The Speed Kings!
A new book about the rise and fall of motordrome racing
Don Emde, a former Daytona 200 winner, Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee and long-time AMCA member, has announced his upcoming new book: The Speed Kings. The Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing. The richly illustrated, 372-page hardbound book tells the story of the first generation of motorcycle boardtrack racing in the early 1900s, when daring riders sped at 90+ mph around ¼-mile circular motordromes banked at 60-degrees. Thousands came to watch, sometimes at their own peril.
Dirt track racing was where motorcycle racers usually started in those years, honing their skills, but it was the motordromes that turned some of them into national sports heroes. The Speed Kings follows the life and times of Jake DeRosier, Charles “Fearless” Balke, Eddie Hasha and others from their first day of racing to their last.
The Speed Kings. The Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing actually begins in the late-1800s with the first seven chapters covering early day history of two-wheel racing in America. High-wheel bicycles, velodromes, motor-pacing with gasoline, electric and steam power are all featured in Part I.
In Part II, many motorcycle brands are introduced and dirt track racing starts to get serious at dusty fairground tracks from coast to coast. Also, wooden velodromes for bicycle racing inspire the creation of larger versions for the piston-powered machines. The age of motordrome racing began with one track, but the spectacle became contagious and the public couldn’t get enough, filling motordromes in some cities three nights a week.
Motordrome racing made the front pages of newspapers in the years to come, at first with good news to promote the country’s exciting new sport, but as time went on, news of many tragic events eventually saw it all crash down shortly before the start of World War I.
A second generation of boardtrack racing got going on the larger “Auto Speedways” primarily after the war and an overview is provided an Epilogue in Part III, along with a Bibliography and Index.
So why a book about motordrome racing? Author Don Emde said, “Collectors of motorcycles have long been fascinated with old race bikes, especially board trackers; those early-day machines with the low-slung handlebars, no brakes, solo seat, and skinny 28-inch wheels. On the auction blocks these days, it’s common for boardtrackers to bring more than $100,000… some much more.”
Emde added, “I was at the Mecum Auction in Las Vegas in March of 2015 when collector E.J. Cole put up a large number of classic motorcycles for sale. His 1911 Flying Merkel boardtrack racer sold for a whopping $385,000. Impressive, but the sale price was only half as much as the top seller of the auction. A 1915 Cyclone, once owned by Steve McQueen, sold for $775,000. With the buyer’s commission added, the total sale was $852,000!
Even before the hammer fell for the Cyclone, it had fascinated me how much interest there has always been about boardtrack racing, despite the fact that so few people know much about the sport of a century ago. Thus, my reason to write the story of the first generation of motorcycle racing in America. Newspaper writers dubbed them the “Speed Kings.”
Historians Steve Wright, Jerry Hatfield, Harry Sucher and others have published some great books about boardtrack racing through the years. Working with what information they could find, they identified who the top racers were and what machines they raced, but there were so many more stories still untold about life in the world of motordrome racing.
What none of them had to work with, was the library of historic motorcycle material that I have assembled over the past 40 years. In addition to my large collection of historic photographs—many not seen in 100 years—I have over 1,000 magazines in my collection with first generation information about boardtrack racing and related activities written when it happened. Added to that were numerous newspapers, race programs, books and more. These publications yielded more than 6,000 pages that I scanned into a chronological database and used as my guide constantly throughout the project.”
Forty years of building the research library, followed by four years of writing and production, the story of the stars of the first generation of motorcycle racing in American can now be told in The Speed Kings. The Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing.