André Grapperon, 1913

Color by Manos Athanasiadis

André Grapperon, a French champion motorcyclist at a board track somewhere in the U.S., 1913

André Grapperon, a French champion motorcyclist at a board track somewhere in the U.S., 1913

Board track racing was a type of motorsport popular in the United States during the 1910s and 1920s. Competition was conducted on circular or oval race courses with surfaces composed of wooden planks. These large tracks, with steeply banked turns as high as 60 degrees, were raced on with motorcycles that had evolved only slightly from their bicycle origins, yet were capable of speeds approaching 100 mph.
The races were hugely popular with spectators, and the board tracks popped up across the country during the ‘teens and ‘twenties. The first board track for motor racing was the circular Los Angeles Motordrome, built in 1910 based on the same technology as European velodromes used for bicycle racing. Board tracks proliferated in part because they were inexpensive to construct, but they lacked durability and required a great deal of maintenance to remain usable.

Springfield board track

Springfield board track

Racing on a board track was exceedingly dangerous due to flying wood splinters and debris, and due to the primitive tire technology of the era. The danger on the motorcycling motordromes was aggravated by the riders’ lack of proper safety equipment. Fans sat above the top of the track, looking down at the racers. When a rider lost control, he could slip up off the track and into the crowd. Many fatalities occurred, often involving spectators.
With the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, board track racing disappeared rapidly. By 1929, at least 24 board tracks had been built around the country, although by 1931, 20 of the 24 had been shut-down or abandoned, and from 1932 on there were no more championship-level races run on boards.

Indian is an American brand of motorcycles originally produced from 1901 to 1953 in Springfield, Massachusetts, US. During the 1910s Indian became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Indian’s co-founders George M Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedstrom had both been successful racing cyclists in their day and so were well aware of the valuable publicity to be gained from racetrack successes.
At first, Indian motorcycles used in competition were modified road models, and not until 1908 did the Springfield company offer a purpose-built racing motorcycle for sale. The following year Messrs Hedstrom and Hendee opened their own home-town, pine-board motordrome in Springfield, thus providing Indian with its own test track and works rider ‘Jake’ DeRosier – one of motorcycle sport’s first superstars – with a stage to showcase his immense talent. Indian was soon profiting from its products’ competition successes, to such an extent that the firm was overwhelmed with orders.

The New York Times, 13/08/1913

The New York Times, 13/08/1913

The 1912 Indian 61ci Board-Track Racing motorcycle is one of the earliest models built by the company. It’s fitted with an overhead 8-valve 61 cubic inch V-twin with a Bosch magneto, a Hendee carburettor, 28 inch wheels, no brakes and no throttle. Speed was controlled by turning the magneto on or off with a button on the handlebars. The suspension is provided by the tire sidewalls and if you wanted to stop, you put your feet.
André Grapperon, was a French champion motorcyclist. As was common when the riders posed, Grapperon is shown on his Indian with the steeply banked track visible behind him.

Οι αγώνες μοτοσικλετών σε ξύλινες κυκλικές πίστες ήταν ιδιαίτερα δημοφιλείς στις ΗΠΑ τις δεκαετίες 1910 και 1920.
Οι πίστες έμοιαζαν με τα βέλοντρομς στην Ευρώπη, που όμως ήταν φτιαγμένα για ποδήλατα.
Οι αγώνες ήταν ιδιαίτερα επικίνδυνοι τόσο για τους αναβάτες όσο και για τους θεατές. Οι μοτοσικλέτες ήταν ακόμα αρκετά πρωτόγονες. Έμοιαζαν περισσότερο ποδήλατα με πανίσχυρες μηχανές. Δεν είχαν φρένα ούτε αναρτήσεις και τα λάστιχα ήταν υποτυπώδη. Οι οδηγοί έκαναν γύρους με ταχύτητα 160 χιλιομέτρων την ώρα, πάνω σε επιφάνειες με κλίση ως και 60 μοίρες, ενώ σκλήθρες και πριονίδια από την πίστα τους χτυπούσαν στο πρόσωπο. Όταν έχαναν τον έλεγχο ήταν εύκολο να καταλήξουν πάνω στο πλήθος που τους παρακολουθούσε από την κορυφή της πίστας. Τα πολύνεκρα ατυχήματα που συνέβησαν, έθεσαν αρκετές φορές σε αμφισβήτηση την διοργάνωση τέτοιων αγώνων. Η Μεγάλη Ύφεση του 1929 έφερε το οριστικό τέλος τους.
Η εταιρία “Ίνδιαν” έφτιαχνε μοτοσικλέτες στο Σπρινφιλντ της Μασσαχουσέτης από το 1901 ως το 1953. Τη δεκαετία του 1910 ήταν η μεγαλύτερη κατασκευάστρια στον κόσμο. Η μοτοσικλέτα που εικονίζεται στη φωτογραφία, είναι το αγωνιστικό της μοντέλο του 1912, με 8βάλβιδο κινητήρα 1000 κυβικών σε διάταξη “V” και 28αρες ζάντες. Δεν είχε φρένα, ούτε ανάρτηση.
Ο Αντρέ Γκραππερόν, ήταν ήδη πρωταθλητής στη Γαλλία, όταν το 1913 πήρε μέρος σε board track αγώνες μοτοσυκλέτας στις ΗΠΑ.


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