AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame | Where Heroes Live On
First Name
Last Name

Lee Taylor


1910s Class A Racing Champion
Won 1914 FAM 300-Mile National Championship race in Savannah, Ga.

Lee Taylor was born and raised in the area of Uhrichsville, Ohio. The census of 1900 shows him living in nearby Tuscarawas, Ohio, married to Allie, with a daughter of 2 named Erma. The census listed Taylor’s occupation as stationary engineer.

Vague newspaper articles from the time indicate he may have been racing in local events in eastern Ohio as early as the middle of the 1900s, which would have placed him among the earliest generation of motorcycle racers. First mentions of him in trade publications show him working at the American Machine Company in Columbus, Ohio, the city’s dealership for the Emblem Motorcycle Company.

Taylor rose to fame in 1910 by racing a “flying machine” on the mile dirt track of Columbus Driving Park in Columbus, Ohio. Taylor and his Emblem beat the airplane, a Wright Model B, flying above. Emblem used the feat of Taylor’s victory over the plane as a major part of its public relations and advertising materials.

Taylor found racing success with Emblem, and he likely would have stayed with the company, but he gradually found that Emblem was not serious about racing. Emblem was happy for Taylor to race production bikes, but that would only get him so far against factory racing specials. So, in 1913 he took an offer to race for Flying Merkel.

At the Elgin National Road Race in 1913, Taylor was lead rider for Flying Merkel, a team billed as the “Yellow Jackets." The race bikes were painted bright yellow, and team riders donned yellow-and-black riding gear.

Flying Merkel teammate Ray Snyder led early, with Taylor a close second. When Snyder pitted for adjustments, Taylor took over the lead. Indian’s Charles “Fearless” Balke came up to challenge, and the two battled for the lead. On last lap, a tire puncture ended Taylor’s bid for the win, and he limped home to sixth. Indian’s Balke and Charles Gustafson finished first and second.

In a lead up to the 1914 FAM convention, a Flying Merkel squad with Taylor teaming with Cleo Pineau and F.E. French won the Rider’s Trophy in the Chicago to St. Louis FAM National Endurance Run.

The 1914 edition of the 300-Mile Championship proved to be one of the most seminal races in the history of motorcycle racing. It marked the first time Harley-Davidson entered a full-fledged factory team. Earlier that summer, Harley supported several riders in the Dodge City National races, but they were trounced. Smarting at the loss, Harley officials decided to build factory racing specials and make a big splash at Savannah late that fall.

It was under this backdrop that Savannah in 1914 took on major importance to Harley-Davidson, but to the other manufacturers, as well.

Taylor was part of the top-dog Indian factory squad at Savannah that year. It appears Taylor may have been signed specifically to strengthen Indian’s efforts in that late season race. Since Taylor had been one of the top competitors at the Elgin National Road Race, Indian knew he had the skills to win this type of competition.

On race morning in Savannah, it was so cold there was frost on the ground. Mechanics had to build fires to heat the oil that had gotten thick as molasses in the overnight chill. Riders wore multiple layers of sweaters for the race. Thirty-two riders took the starting flag at 9 a.m., pushed off in groups of five, one minute apart. The course was an 11.25-mile circuit, 27 laps for the final.

Martin Schroder led in the early miles for the upstart Harley-Davidson team, followed by Bob Perry on an Excelsior and Indian’s Red Armstrong. But Taylor was consistent, and his factory Indian crew completed quick pit stops. Taylor took the lead by the halfway mark and went on to score a victory with an average of 61 mph. His finishing time of five hours, two minutes, 32 seconds broke the previous record by 20 minutes. It was easily the biggest win of his career. Taylor’s prize money for the Savannah victory was $150, at a time when a good job paid $11 per week.

Joe Wolters finished second on an Excelsior, 11 minutes behind Taylor. And Irving Janke came in third on a Harley-Davidson, making for three manufacturers on the podium.

Indian rewarded Taylor by signing him for 1915 and 1916 racing seasons.

Then, tragedy. During a dirt track race on July 4, 1916, in Hamilton, Ohio, Taylor and Harley rider Maldwyn Jones collided. Taylor suffered compound leg fracture. Infection set in, and doctors tried to save Taylor’s life by amputating his leg, but it was too late.

He died two weeks later, on July 16, 1916, in Hamilton’s Mercy Hospital.

Stephen Wright, author of the book “American Racer” interviewed Maldwyn Jones, who recollected the crash that led to Taylor’s death.

“I had a lot of spills and crashes, generally without serious results, but one bad crash happened at a race on the Hamilton, Ohio, half-mile dirt track. The race was a once-a-year affair and drew big crowds on July 4th. This one was in 1916. When the 25-mile event came up, the track was very dusty. I had gotten a bad start and Lee Taylor, on an Indian four-valve, had gone into the turn ahead of me very fast and the dust was terrific. I thought that Lee might have fallen and I went farther out on the track, but about halfway around the turn he slid out of the dust and right in front of me. It was impossible to miss him and my countershaft cut deep into his leg. I landed on my shoulder about 25 feet ahead of him, but was able to get back to him and help get him off the track and into the ambulance. On account of the hot weather and no refrigeration, gangrene set in and his leg was amputated. In spite of this Lee died about a week later. It was quite a shock to everyone who knew him and especially to me, as we’d been friends for a long time.”