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Raymond Seymour, 1910 Reading Standard racer

July 6, 2010

I found this image in the Feb 15, 1910 issue of Motorcycle Illustrated magazine.  The photo is pretty good.  But check out the background!  I don’t recall seeing a studio photo like this before, and decided to look a bit further.

1910 racer

Ray is on a Reading Standard V twin.  The text reads:  “Raymond Seymour, a Promising Amateur – Los Angeles Coliseum In The Background”

 

Aged 18, Ray Seymour was already an accomplished racer when the photo was taken.  During the 1909 season, he set several records at the LA Coliseum at 72 mph and 73 mph in June.  Then in July he secured the world record for the mile at 76.6 mph.  He went on to win more races at Playa del Rey, the LA Coliseum and other locations across America.  His mentor was Jake De Rosier, who taught him well during the 1910 season.  When he borrowed De Rosier’s factory-tuned 8 valve Indian and won the National Championships in Philadelphia, Ray became the F.A.M. National Amateur Champion.

 

Jake De Rosier.  Photo from the LA Times April 16, 1910.  There’s a great story here about Jake, a 16 year old girl, and several bottles of Burgundy wine.

Jake

 

Ray on his Reading Standard, circa 1908 or 1909. Photo from the scrapbook of Ray Seymour, via The American Motorcycle by Steven Wright.

IMG_4144

 

Reading Standard management decided in 1910 to stop sponsoring racers, so Seymour moved to Indian and got his own factory tuned 8 valve. Seymour was leading the race in the New Jersey Motordrome on Sept 8, 1912, when his Indian teammate Eddie Hasha lost control and crashed.  The accident killed Hasha, racer Johnny Albright, and 6 spectators.  The spectators were children who were watching the race from the stands just above the upper guard rail.  All but one of the dead were less than 21 years old.  This was the deadliest event in board track racing history, and the public outcry from it forced the NJ Motordrome to close forever on that day.  In time, the outrage from this and other accidents ultimately killed off the sport of board track racing in the USA. 

I should mention a bit of the background info of Board Track Racing:  Board track racers did nothing but go FAST.  The bikes had one gear (top gear).  They had no brakes, no clutch, nor suspension.  They had no throttle; the carburetors were set to wide open throttle all the time.  If they needed to slow down, there was a button they could use to ground the magneto to the frame, that would stop the spark at the plugs.  But of course the bike would continue to roll forward with its momentum.  The motors spewed oil from the constant-loss oil systems, made worse by the holes drilled into the motor heads and barrels used to increase power.  This oil went onto the rider, the rear tire, and onto the track.  The front forks were set up to go straight, not to turn sharply.  The tracks were extremely high-banked, almost like the wall of death tracks.  Much more severe than Nascar banking…  They did all this with the technology of the time, ie Schebler carbs (aka The Controlled Leak), clincher tires that pop off the rim sometimes, primitive metallurgy in the connecting rods, pistons, chains, etc.  And they went over 100mph regularly.  With this combination, riders had little chance to avoid the crashes that often occurred…  During crashes the wooden track would give splinters up to 8 feet long.  Riders wore minimal protective gear, typically a wool sweater and johdpurs, maybe a leather helmet and puttees over their lace up shoes.

 

By 1913, Seymour had stopped racing, and became a traveling representative for Indian Motocycles.  In the sport of board track racing, death was very common, with many of the sport’s heroes dying from crashes:  De Rosier, Bob Perry, Charles “Fearless” Balke, Bill Goudy, Bill Brier, Lee Taylor, and many more.  Seymour was a survivor.

  

After this NYT article was published, two more people died at the hospital, bringing the total to 8 lives lost.

imageimage

Published: September 9, 1912
Copyright © The New York Times

 

 

Seymour leads the race on Sept 8, 1912, Hasha is on the far right.  This photo was taken immediately before Hasha lost control and made the hard right turn up to the rail in the crash that killed 8 people.  He crashed just after the start of the race, just seconds after this picture was taken.  The timing of the photo is almost unbelievable.  Photo from Ray Seymour’s scrapbook, via The American Motorcycle.

IMG_4143 

 

Eddie Hasha, “the Texas Cyclone”

image

 

Jake De Rosier in bottom center.  Ray Seymour on his right with the Indian sweater.  Photo from The American Motorcycle.

IMG_4147

 

Paul Derkum’s also had a 1910 RS factory special that looked identical to Seymours, and was purchased by Derkum to debut at the new LA Coliseum….  Here is Seymour’s photo again in larger format;  Note the custom frame tube below the tank, and the pushrods and other valve gear for the front cylinder is on the drive side of the bike.  The rear cylinder has its pushrods and cam on the timing side, as typical.1910 racer

 

I dug a bit further into my research and found a nice article from the March 1909 Popular Mechanics, describing a crash that Ray had:

ray flips -1

ray flip -2

 

In addition to the links shown above, more info is available on Daniel Statnekov’s site here.  and Steven Wright’s books here,  as well as Jerry Hatfield’s American Racing Motorcycles and American magazines circa 1908-1920.  Additional bibliography here.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard McKenney permalink
    July 10, 2010 5:25 am

    A Corker, Pete!

    Now your talking, blood, guts and bone chips! What a terrific cameo of some legendary men.
    I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a velodrome, but if you back of in the turns your lost.
    This is big cohunes stuff, on some hell scary motorcycles, these guys are the big wave riders of the motorcycle world.
    No doubt you’ve seen the lost archives of the 1920 Board track race at Daytona by Frantsek Marik, the Czeck Indian importer.
    They’re better men than I Gunger Din. I’ve ordered the books, Great stuff Pete!

    Cheers Richard

  2. Paul Venne permalink
    November 2, 2010 10:46 am

    Wow. Write on. I miss the deleted photo although I may have seen it before. I’m working on a boardtrack racer I call the ” Oilzum Special.” I had an Indian frame made to take an Excelsior engine. The bike will be a copy of a photo in Steve Wright’s book. Seems in 1912-13 lots of guys were adding extra oil lines. Thanks, Paul Venne

    • Pete Young permalink*
      November 2, 2010 10:55 am

      Hiya Paul. There shouldn’t be any deleted photos. Click ‘refresh’ on your browser to see if it reloads and is visible. 😉

  3. scott permalink
    January 22, 2011 10:30 pm

    The main reason Board Track racing ended was due to the cost of up keep and actually Racing continued the following year in 1913 at Vailsburg Motordrome Newark NJ
    The smaller board tracks( 1/4 and1/3 mile) were built right up to 1919,then WWII and up keep as well as the M&ATA all but shut down, but the larger board tracks of 1-2 mile lasted up to 1928 maybe later

    sorces-1905-1930 Motorcycle magazines,Jerry Hatfields American Racer book
    Cyclespast@vermontel.net

  4. Keith B. Cornick permalink
    December 19, 2011 5:58 pm

    I would like to find out if Ray Seymour ended up as the Indian dealer in Santa Cruz, Calif.
    In 1916. There was an Indian Motorcycle shop opened at #10 Soquel Av. in Santa Cruz. A friend gave me a copy of the 1916 Santa Cruz high school year book with a advertisement for that dealer. The shop remained into the 1920`s and maybe up to the stock market crash of 1929. Santa Cruz city business records from that era don`t show it. I remember when I was about 12 or 13 years old (1944-45} my dad took me in that shop to get my bicycle fixed and several years later I took my Cushman motor scooter there for tire repair. The owner told me it was a motor cycle shop in the 20`s and he had pix of it from that era. It`s since been torn down and replaced with a parking lot.
    Ever since then, I`ve been a hard core motorcycle guy, owned over 50 bikes and have spent a lot of years restoring a 1916 power-plus Indian, which I now ride around Santa Cruz. An article in the latest The Antique Motorcycle magazine about Ray Seymour led me to this website.

    Keith Cornick

  5. Brandyn2@verizon.net permalink
    April 10, 2014 5:39 am

    Hi just found registration for a Reading Standard from 1927 if anybody knows anything about it give me a call it has the factory engine number on it
    Thanks Brandyn
    814-542-9676

    • Keith Cornick permalink
      September 14, 2014 9:10 am

      Thanks for this great information on Ray Seymour. I finally was able to obtain the name of the Santa Cruz Indian dealer in 1916 and it was not Ray Seymour, but I love reading about this stuff, so keep it coming. I liked the comment about comparing the current big wave surfers of today to the board track riders of that era. That`s so true. Most of you know that Santa cruz is home to the largest group of big wave surfers in the world. Gnarley guys.

      Keith Cornick

  6. September 9, 2016 6:08 am

    Hi Pete! Thanks for all you do to bring history back alive! I was wondering if I could share these photos and some content about Raymond Seymour on my vintage Board Track Facebook page called Seymour Cycle Works Facebook.com/SeymourCycleWorks. There’s no way of verifying since there’s no official records in my family tree past my great grandfather but there’s a chance that I may be a descendant of Rays because of the time frame, last name, and resemblance of my grandfather/great uncles. Please let me know if you have any other information on Raymond Seymour and I’d be happy to give proper credit to you. Thanks!

    Keith Seymour

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