David Morrill of Deadly Dave’s Blog
They say a pictures worth a thousand words, and this old photo is certainly worth a few. To start with, Daytona 200 winner Don Emde sent me this photo as part of some research I was doing a few years back. It was taken in 1923, and the rider is Gene Walker, of Birmingham, AL.
Gene Walker – 1923
Now some folks will tell you, Gene Walker was an Indian rider, and that is mostly correct. From the time the Birmingham Indian dealer, Bob Stubbs, put young Walker on an 8 valve Indian racer at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, through many of his race wins, and numerous track records, Gene Walker raced Indians.
So how did one of the most famous Indian riders of his time come to be photographed on a Harley-Davidson racer?
And even more interesting, how did he come to be part of Harley-Davidson’s 1923 advertising?
The story starts with America’s entry into World War I. Professional racing was curtailed, and Indian Factory rider Gene Walker returned to Birmingham. As his widowed mother’s sole support, Walker was exempted from the draft. He found work as a motorcycle machinist at the Harley-Davidson shop run by Bill Specht. During the winters, Walker supplemented his income, working as a Birmingham Motorcycle Police Officer. Walker also kept is hand in racing, winning a few non championship races at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway on a privately entered Harley-Davidson.
With his return to the Indian Racing Team in 1919, Gene Walker again won races, set track records, and even set the first officially recognized motorcycle land speed records for Indian.
So how did he come to fall into disfavor with the Management at Indian?
In July 1921, Walker agreed to compete in the biggest race of the year, the 300 Mile Coyote Classic in Dodge City, Kansas. A few days before the race, Walker notified his bosses he would not compete at Dodge City. Walker contended he didn’t like the dusty, dangerous conditions, at Dodge City, but he may have had another reason.
Walker entered a race in South Bend, Indiana just two weeks after the Dodge City race. His bosses at Indian, accused him of “cherry picking” races for easy wins, and purses. The dispute played out in the motorcycle press for the next month. Gene continued to win races on Indians, and it appeared the dispute was settled, until Walker was unexpectedly released by Indian at the end of the 1921 racing season. The reason given by Indian’s Management, was his failure to meet his Continue reading