Categories History, 2 Wheels

Harley Davidson’s Wrecking Crew Were Fearless Rebels Who Helped Harley Build A Name In Racing

It was the 1920s. Harley-Davidson had cemented its status as the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, producing over 28,000 machines. It also had a global dealer network spanning 67 countries. 

However, the company’s rise to dominance was not only fueled by its excellent bikes. A fearless group of racers who became known as the “hog boys” would also play a part in their growth. 

The Hog Boys Take the Track by Storm

lawrence ray weishaar

This band of farm-raised daredevils, led by the charismatic Ray Weishaar, made a name for themselves by consistently winning races and capturing the public’s imagination. 

The Victory Lap

pig mascot after winning race

After each victory, the “hog boys” ceremoniously placed their live hog mascot atop their Harleys. They would then take a celebratory lap around the track with the mascot.

The HOG Nickname

harley owners group vest

That victory lap solidified the “hog” nickname that would eventually inspire the creation of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) decades later. Harley-Davidson tried to trademark the term but was not successful.

The “Wrecking Crew”

the harley davidson wrecking crew

A new group called the “Wrecking Crew” would take shape around 1910. This group featured a group of factory or factory-supported riders that would help Harley Davidson make a name in national racing.  

Weishaar was just one member of Harley-Davidson’s elite racing team. Members of the crew would come and go throughout the years. Below are some of the most notable riders of the team.

Ray Weishaar

ray weishaar on his harley
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Ray Wieshaar was a rider to watch in the 1910s and 1920s. He rode Harley Davidson motorcycles on board and dirt tracks around the country. Born in 1890, he took a job with Bell Telephone to help the family after his dad passed away. Wieshaar would buy a motorcycle and begin racing in local races, and he would win – a lot. 

He became a member of the factory team in 1916. In 1924, he died doing what he loved in a race at Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles. 

Albert “Shrimp” Burns

albert shrimp burns on host harley davidson
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Albert “Shrimp” Burns was the youngest champion racer of the time, winning his first titles at just 15. His age was a point of contention with other racers. Born in 1898, he spent much of his free time at a motorcycle dealership in Oakland, California. He was later hired as a shop helper, further igniting his passion.

Burns went on to win several races. One win occurred with a broken shoulder and fractured collarbone, which is a testament to his grit and talent. After returning from World War I, he joined the Harley-Davidson team. 

Fred Ludlow

fred ludlow motorcyclist on his harley
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Fred Ludlow was born in 1895 and only finished two years of high school before becoming a truck driver. He saved his money to buy his first Indian motorcycle and began racing in the Los Angeles area scene at just 16. Ludlow would build notoriety for his mechanic and riding skills. After a brief stint in World War I, he returned to the States to star racing for Harley Davidson.

He became one of the original “Wrecking Crew” members and was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1998.

Jim Davis

jim davis motorcyclist
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Jim Davis rode professionally for Harley Davidson and Indian racing teams. Born in 1896 to a bicycle racer, Jim enjoyed cycling at a young age. A trip to a local Indian dealer in 1915 would result in Davis receiving an Indian to explore his racing desires. 

He would go on to race in the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) and the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association (M&ATA). 

Ralph Hepburn

ralph hepburn on vintage harley
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Born in 1896, Ralph Hepburn went on to become a rider for both Harley Davidson and Indian. He began working as a delivery boy, using a motorcycle to make his deliveries. This job experience inspired a love of riding and the start of a successful racing career. 

In 1919, he became a member of what would be considered the greatest racing team of all time. During his time, he won many races, including the Dodge City 300, which is considered his greatest performance. Another racer killed doing what he loved, Hepburn, lost his life in qualifying practice for the Indianapolis 500 in 1948.

Irving Janke

irving janke on his harley in 2016
A.F. Van Order

Irving Janek was obsessed with motorcycles by the time he was a teenager. He left school and went on to enter races at amateur events around his Milwaukee hometown. His reputation grew, and he became a factory test rider for Harley Davidson when he was just 17. 

When Harley developed a new racing bike, the 11K, it was Janek who brought it to competitions. In July 1916, he made his claim to fame by reaching an average speed of almost 80mph in the Dodge City 300 and claiming the win.

Otto Walker

ottow walker riding a harley
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Otto Walker was one of Harley Davidson’s first factory riders. He would set many speed records and become the first rider to win a race with a speed of over 100mph. Born in 1890, he would join the Harley Davidson team in 1914 and go on to win several races for the team. This included Harley’s first national victory at the 300-mile road race in Venice, California in 1915.

These riders dominated the oval tracks and set numerous records, cementing their place in the pantheon of early American motorcycle racing legends.

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