[David Morrill of Sylacauga, Alabama, submitted this story of Gene Walker, a legendary board track competitor for Indian in the 'Teens. Morrill is a retired Orlando police officer, who rode five years as a motorcycle cop, and also raced motorcycles. For more on Board Track racing, click here for my earlier article.]
|Gene Walker on his Indian Powerplus, Daytona Beach Florida, 1920 (Don Emde collection)|
John Eugene “Gene” Walker got his first motorcycle in 1910 and rode it to deliver mail for the local post office. But in 1912, the Alabama State Fair sponsored a motorcycle race at the Birmingham Fairgrounds Raceway, and it was Walker who won the final race of the day. Bob Stuibbs, a local Indian Motorcycles dealer, took note, soon putting Walker on a new Indian eight-valve racer and racing him out of his downtown Birmingham dealership.
|Birmingham Fairgrounds Raceway 1913/14, O.H. Hunt photograph (Johnny Whitsett Collection)|
Early racing motorcycles were little more than large bicycles with large powerful engines–and no brakes. They could reach speeds of 90 m.p.h. on the tracks of the day, and racing them was a deadly serious business.
The races at Birmingham Fairgrounds’ track drew large crowds who came to see top amateur and professional riders lap the dirt track at a blistering pace. By the fall race of 1913, Walker had established a reputation as the man to beat, winning every race he entered during the week long fall program and setting a new lap record for the track.
The following October, Walker entered his first professional race, the F.A.M. (Federation of American Motorcyclists) one-hour race at Birmingham. While he didn’t win, he was able to set a new lap record and ran with the lead pack throughout the race.
Walker’s ride with Indian
|Indian Motorcycle memorial for Walker, 1924 (Don Emde Collection)|
A few days later, Birmingham News sports writer Zipp Newman eulogized the hometown motorcycle celebrity under the headline:
MOTORCYCLE RIDING HAS LOST ITS GREATEST STAR IN DEATH OF WALKER
|Walker's marker at Elmwood Cemetery|