The motorcycle world mourns the loss of Jim Davis, a pioneer of the sport, the oldest
surviving factory motorcycle racer and the last living man to have raced motorcycles in
the board track era. Davis died on February 6 in a Daytona Beach hospital. He was 103
Davis was born March 23, 1896, in Columbus, Ohio, and began racing professionally in
1911. He used to remark that he remembered that first race because he won it, and
because his prize was a pair of goggles and a quart of motorcycle oil. He would later go
on to ride for the Indian and Harley-Davidson factories, and become one of the few
motorcycle racers in history to win National events under sanction of the Federation of
American Motorcyclists (FAM), the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association
(M&ATA), and the AMA.
Davis was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I, where he served stateside as a
motorcycle escort. He continued to race sporadically during his time in the service, and
after the War, he returned to racing fulltime, setting an incredible string of records for the
day and emerging as the era's most dominant racer. He also earned a degree in civil
engineering from the University of Southern California.
Perhaps Davis' greatest achievement came when he won on the two-mile dirt oval at
Dodge City, Kansas, on July 5, 1930. He rode a factory Harley and set a race record of 3
hours, 40 minutes, four seconds in the 300-mile event. He later won overall National
Championship titles in 1928 and 1929.
Davis retired from racing after winning 90 gold, 40 silver and 35 bronze medals, but he
remained active in the sport as an AMA official. He acted as the flagman for the very first
200-mile motorcycle race at Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1937. In 1948, he waved the
checkered flag in Atlanta, Georgia, when Bobby Hill and Billy Huber came across the
finish line in a dead heat to make for the first and only first-place tie in AMA
championship motorcycle racing history.
In 1984, Davis received the Dud Perkins Award, the highest honor to be bestowed upon
an individual by that organization. He was inducted to the Dirt Track Hall of Fame in
1998 and the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
Despite the fact that he had remained in perfect mental health throughout his life, Davis
continued to battle the frailties of his age. He was admitted to a Daytona hospital last
week, where he was diagnosed with bone cancer. He passed away at 2:46 a.m.
"This is such a huge loss, because Jim was the last connection to that whole era of dirt
track and board track racing," said Andrea Phillips, a longtime friend of Davis, and archivist for the Trailblazers
Motorcycle Club, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history and sport of
motorcycle racing. "He was always so generous with his
time, his experiences and his memories from that time. It was something that none of us
knew about, because he was the only one left from that time period. He was always
willing to share stories with people, whether it was little kids or older people. No matter
where he went, if there were motorcycle people around, they just congregated around
him. His memory was crystal clear. He was always a racer. I remember that one time
during an interview, Jim said that he wished he was younger just so that he could get on
one of the dirt track bikes of today because they were built so much better and were so
much faster. He will be sorely missed."
A memorial service for Davis has been scheduled to take place on March 6, during Bike
Week, at Daytona International Speedway. The service is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
Attendees are instructed to go to the tunnel at the east banking of the speedway and ask
for directions for the service. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the "Daytona
Monument Fund" c/o Dick Klamfoth, 10213 Honda Hills Rd., Thorneville, OH