Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Hall of Fame Museum
Story and photos by John Gunnell
It seems a little ironic that we saw our first motorcycle on the highway this chilly spring season during a trip to Indianapolis for a trade show. I say this because we then stopped at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “Hall of Fame” Museum and saw more than one motorcycle on display there. In fact, there were seven very cool two-wheeled machines, including a 1909 Indian that dates from a period when the builders of the “Brickyard” envisioned bikes racing there.
The museum is mainly devoted to automobiles and auto racing, but having a handful of very significant motorcycles included was a natural. Tony Hulman and Karl Kizer started the collection it 1956 and both men were total “gearheads” with a deep appreciation of motor vehicle history. Hulman included antique mortorcycles and in 2011, when the Speedway’s centennial was celebrated, museum director Ellen Bireley decided a motorcycle display would honor automobile racers who had also raced motorcycles. It remains on exhibit today.
As things turned out, motorcycles were only raced at Indy one year—1909. When the Speedway was first being constructed, the idea was that motorcycles would be regularly raced and tested there. The innaugural event was scheduled for Aug. 13-14, 1909, one week before the first auto race. Since the 13th was a Friday, maybe the riders were lucky that the motorcycle racing was cancelled due to rain. Perhaps soime unlucky incident might have occurred.
In any case the motorcycle racers were rescheduled over the next three days, with races to take place on Saturday and Monday (sporting events were not permitted on Sunday). As luck would have it, the track surface was crushed rock and tar and there were many problems racing motorcycles on it. The racing was called off before the final event of the day. In the fall, the track surface was paved with bricks and that made motorcycle racing virtually impossible.
One of the events held before the motorcycle races were cancelled was a 4-lap amateur championship that was won by young Edwin G. Baker. This soon-to-be well-known speed demon outpaced the pack, even though it would not be until a few years later that he was given the nickname “Cannonball Baker.”
Among the motorcycle we saw on display were the red 1909 Indian, a 1962 British-built Manx Norton, a 1038 Regent, a beautiful blue 1923 Harley JS23 with a sidecar, a white 1940 Indian Four and a 1924 Indian board track racer. The museum also owns a 1939 Indian Four and a 1934-Harley racer.
The last bike is a 350cc racing bike that was nicknamed the Pea Shooter” when Joe Perrali campaigned the black-and-white rocket in the legendary American Motorcycle Assoc. flat track, board track and hillclimbing championship contests. Perrali—who later became a flight engineer for Howard Hughes “Spruce Goose” wooden airplane and a chief mechanic for Indy 500 racing teams—also worked as chief official at the Bonneville Speedway in the 1960s. He watched over all of the motorcyclists who took stabs at the World Land Speed Record on two wheels and was honored with a lifetime AMA membership.
The Hall of Fame museum is open 9 am-5 pm (ET) March-October, 10 am-4 pm (ET) November-February with extended hours during May. It is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. For information phone: (317) 492-6784
All seven bikes on display can be seen here if you look close.
A rare 1938 Regent.
This 1934 Harley-Davidson racer is known as the Pea Shooter.
A 22-hp version of the legendary “74” V-twin powers this 1923 Harley.
A white 1940 skirted fender Indian Four and a red 1909 Indian racer.
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106 Main Street, North Adams, MA 01247