America’s Birthplace of Motorcycle Road Racing

Plan your Pilgrimage to Inaugural Indianapolis MotoGP,  September 12—14, 2008

By: John M. Rossi, founder   

It could be said that the birthplace for America’s Motorcycle Road Racing was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 when the first race ever held at the newly constructed track was a motorcycle race. While there were many tracks that played host to weekly competitions in the US and Europe, Indianapolis has demonstrated the staying power to become the undisputed Racing Capital of the World. Now, after nearly a Century, motorcycle racing returns to the Brickyard on September 12—14, 2008 with an historic World Class MotoGP.

Indianapolis “First Race” Facts:

Name:                     "National Motorcycle Race Meet"

Date:                       August 13 and 14, 1909

Surface:                 Made up of tar and crushed rock

Distance:               2.5 miles oval

Manufacturers:     Harley Davidson, Indian, Thor, Merkel. R.S. (Reading Standard.)


Winner:                  Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, 27 years old, won the main race event on a 1908 Indian motorcycle and there were several races throughout the day.


Brickyard:          The brick laying started in September of 1909, the brick surface was comprised of 3.2 million bricks and the Motor Speedway gave way to hosting automobile races from that point forward, until now.

 After nearly a Century, motorcycles return to an entirely new MotoGP Road Course that is under construction at Indianapolis on September 12 – 14, 2008

Start of the first race at Indianapolis, 1909 where cotton-clad racers ran on a 2.5 mile oval made-up of tar and gravel.

        Photo credit: IMS archive

Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, 1882—1960

Credit: Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame


1909 Indianapolis "National Motorcycle Race Meet" winner, Erwin George Baker, born in 1882 in Dearborn County, Indiana, moved to Indianapolis at age-12. Learned the machinist trade and labored in a foundry.  Worked out in a gymnasium faithfully gaining a reputation as a strong and agile athlete. He earned a job with a acrobatic team traveling the vaudeville circuit. Erwin was into the popular bicycle racing craze at the turn of the Century which led to him riding the first motorized bicycles.

In 1908, Baker purchased an Indian motorcycle entering and winning local races. His most famous victory came in 1909 at the first race ever held at the newly built Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He began his endurance runs setting early city-to-city records and racing passenger trains from town to town before the days of well-maintained roads. Baker often encountered deep mud, sand washes, flooded river crossings and snowed-in mountain passes during his long-distance attempts.

Erwin Baker was an early motorcycling pioneer who set dozens of cross-country records riding a variety of motorcycles and sidecar rigs. He also was known for record-setting runs in automobiles. By the time he retired from his pursuit of records, it was estimated that Baker had ridden or driven more than five million miles. During his exhausting career, Baker made more than 143 attempts at a variety of timed, long-distance records, including his most famous transcontinental and three flags (Canada to Mexico) attempts earning the nickname “Cannonball.”

He auto raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1922, placing 11th, became the first commissioner of NASCAR in and was inducted in the Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 1998.

 Plenty to Share and So Much to Learn

Here in the US, many motorcyclists, motorcycle manufacturers, dealerships, and clubs remain nomadic, fractured, tribal, and territorial by nature. When there are opportunities like the Inaugural MotoGP at IMS to transform motorcycling into a social integrator rather than a mechanism for brand segregation, we motorcyclists ought to band together to leverage the potential of our combined strengths.

With World Class MotoGP Road Racing returning to Indianapolis, the climate is right for the brotherhood and sisterhood of motorcyclists to form a cohesive community as advocates for our sport and support these efforts. The benefits of increased motorcycling awareness in the US could extend deep into every circle of rider regardless of the persona or brand mantra they chant. Manufacturers and the overall industry can only benefit by more motorcyclists spreading the passion for our sport among enthusiasts and neophytes alike. News should reach the curious who are on the threshold of making buying decisions and possibly entering motorcycling either for sport, leisure, economical transport, personal statement, mid-life crisis, or all of the above. Nothing would sweep new riders into the sport more easily than the exhilaration of witnessing a MotoGP race up-close.

We motorcyclists have a positive economic impact not only for those who earn their crust in this industry but, for the many thousands of people who benefit from the activities, travel, and patronage of motorcyclists. In the last 10-years motorcycling has gained incredible popularity in the US with increasing sales every year topping over 1-million units sold annually and approximately 5.7 million motorcycles now registered in the US.

Why all these facts?

We US motorcyclists represent a huge economic machine churning $25.5 billion in consumer sales. The sport we are so passionate about and quick to spend money on also carries inherent life and death risks. As a consumer group and an industry we need to constantly increase our awareness and visibility in the mainstream of transport and hone our skills and abilities for the sheer sake of survival on the road, track, and trail. Not to mention the public perception curve remains a constant struggle to climb when tainted by a few to the detriment of  all motorcyclists. Education at every level and inspiration to strive to be proficient plays a key role in how motorcyclists pursue their leisure time sport, enjoy it, and live long to tell about it.

There is common ground to be shared among all motorcyclists to help the rising tide of our sport here in the US and to encourage motorcycling safety, rider skills training, and improved camaraderie among motorcyclists. One way to do this is in common celebration around the best riders in the world and building a strong and supportive community at the Inaugural IMS MotoGP. This is an opportunity to rally around our historic roots of road racing as the eyes of the world peer in to witness US motorcyclists come together to embrace MotoGP as the pinnacle of our sport — or choose ambivalence about the event.

One would admit that a market of 5.7 million registered motorcycles is a strong enough advocate base to draw riders, enthusiast, race and non-race fans alike to the inaugural MotoGP in Sept. 2008. But how does this message get out through the 12,013 retail outlets, or on the lips of the 148,675 employees in the motorcycle industry who all have a vested interest to promote our sport of motorcycling regardless of what brand they sell?

My own brand of choice, DUCATI, holds the prized MotoGP World Championship title for 2007. Yet the outreach the communication by dealers and clubs around the IMS MotoGP is marginal and fractured at best and non-existent at worse. MotoGP in Middle-America is a huge story that needs to be told by every company—DUCATI as well as Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki as well as all the non-MotoGP racing brands too numerous to list. The MotoGP flag should be flying in Red, Orange, Yellow, and Green with alarms sounding to convey the pride of witnessing the world’s best riders and most renowned racing teams. This message and unified mobilization is especially important for one small Italian manufacturer that is poised to win a second World Championship in 2008, possibly right here in the US at IMS next September.


Ducati Corsa Team and #27 Casey Stoner, 2007 MotoGP World

Champion will defend and perhaps secure his second

championship title at Indianapolis in 2008

The populations drawn to witness the famous 500-mile auto races at Indianapolis equals that of Miami at around 400,000 people. Can IMS hit the mark with half those attendance numbers of motorcyclists at the Inaugural MotoGP in 2008 with 200,000 or 250,000 people? The shear numbers and buying power of America’s motorcyclist is strong and 200,000 + can be reached providing every motorcycle enthusiasts hears the message. We can all urge riders to formulate their own claim and interest in attending the Inaugural MotoGP and to be a part of re-rooting motorcycle racing in America’s sport and consumer consciousness.

While there is a rich racing legacy at IMS tracing back to motorcycles in 1909, there are no mythical memories of a disorderly past to dispel such as Louden or Daytona. All those who attend the IMS MotoGP will begin writing this legacy’s new chapter by rallying their friends, making plans, and plotting their pilgrimage from Google maps.

Beyond the Checkered Flag to Building Community.

While MotoGP is undisputed as one of the most exciting racing events you will ever experience, motorcycling in the US is very different culturally than in Europe where it has prevailed as a national pastime among nations since post WWII. Competition has always been strong between riders and manufacturers but, there is a cultural and national pride that prevails around motorcycling to this day unlike the US. Motorcycling is normal in Europe where the greats of the sport are celebrated, their names are well known, and race results are read and talked about like the stick and ball sports are here in the US.

A quick look back to 1946. Europe was devastated by war. Resources were scarce especially fuel and transportation as a result of allied forces who leveling most everything in sight. The motorized bicycle, scooter, and small displacement motorcycles emerged on the scene as an innovative technology transfer of wartime use to peace and nation building. These beloved 2-wheeled transports served society in a vital economic role and was a key community builder as compared to the US, where motorcycling was hijacked and associated with non-conformists, criminals, or law enforcement. At least until Honda appeared in the mid 1950’s and Elvis helped sing a new tune for 2-wheeled acceptance. However, motorcycling popularity  was again tainted by Brando, Hopper, and other 2-wheeled rebels.

This 50-year old reference point may seem a bit tired but, it had huge implications on how motorcycling has evolved here in the US, how racing has, or has not caught on as compared to other parts of the world. Specifically in Europe where entire populations rallied around motorcycling racing in the town squares to cheer their local baker, machinist, and shoemaker who used the same bike as their primary transport vehicle during the week. These locals, now clad in leather, goggles, and number plates raced toward victory,  communal celebration, and high regards among the townspeople.

The motorcycle became an integrator to European communities after WWII as seen here as these 250 Ducati street bikes are adapted for a race through the village and Italian countryside.

New Dawn of Motorcycling in the US

IMS MotoGP may never capture the romance of racing through an Italian village but, this is our chance as US riders to rally behind these efforts and share a message of celebration by meeting at America's Birthplace of Motorcycle Road Racing in 2008 – Indianapolis.


An entirely new 16-turn, 2.6 mile MotoGP road course is being built at Indianapolis to utilizing select sections of the oval.

Every manufacturer, builder, club member, and rider in the US should know of, be excited about, and pledge to make their pilgrimage to the IMS Inaugural MotoGP. This is an exciting step to shape the future of motorcycling as well as racing for the next Century and strengthening the motorcycling community in the US and beyond. I urge everyone to mark your calendar, plan your route, and be part of this historic motorcycling event.

For more information on how you can experience the historic MotoGP event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway visit: for an exclusive VIP Access Credentials Package or for general seating.

US MOTORCYCLING FACTS: Approximately 5.7 million motorcycles were registered in the US in 2006 with Honda in the lead with 24% of the market, followed by Harley-Davidson and Buell with 22.6%, Yamaha at 15.9%, Suzuki at 11.8%, Kawasaki at 9.1%, KTM at 1.7%, BMW with 1.2% and the combined "Other" at 13.7% that is comprised of the small manufacturers such as Aprilia, Ducati, Triumph, MV Agusta, and the boutique fabricators too numerous to list.

The motorcycle industry generates $25.5 billion in consumer sales (US 2005 figures) including services, state taxes and licensing, including $9.8 billion in retail sales through 12,013 retail outlets selling motorcycles and related products, employing 148,675 with an estimated payroll of $4.0 billion. 

Motorcycle owners 40+ years of age now total 53%, compared to 21.3% in 1985 and fatalities have also risen dramatically, more than doubling from 1996 to about 4,550 in 2005 illustrating the need for improved rider skills training and increased awareness among motorcycling consumers.