Hog on the High

History revisited, as Indian and Harley-Davidson battle over market share… and much else

WORDS BY ALAN CATHCART PHOTOS BY STEPHEN PIPER

What goes around, comes around, and with the resumption of tribal warfare between Indian and Harley-Davidson in 2017 – not only in the showroom stakes, but with full-on factory race teams pitted against each other in the revitalised American Flat Track Championship – it’s yesterday once more.

Alan Cathcart reveals that things are rarely dull when riding an eight-valve 1000cc twin with almost no brakes at all

Exactly a century ago the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, which had been hitherto hesitant about going racing, took the fight to its dominant Indian and Excelsior rivals with its all-new Model 17 FHAC 61ci (998cc) eight-valve racer, which made its competition debut at the gruelling Dodge City 300-mile race in 1916 – and won!

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This was the equivalent of the Indianapolis 500-miler on two wheels, held on a two-mile oval track in the heart of the Midwest, and Harley’s Irving Janke won at a record average speed of 79.79mph, including pit stops, with Ray Weisharr, a fellow member of the Harley-Davidson’s factory team known as the Wrecking Crew, third. Incidentally, Indian’s purloining of that term to describe its present factory race squad sits right up there for impudence with Ducati stealing the Dirt Sled moniker for its new Street Scrambler from Triumph, which invented the term 50 years ago!

Janke’s victory ushered in several years of Harley-Davidson success in US racing, even after the company’s management discontinued running its official team after a totally dominant 1921, in which it swept the board by winning every single National Championship category. After Indian’s 1-2 finish at the opening round of the 2017 AFT series at Daytona on March 17 with its new FTR750 V-twin, Harley-Davidson fans will be hoping that their equally young XG750R eight-valve racer – derived from the 750 Street roadbike – will be able to improve on Jake Johnson’s fourth place in the Daytona TT, the only Harley in the top ten. But it’s early days yet, and the Milwaukee-based Motor Company knows just a little bit about how to win races and titles on dirt ovals, after nearly 50 years of dirt-track dominance with the legendary XR750.

Read more in the May issue of CBG – on sale now!

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