Very often, it seems like big motorcycle auction events aren’t complete without at least one vintage board track racer crossing the stage. We frequently see and admire them, and find the technology and history they represent totally fascinating, but how much do we really know about the racing itself?
While we’re all spending more time at home, it’s a great time not only to get reacquainted with your bike in your garage, but also with some motorcycling history. Luckily, Paul and the team over at On Yer Bike have helpfully obliged and started their own motorcycle history series, beginning with a brief history of board track racing.
In the years since, road, circuit, and off-road racing have all skyrocketed in popularity around the world. It’s also fascinating to see this video told from the perspective of our friends across the pond, because board track racing was seen as such a primarily American pastime. I mean, the very first Isle of Man TT took place in 1907, and we all know where that little upstart event went.
Still, we can’t forget that the board-tracking craze was widely popularized in the U.S. by an expat Brit. John Shillington, better known as “Jack” Prince, started out in England racing penny-farthing bicycles. It wasn’t long before he became a professional bicycle racer, and set about gaining acclaim in competition across the United States.
One thing led to another, and pretty soon, he had the bright idea to begin promoting bicycle velodromes. From that step, it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to building the Los Angeles Motordrome, and from there, board tracks and their racing soon blossomed across the country, wherever Prince traveled. He was a one-man promotion machine, and knew how to draw crowds for the height of entertainment in its day.
Although board track racing was an extremely popular form of entertainment for a time, high-profile deadly crashes that killed racers and spectators alike dulled public appetite for the sport. Not only that, but board track facilities required frequent and expensive maintenance. Then, the Great Depression hit. Put those factors together, and the outlook grew increasingly dim. It wasn’t terribly surprising when that chapter of motorsport eventually closed for good in 1931, as audiences and racers sought slightly less dangerous forms of entertainment.
Sources: National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, YouTube