Harley-Davidson Motorcycle History: Harley on the race track
Harley-Davidson might just be one of the most beloved motorcycle brands of all time. That’s in part due to the exceptionally engineered rides they provide us, along with the culture and community that the brand has created. It’s an American brand, and unless you’re considering Indian, there are not many established American brands that can compete. And any brand that can manage to stay strong throughout its long history and stay true to the roots and foundations it was created on, is a brand that is loved. Harley is a personal favorite for a variety of riders, but how far does their passion really reach?
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Are you familiar with the history of Harley-Davidson and all its biggest milestones, or are you only able to recognize a Fat Boy when you see one? When it comes down to it, Harley’s racing history really is the core of who they are, but not many riders are familiar with how successful they were on the track. Let this timeline help you understand the brand a bit more, grow an even deeper love for what they stand for, and impress your friends with your new knowledge!
1905: On July 4th, a H-D motorcycle wins a 15-mile race in Chicago with a time of 19:02. In Milwaukee, the first full-time employee is hired.
1910: At least seven different first-place finishes are captured at races, endurance contests, and hill climbs across America. All seven winners are riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
1913: The racing department is formed, with William Ottaway as its first Assistant Engineer, and Racing Engineer William S. Harley. Also, the Forecar delivery van is offered for the first time.
1914: The Motor Company formally enters motorcycle racing this year. In just a few short years, Team Harley-Davidson becomes informally known as the “Wrecking Crew" because of their incredible dominance in the sport.
1920: Leslie “Red” Parkhurst breaks 23 speed records on a Harley-Davidson 61-cubic-inch racing motorcycle. Also, the “hog” association starts when the racing team’s mascot, a pig, is carried on a victory lap after each race.
1922: Harley-Davidson riders sweep all eight national championship races.
1925: Joe Petrali begins racing for Harley-Davidson. He would become one of the most successful dirt-track racers for Harley, and one of the most successful racers of all time.
Photo Source: Cycle World
1930: Bill Davidson, Jr., wins the Jack Pine endurance contest with 997 points out of 1,000. All individual class winners were riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
1932: In dirt-track racing, Harley racer Joe Petrali brings a five-year consecutive victory streak after winning the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Grand National Championship. Petrali also wins the national Hill-Climb Championship from 1932 to 1935.
1935: Joe Petrali and his Harley-Davidson peashooter win all 13 of the AMA National Championship dirt track races. Petrali breaks four records in the process.
1937: The first WL models are produced. Joe Petrali sets a new land speed record of 136.183 mph on a modified Harley-Davidson 61-cubic-inch, overhead, valve-driven motorcycle. The same day, he also breaks the record for 45-cubic-inch engine motorcycles.
1938: The Jack Pine Gypsies Motorcycle Club holds the first Black Hills Rally in Sturgis, SD. That same year, at the 3.2-mile beach course at Daytona, FL, Ben Campanale wins the first of two consecutive victories at the Daytona 200 on a Harley-Davidson WLDR.
1940: Harley-Davidson dirt-track racer Jimmy Chann wins the first of three consecutive AMA Grand National Championships.
1946: Harley introduces the the 45-cubic-inch Flathead WR racing motorcycle. It proves to be one of the best racing motorcycles ever built.
1947: Harley-Davidson dirt-track racer Jimmy Chann wins the first of three consecutive AMA Grand National Championships.
1950: Larry Headrick wins the AMA Grand National Championship for Harley in dirt-track racing. Harley-Davidson riders win 18 of 25 National Championships and set six new racing records.
1954: Dirt-track racer Joe Leonard wins the AMA Grand National Championship. Over the next eight years, the Grand National Championships are won by Harley-Davidson racers.
1955: The year begins a seven-year consecutive run of victories at the Daytona 200. The victories will be shared by racers Brad Andres, Johnny Gibson, Joe Leonard, and Roger Reiman. All these racers ride Harley KR models. Reinman’s victory in 1961 is on the new speedway course.
1958: Racer Carroll Resweber wins the first of four AMA Grand National Championships.
1960: In the year of Brad Andres’ first-place finish at the Daytona 200, the top 14 finishers are also riding Harley 750 KR models.
1963: Ralph White resumes the winning of the Daytona 200 for Harley, again on a 750 KR motorcycle.
1964: Roger Reiman wins the AMA Grand National Championship for Harley-Davidson. Reiman also scores the first of back-to-back Daytona 200 victories on a 750 KR.
1965: In a streamliner powered by a 250cc Sprint CR racing engine, George Roeder shatters the speed records for Class A and Class C runs, averaging 177 miles per hour. Harley-Davidson dirt-track racer Bart Markel wins the AMA Grand National Championship in 1965 and 1966.
1968: Cal Rayborn wins the first of back-to-back victories at the Daytona 200 on a 750 KR model.
1969: Mert Lawwill wins the AMA Grand National Championships for team Harley-Davidson in dirt-track racing.
1970: In consideration of new AMA rules for Class C racing, a new Sportster-based motorcycle, the XR-750 racer, is introduced. On the Bonneville salt flats near Wendover, Utah, racer Cal Rayborn breaks the World Record for land speed set by a motorcycle. The vehicle is a sixteen-foot streamliner powered by a single Sportster engine, and averages just over 265 mph.
1972: The new, more powerful, more reliable aluminum alloy XR-750 debuts. It becomes the dominant dirt-track racer through the next three decades. Dirt-track racer Mark Brelsford wins the AMA Grand National Championship on the XR-750 this year.
1975: This year is the first of four consecutive years of Harley-Davidson AMA Grand National Championships in dirt-track racing. Gary Scott wins in 1975. The following three years are won by racing legend Jay Springsteen.
1980: The AMA Grand National Championships in dirt-track racing goes to yet another Harley-Davidson rider, Randy Goss.
1981: Scott Parker begins racing for team Harley-Davidson on the AMA dirt-track circuit. He will become the most successful racer in Harley history, accumulating 93 career victories, and most incredibly, winning nine Grand National Championships titles in a 10-year period.
1982: The top three finishers in the AMA Grand National Championships are Ricky Graham, Jay Springsteen, and Randy Goss. This begins a two-year run of dirt-track Championship wins for Harley-Davidson. Goss takes the Championship in 1983.
1983: Dirt-track racer Randy Goss wins the AMA Grand National Championship this year.
1988: Scott Parker wins the first of his nine AMA Grand National Championships. His total domination is unprecedented in the history of the sport of dirt-track motorcycle racing.
2001: Harley-Davidson racing announces the latest addition to the team: 17-year-old Jennifer Snyder, the first woman to win a national event in the Formula USA National Dirt-Track Series.
2004: Andrew Hines of the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson drag racing team, clinches his first NHRA Powerade Pro Stock Motorcycle Championships at age 21, the youngest champion in NHRA history.
2005: Andrew Hines wins his second straight NHRA Powerage Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship. G.T. Tonglet, also of the Screamin’ Eagles/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team, places second.
2007: Eddie Krawiec joins the Screamin’ Eagles/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson NHRA Pro Stock team wins his second consecutive AMA Flat Track Twins Championship.
2008: Kenny Coolbeth clinches his third consecutive Grand National Championships. On the drag strip, Eddie Krawiec wins the fourth NHRA Powerade Pro Stock title for Harley-Davidson in five years.
2009: The AMA Flat Track team wins yet another Grand National Championship, this time with Jared Mees at the top.
2011: Eddie Krawiec wins Harley-Davidson’s fifth drag racing title for the 2011 season.
And there you have it! A full look at the top achievements and racing impact that Harley has made within the industry. With a timeline like this, it's hard to ignore just how driven Harley-Davidson was to be pioneers in speed and endurance. What year do you think really gave Harley a spot in history? Let us know below!