“Yesterday’s Memories Tomorrow’s Dreams” by Carmen Tom – The Big Race of “72”

The Big Race of “72”

It was the winter of 1972, Wilber, Alfred and Albert were drinking beer, having a good time shooting pooi having fun with the girls. The old pooi hail is a very busy place during the winter months. Most ranchers and farmers have more free time this time of year. One younger fellow asked Wilber about racing at the Sturgis Rally. Wilber said yes, I’ve dreamed of racing on that half-mile flat track, it’s a fast track, not in the best condition. The long cold winter in the hills is hard on tracks, ball parks etc., especially if they get a lot of snow. One has to spend a lot of time and money, “which most of the time they don’t have,” to put the tracks back in good shape.

The young man’s name was Fred, most people called him Freddie. Old Wilber said, you know what, I’ll talk to Alfred and Albert if they agree to race we’ll start getting our bikes in shape. If we start this winter we should have the bikes in shape by July, of course we had plenty of work to do on the farms, so we’d better hurry and get the bikes in condition to race.

The more beer they drank, and the more fun they had, the more they were sure that they would race in August, 1973. Wilber talked to Alfred and Albert about racing at Sturgis. They said it sounds good, only you know how we all hate the big crowds and all the traffic, but what the hell, let’s do it once. So after the tavern closed, they all went home, but agreed they would get together Monday to plan on which bikes they would use and see what they would have to do to get their bikes in shape. The rules say 750” is the biggest you can race and the bikes must be twins of 500” singles. Stupid rules, but that’s the way it is. Wilber asked Alfred and Albert what bikes they would be using. Alfred said I think I’ll start right now and build a flat traveler out of the Army Indian “45” we bought at the surplus sale after we came home from the Korean war. Albert said, these old bikes will really need a lot of work to build them into flat trackers. They had bought a truckload of surplus Harleys and Indians. They have been sitting in the barn for over 17 years.

All three agreed to get to work at once, they would use all their spare time on building the race bikes. The first thing they would do is strip the bikes down and make a list of parts they would have to order to build nice bikes out of army bikes. Albert said old Wilber what bike are you going to ride? Wilber said, I have three Harley “45”s, I’ll build a flat tracker out of one of them. So all three got to work, they knew they would have a lot of work ahead of them once they got the bikes built. They would have to have a track to run them on, they all agreed Sturgis was too far to go to test the bikes, plus the city would not let them use the track unless there was a race coming up. So Wilber said, we’ll just build our own track. Nothing fancy, but a true half mile track, that way we can practice on it. We’ll all be in good shape come August. Those big city racers will think we’re just some farm boys out to have fin but wait till the big 30 lap, 1 5 mile race comes up, we’ll show those city boys how old farm boys can ride! They all agreed to build the bikes into real racers, but we will have the bikes look old. No fancy paint jobs, no chrome, just pure racers. So they got to work, Wilber had his “45” stripped in one day. He put the engine on the work bench, he would tear it down soon, but first be had to get that list of parts made, they knew of a big dealer in Ohio, they could get their parts there.Wilber decided he would use the stock 45” springs front forks and save money, a new race fork cost lots of money. He stripped the rear wheel down, he would order 2 new lightweight rims. Wilber had been to a lot of races in the last 20 years so he pretty much knew what he had to do. He took that engine apart. Once he took weight off the flywheels and polished the rods, made sure the rollers were good as new he knew what pistons to order. He machine the heads, he did all the work on the carburetor. He let it look stock, but if the other riders really knew what he did to that carburetor. Wilber knew a stock 45” put out around 2 1-23 H.P. he would need 70 to 80 H.P. He cut every bracket off the frame he would not need. A stock 45” is around 550 lbs. he wanted his down to 300.-325 lbs. He cleaned the frame painted it black, he stripped the gas and oil tank and painted them fire engine red. No front fender was needed, the rear fender he made out of aluminum. He used an old Bates Salo seat, with pad on the back fender. He stripped off the Anny paint from the exhaust, he didn’t need a muffler, just the exhaust pipes, he really put work into them and tapered the pipes just right. He built a real simple bracket he could kick open with his right boot and close it at the correct time, he knew he could get a lot of extra H.P. this way.

One sunny spring day the mailman came by, and left Wilber a big package. The mailman said, what you got in that package? Wilber laughed and said garden seed. The mailman said from a motorcycle shop? Old Wilberjust grinned and said I’ll tell you come the middle of August. Wilber took those special race pistons and installed them. He laced the new alloy rims to the stock hubs, which he had cleaned and painted black. In two weeks he had the engine together, and the frame painted. He was now ready to put the bike together. He had started work on the track in April, Alfred and Albert had also worked on the track. They used old tires around the track.

One sunny day in April, a small airplane flew over, he must have noticed the track. He banked the plane around, flew real low, 50 – 100 feet off the ground. Wilber could see this guy was a real pilot, be flew around the track a few times. Wilber signaled for him to land in the pasture, which be did. He set the small pipes cub down like a real pro, got out of the plane, walked over to Wilber, and said old boy, just what the hell are you building it looks like a race track. Wilber said you’re right, a true half mile. He told the pilot the story, how he and his pals were going to race at Sturgis. The flyer said, by the way my name is Joe Foss. Wilber almost fainted he was the big hero of World War II. He seemed like a regular fellow, he had also been governor of South Dakota. Wilber called his friends Albert and Alfred, they came over in a few minutes, riding their old Indians. Wilber broke out his special home brew. Foss said I’d like to drink with you boys, but not when I’m flying besides he said here its 4:30 I’d better fly away, I have to be back in Sioux Falls by 7:00. He said he would come by sometime, and try to make it to the Sturgis Races. He never did fly back or come to the races. But Wilber knew Foss was a real busy man. It was a nice gesture but old Alfred said hell were just old farm boys, we all been in the army but we’re not heroes. Alfred said, I’d rather be an old farm boy any day than a city slicker. Wither said yes were just old farm boys, but we’re going to show some of those city riders this August at the Sturgis Races.

By end of April Wilber had his bike built, it looked good like most Harley 45” racers. He told Alfred lets get the track finished so we can get our bikes tested and practice our racing. Alfred and Albert had both the Indians stripped down. They agreed to use the stock Gircter front forks. They laced 19” alloy rims to the stock hub, which they hadstripped of all brake parts. Both really knew how to build Indian engines, they ordered special pistons out of California. They new of the old Indian racer named Ed Krent. He had won the Daytona 100 mile race on an Indian. They built both Indians the same. They built their own exhaust pipes and they did all the work on the stock carburetors and the air cleaners they built out of light aluminum, tapered to just the right shape. They painted the gas tank a bright Indian red, and the frame black, by time they got them together, they looked good. Just like factory racers.

By the end of April, they had their bikes race ready, now they would help Wilber finish the track. It rained a lot in April ad also in May. As soon as they would get the track ready to race on it would rail like crazy and make a mud hole out of the track. They knew they would have to put special clay on the track. This they would have to get down by Wounded Knee. There was a friend of theirs who had this large ranch on one section was some of the best clay in the Mid-West. They drove their old big Ford trucks down there one Sunday and loaded the trucks with clay, took it home and put it on the track. They knew at once they could never haul enough clay in their trucks to finish the track by June. So, they hired a trucking firm that had a dozen big trucks. In a weeks time they had moved enough clay to really build a good track. This cost them more than all three bikes did to build. Wilber said, I’ll sell some of my cattle to pay for the clay. He had to sell over 20 head of good Steers to pay for the clay. He did not like doing this, but they had come too far along to quit now.

Come the second week in June the track was in beautiful shape and their bikes were running beautiful. So come Sunday they started running the bikes on the track. The first Sunday they spend testing their bikes they got to gearing down. The third Sunday they started practicing racing. They must of used up 50 gallons of fuel, they ran those bikes until almost 9:00 at night. Their old friend Ruthie had been clocking them on the track, she said you guys are going as fast as the top racer in the U.S. do. Old Wilber said let’s try some of our special fuel, let’s see if these bikes will really fly and hang together. So come Monday, they tried the special fuel. All three bikes set record speeds, they were going around the track as fast as any Pro Racer.

They knew the bikes could go fast, they knew of an Indian friend who had bought a Triumph 500” twin in California. It was built to race on half-mile tracks, so they invited their friend over the next weekend. He asked Wilber if he could bring a friend of his along. He had this super fast B.S.A. 500” single. Wilber said bring anyone with a fast bike. The next weekend they spent all day Saturday and Sunday racing and testing the bikes. The Triumph was real fast, the B.SA. could take the Triumph. But they thought just maybe it was the rider, they switched riders. All five riders tried all the bikes, it was about 5:00, and old Ruthie had been clocking all the riders. She said lets try a 10-lap race and see how all 5 of your can do. So they all lined up, Ruth dropped the flag and all 5 riders took off like real racers. She clocked all the bikes. She could tell Wilber, Alfred and Albert had built some fast bikes, they stayed right with the Triumph and the B.S.A. Now they would have to get even faster if they could beat the B.S.A. and the Triumph, they knew they had a good chance of winning at Sturgis. They continued to race on their track all July.

They were now ready for Sturgis. They had just gotten their copy of Cycle Magazine, it had a large add on the races, $5,000 to the winner of the 25-mile main event. They checked and re-checked their bikes. Trying different jets and air filters. They were readyto race. Wilber said, we’ll take my Ford truck with the camper. We’ll camp out at the track, no need for a motel, besides they were all taken months ago. They drove to Sturgis on Friday and made arrangements with the track to camp out in the parking lot. They spend all day Saturday testing and practicing. Now it was time to race!

Sunday looked like it was going to be really hot out. Wilber liked that, because his bike would really run fast in the hot weather. The ate all their meals at the track and didn’t even go into town at night. Sunday came and bikes were arriving from all over the U.S. and they even noticed three riders from Canada. Alfred said if we can all three win, we can take home over $8,000. On Sunday morning they all signed up, practice would start at 10:00 sharp. The track looked good, Albert said good thing we build our track, we learned a lot about flat track racing. It was a good thing our friend came over and raced us on the B.S.A and Triumph. Wilber said let’s play it cool, no showing off, we’ll make sure all three of us make the main. Practice was underway, all three did real good. Albert came in 3rd, all 3 made the main. There was a big crowd on hand, the stands were full, standing room only. The word was out, the farm boys were running real fast. A lot of the west coast riders didn’t think much of the farm boys, Wilber heard one rider from Seattle say lets not let those fanners get ahead of us, we’ll hold them back and push them to the back first chance we get. Albert said to Alfred, we’ll show those city boys just wait and see.

The announcer said all riders in the main on the line now. There were 25 riders lined up in 2 rows. The flagman was on the starter line and all the riders were on the line with their engines running, it was very loud, riders were eager to start. The starter dropped the flag, and the race was on! The hot Triumphs shot to the front fast. Dick Washer from Seattle was really going fast, his Triumph seemed real fast. Wilber was back in 14th place, Alfred and Albert right behind Wilber, five laps passed and those farm boys were trying to work their way up. The Triumphs were really fast and it was hard to stay with them. Old Wilber was now in 9th place he was thinking to himself, I have to do something, then he reached down and pulled a lever on the carburetor, his bike shot forward fast. He could see Alfred and Albert were playing with their carburetor; they were all trying to get more out of their bikes. Fifteen laps passed, dick Washer on the fast Triumph was in place and really flying. Now 20 laps, Wilber had worked his way to 6th place. Alfred and Albert on the old Indians were really flying, they were in 8th Twenty-five laps went by, they flag came out, 25 laps to go, half the race was over. Thirty laps and the farm boys just could not work their ay up. About 20 riders went into the 3rd corner, really flying and all of a sudden one rider went down, he took 4 or 5 riders down with him. The flag came out, all riders kept their positions, 3 laps went by, then the flag came out, go again and all the bikes just went flying. Wilber had done good, he missed all the fallen riders. Alfred and Albert on their Indians had missed the fallen riders too and had worked their way up front, 40 laps gone by, 10 laps to go! Alfred had passed Wilber with Albert right behind him, now all 3 riders were up front, 6 or 7 riders were riding almost side by side down the straight a way. Wilber had now passed Alfred and Albert, 3 laps to go, the farm boys were now up front. Dick Walker on the fast Triumph was in front, 2 laps to go. Dick’s Triumph starting missing, it was back firing bad, he dropped way back. A California rider was now in 1 place on a Triumph. The white flag came out, 1 lap to go, Wilber was in 2nd, Alfred and Albert right behind him, the crowd was on their fee. Six riders went into turn 3, coming into turn 4. Wilber was now just inches ahead of the Triumph, Alfred and Albert right behind. All the riders came down the home stretch, side by side, Wilber now 6-8 inches ahead, Alfred and Albert were right with him. The checkered flag was out. Old Wilber had stayed inches ahead of the Triumph. This was going to be a photo finish. The crowd was going crazy, the Announcer was telling it as it was. All of a sudden, he said the three farm boys had won, just by 68 inches, it was so close they called all three winners. The crowd was going wild, and the race was over. All riders parked their bikes, engines off. They announced the winners, the boys on their old bikes had won! The hot California riders just could not believe it, they called for the engines to be tore down to see if they were legal. After 3 hours passed, the 3 Dakota farm boys were declared the winners. The race was over and the farm boys went home with $8,000. This was a race that all riders would be talking about for years.

Wilber, Alfred and Albert decided to spend the night at the track, all 3 were just too tired to drive home. They would get a good night sleep and leave in the morning. They would of liked to see the Sturgis Rally, but decided the next year they would spend a few days at the Rally, just maybe they would not race, they had proven they could still win at their age and on old bikes, if people really knew. All 3 bikes were special built, no factory could ever build racers like these 3 could. Wilber said what you boys think, just maybe we’ll have some races on our track. Wilber could hear Alfred and Albert were asleep, so he turned the lights off and soon was in La-La-Land.

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