at the Los Angeles Motor Speedway in 1921.

Albert "Shrimp" Burns
Albert “Shrimp” Burns won the 15-mile boardtrack event at the Los Angeles Motor Speedway in 1921 after famously crashing at 107 mph during the 25-mile event earlier in the day. Burns left the hospital to return to the track, bandages covering the wounds sustained from dozens of splinters, becoming the first stock motor to do the ton in competition.Archive Moto/Indian Motorcycle

Burns left the hospital to return to the track, bandages covering the wounds sustained from dozens of splinters, to take victory in the 15-mile event, becoming the first stock motor to do the ton in competition.

Based on European velodromes used for bicycle racing, motordromes were constructed with 2-inch x 4-inch boards, often with turns banked at up to 45 degrees. In some cases, such as the track at Culver City, banking was 50 degrees or more.

Arthur G. Chapple and Walter Goerke
Brooklyn pals and Indian-sponsored racer Arthur G. Chapple and Walter Goerke just before a hill climb in December 1909.Archive Moto/Indian Motorcycle

Boardtracks were favored by motorsport race promoters because they were inexpensive to construct, but they weren’t durable and required a great deal of maintenance to remain usable. Most tracks lasted three years before being abandoned. California had seven boardtracks, Pennsylvania had three, New Jersey and Ohio had two, with Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, and New York having one each. Motordromes ranged from a half-mile to two, the first built in Los Angeles in 1910. New Jersey’s Woodbridge Speedway was the last to shut down, in 1931.

Erle 'Red' Armstrong
Erle "Red" Armstrong poses with his Indian factory eight-valve special at the Dodge City 300 in 1916. Red dropped out of the race around the 70th lap due to mechanical issues.Archive Moto/Indian Motorcycle

The Indian Motocycle Company was founded as the Hendee Manufacturing Company by Hendee—a former bicycle racer—in 1897 to manufacture bicycles, initially badged as “Silver King” and “Silver Queen” brands. The name “Indian” was adopted by Hendee from 1898 onward because it gave better product recognition in export markets. Oscar Hedstrom—also a former bicycle racer—joined Hendee as a partner in 1900. They produced a motorcycle with a 1.75-hp, single-cylinder engine in Hendee's hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts in 1901. The motorcycle was successful and sales increased dramatically during the next 10 years.

And the best way to promote the brand was to race and set records.

Indian star Jake DeRosier set several speed records, both in America and at the famed Brooklands circuit in Britain. The Canadian—one of the first factory-sponsored motorcycle racers—won an estimated 900 races for Indian on dirt and boardtracks through 1912. In 1910 he set the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) speed record at 79.6 mph. On February 7, 1911, he ran 90 consecutive miles to claim every FAM speed record from one to 100 miles. He broke his left leg three times, his left forearm once, had one rib removed, fractured his skull, severed an artery, and suffered serious leg burns from flaming engines.

Sheepshead Bay track
First-generation racers wore leather pants, lace-up engineer boots, and thick wool sweaters, like this gent at Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay track in 1919.Archive Moto/Indian Motorcycle

Indian’s Powerplus, a side-valve V-twin, was introduced in 1916. Its 1,000cc, 61ci, 42-degree V-twin engine gave a top speed of 60 mph. The Powerplus was highly successful on the track and remained in production with few changes until 1924.

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