“Sushi” Atsushi Yasui of Freewheelers & Co. The Race of Gentlemen 2016, Wildwood NJ– Photo © Sean Madden
Sean Madden came into the TSY shop last summer emitting an abundance smiles and good vibes. I liked this guy right away. We chatted about his passion for motorcycles and photography, and reconnected a few times since. Well, he decided to bite the bullet and come down to Wildwood, NJ and shoot The Race of Gentlemen 2016– which can be quite daunting as many of the best photographers in the business now religiously make the trek to TROG. When I got a look at some of his shots I was impressed enough to ask if TSY could share them with all of you. I especially dig his shots like the one above of Sushi racing. Sean’s shots where he’s intentionally cropping the images of the riders & machine flying out of frame emit a sense of speed and movement that I dig. Definitely very different from a lot of the standard TROG imagery you see these days. Hope y’all enjoy.
The Race of Gentlemen, 2016, Wildwood NJ– Photo © Sean Madden
Love this shot of Chris Price of Archive Moto on his Indian that traces back to Bill Brownell, married striptease legend Patti “Waggin'” Brownell– Photo © Sean Madden
TSY recenty received a scan of this great old Wall of death rider, along with the below note from the sender, Brian in Kansas City, MO. Anyone with knowledge of the rider, and/or this particular Wall of Death motordrome is kindly asked to chime in:
“…I am a collector of postcards and a while back I purchased a postcard of a man on a motorcycle riding in some kind of spectator show. Your article helped clarify a lot about the photo. I have attached the photo and thought maybe you have seen it before or could provide some more info. The back of the card is particularly interesting. It reads: ‘About 1912– Later he was killed– Someone threw a peanut at him– caused him to dodge and lose balance, falling with cycle to bottom of pit killing him.’ Sounds likes sport spectators were not much different then as they are today. I thought maybe the motorcycle may have been a Cyclone, however I don’t think it is. The lettering on his shirt may bring some clue as well…”
Back In Dec. ’09 TSY posted what remains today one of our more popular stories– Wall of Death riders with a lion, no less. I mean, really…old photos of a lion riding the Wall of Death is damn hard to beat…unless you have a video of said lion riding the Wall of Death! At that time there wasn’t a moving image to be found, but British Pathe, an amazing archive of historic film clips, uncovered a little gem of ‘Fearless Egbert’ giving his lion named Monarch a spin back in 1934. They also uncovered incredible film footage of ‘Tornado Smith’ with his Lion, ‘Briton’. It’s definitely worth a look…
Circa 1920s– Lillian La France in her early Motordrome riding days. This must be 1924, or so. She looks a little green, and that signature smile and exuberant confidence is not quite present.
“It was the thrill of risking my life that made me to take to drome riding. I was the girl who flirts with death. From childhood I was inspired by wanderlust. I was always alone, dreaming of adventures– how to ride a pony out West, to follow my calling to fame. This was my secret. I shared it with no one.”
Circa 1929, Wall of Death, Revere Beach, MA
With the quickly improving build quality, speed, and more oil-tight engines, motorcycle racing was able to move from dirt tracks onto the motordromes of the 1910s– large wooden board tracks used for streamlined competition with banked turns of 70-80 degrees. Riders soon learned a neat trick– that with a little speed, centripetal force made it possible for them to stick their bike sideways in turns on a completely vertical wall.
Motordrome racer on an Excelsior motorcycle, circa 1914
Motorcycle companies here and abroad (Indian and BSA, to name a couple) found that the public loved the thrill of peering down just a few feet away from the gunning biker beneath them, and thus it quickly became a highly promoted spectacle as manufacturers used it as a vehicle to advertise their brands, and daredevil riders upped the ante at breakneck speed to make a name for themselves and solidify their reputations on the infamous Wall of Death.
With roots that can be traced back to New York’s own Coney Island, the Wall of Death attraction morphed into a motordrome on crack. Motorcycles, carts and yep, even lions— simultaneously racing and criss-crossing in a raucous blur of fumes, fury, and fur inside the equivalent of an over-sized wooden barrel. The sport had a strong run from the 1930s- 1960s (with Indian Scouts being the over-riding bike of choice), but there are still hardcore enthusiasts to be found all over keeping it alive today.
Dick Monte with two handsome-as-hell Wall of Death riders, circa 1945. The rider on the left is Elias Harris, and on the right is Tornado Smith. Photo from the late Carrie Tindale collection.