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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2019 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Dirt Track Daredevils: 1912

Dirt Track Daredevils: 1912

        Motorcycle racing 103 years ago at the old Benning horse track in Washington.

May 30, 1912. "National Capital Motorcycle Club -- Decoration Day motor races at Benning track." National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Want to see this type of racing soon?

This type of racing is still going on. Google "AMA flat track racing" to find where and when you can see it. You can also view it on the YouTube. It's one of the few forms of motorcycle racing where the winner isn't always predictable. The bikes race on 1/2 to 1 mile ovals, there's only a rear brake and it's use is only to slow in case of a downed rider or at the end of the race. Straightaway speeds of 120 mph are common, and they slide around the corners at 100+.

Ah, flattrack motorcycle racing

Full speed ahead, and no brakes on those bikes. What could go wrong?

When Men Were Men and Bikes Were Worried

Early dirt racing bikes were primitive even for the time, according to my late father who raced a few: most notably, they had no brakes -- an ignition cut-off served to slow down a little, often with a string connecting the cut-off to the rider in case he fell off, as a kind of "dead man" switch.

Most also had but one gear and they were push-started with the aid of whatever crew the rider could muster, thereby saving the weight of a recoil starter. And on short tracks, typical of county fairs, the most valuable driving technique involved the infamous "pendulum skid," with riders taking the curves much as automobile drifters do today (but with two wheels fewer, to add to the excitement).

Better not to ask

How those fence rails ended up in the grass.

Life goes on

Six weeks after the sinking of the Titanic.

Bikes in the Blood

My grandfather was a bike racer. He rode in what we called a "motorcycle scramble" on a dirt track very similar to this one.

I remember watching him work on his bike when I was very young (50-plus years ago now).

Although I never was allowed to go watch him, I was told he was quite good.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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