Motorcycle Board Track Races | 1921

Beverly Hills Race Video

Ever since I first learned about the infamous steep banks of American board track motorcycle racing as a teenager I’ve been keen on finding whatever I can that surfaces from that near mythical time of motorcycling.

Aside from the occasional water damaged black & white photos or the odd few feet of heavily scratched film, I had little to quench my thirst. Now, in this era of the Internet and YouTube, all kinds of strange and wonderful things are surfacing, among them, footage from that bygone era.

This rare video has the most complete and engaging film of board-track racing that I’ve ever seen. Incredibly, the film (hand-cranked) was shot April 24, 1921 at a boardtrack in-of-all-places Beverly Hills, California and carries highlights of the series of races ruled by Indian Motorcycles and Motorcycle Hall of Famer Shrimp Burns.

Evidently the track pulled in a pretty loyal fan base (as did so many other boardtrack motorcycle races of the day) and the film claims an audience of 12,000 the day this was shot.

People can argue all day long about the various disciplines of racing and the talent and fearlessness it takes to do what, where. But as far as I’m concerned, the board trackers were the bravest, most fearless, and perhaps craziest motorcycle racers of all time.

With speeds in excess of 100 mph on rickety, brake-less race bikes and little more than a leather cap and britches, lace-up boots, and a sweatshirt separating the rider from the splinter infested planks of board that comprised the track, these riders were, and still are-in my mind-the preeminent gladiators of two-wheel sport.

One can only imagine what the soundtrack for these precious film clips would have sounded like; a pack of straight-piped V-twin Indians tapped out on the high banks, the sound resonating off the wood planks.

Imagine being in the middle of that pack of total loss oil engines, with goggles and face sprayed with clouds of hot motor oil, elbow-to-elbow with other competitors, head forced down by centrifugal force on the banking. Fantastic.

And to think, this was happening in Beverly Hills, California. Those must have been the days.