‘The Speed Kings’ by Don Emde

| 3/26/2020 12:25:00 PM


Publisher, author, motorcycle historian and 1972 Daytona 200 winner Don Emde’s most recent book The Speed Kings is a history of boardtrack racing that’s long overdue. It’s perhaps the most complete history of the sport to date, one that includes hundreds of period photos supported by commentary, facts, quotes and newspaper clippings to tell the story about motorcycling racing’s early pioneers who rode their brakeless motorcycles to speeds in excess of 100mph through the high-banked turns of motordromes constructed of wood.

Perhaps the book is summed up best in its foreword penned by legendary racer Kenny Roberts. KR’s opening sentence pretty much says it all: “After reading The Speed Kings I’d like to say that those guys racing around the wooden tracks were really nuts.” This from the man who won the 1975 Indianapolis Mile riding a pieced-together, spindly frame flattracker powered by Yamaha’s vaunted TZ750 road race engine, a combination that should have put Roberts squarely into Indy’s Turn 1 wall, not into Victory Circle.

But, in truth, King Kenny (a moniker earned after winning his first of three consecutive 500cc World Championships) is right on track about The Speed Kings — those boardtrack racers were nuts. It even says so, not necessarily in The Speed Kings’ text, but in its context, delivered with clear and concise prose (“I used the Ken Burns style of story telling,” cites Emde, referencing the famed television producer known for his award-winning documentaries) accompanied by what, in many cases, appear to be larger-than-life photos Emde accumulated during the past 40 or so years. That includes photographs from noted motorcycle historians and racers such as the late Steve Wright, A.F. Van Order, Paul Derkum and one of my personal heroes, Ralph Hepburn.

Emde, along with art director Nancy Wegrowski, did a masterful job of placing text and photos in proper sequence, too. Brief, easy-to-read sidebars are also found throughout, offering colorful and pertinent vignettes that free the main text and story line from clutter.

Copies of period posters, newspaper clippings, brochures and flyers, even correspondence from the actual players, lend authenticity to the narrative that’s displayed in sepia-tone spreads to further underscore events that took place more than a century ago. We learn, too, that the term “Speed Kings” was coined by the mainstream media of the time. Remember, boardtrack racing’s heyday took place about the time Henry Ford gave America the Model T.

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter