Motorcycle Classics

Motorcycle Racing: The Story Behind the Photo

Nancy Hill, 1951-1952 AMA National Champion Bobby Hill’s wife, sent me some photos from the “Golden Age” of motorcycle racing, the 1940s and 1950s. This photo shows seven-time AMA Nationals winner Al Gunter, 1953 Daytona 200 winner Paul Goldsmith, and Bobby. Three future Hall of Fame racers, representing three different marques, congratulating each other after a dirt track race in Indiana.

Bobby is now almost 90 years old, but he remembers the race perfectly. “It was 1952, at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds. I had a great year in 1952. The AMA then had only seven races designated as Nationals. They were at the major tracks like Milwaukee, Springfield, Daytona, Laconia, Richmond and Indianapolis. I won five of the seven on my Dick Gross-prepared Indian Sport Scout. The last Indian race bikes were produced in 1948. They had to make 50 of them to meet AMA requirements as stock Indians.

“Dick had installed the four-cam system on my Big Base Indian 648 Sport Scout in 1951. The bike was very fast. I only used the Gross bike on the mile tracks. The Indians out of the factory would turn about 6,500rpm, tops. With the Dick Gross system my Indian would go to about 7,400rpm, but it was a fine line; you had to be careful, as you could easily blow an engine. It was still a basic stock engine, but some parts were replaced with higher quality. The pistons were made of German forged steel.

“Gross built the bike, but I helped him and saw what he was doing. I maintained the bike. Because it ran to the limit I had to tear it down after every race, replace worn or damaged parts and put it back together. The rods were one weakness. Magnaflux had just become available and it was great for checking for hidden damage.

“With a family to support, I raced as often as possible. The Indianapolis National was scheduled for a Sunday but there was a big race in Syracuse, N.Y., on Saturday. My father-in-law and I took the bike to Syracuse. I won the feature event and we collected the prize money and trophy, loaded up and headed for Indianapolis, 650 miles away.

“Indianapolis was a major race. All the top riders were there and it was not an easy win. Al Gunter was BSA’s top rider for several years. His 500cc Gold Star was quick and he was always competitive. Paul Goldsmith rode for Harley-Davidson and won championships with motorcycles, stock cars and Indianapolis cars. The race went down to the wire with Paul second (no. 3 Harley-Davidson) and Al third (no. 53 BSA), close on my tail at the finish. It was exciting to race with those fast guys and beat them at Indianapolis in 1952.” MC

  • Published on Aug 30, 2012
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