Raymond Seymour, 1910 Reading Standard racer
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.
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.
Ray on his Reading Standard, circa 1908 or 1909. Photo from the scrapbook of Ray Seymour, via The American Motorcycle by Steven Wright.
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.
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.
Eddie Hasha, “the Texas Cyclone”
Jake De Rosier in bottom center. Ray Seymour on his right with the Indian sweater. Photo from The American Motorcycle.
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.
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:
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.