Archives: Class A’s Last Champion
Class A, that’s what they called factory racing back in the earliest years of professional motorcycle racing. Stretching from the beginnings of motorcycle competition in the early 1900s with the Federation of American Motorcyclist (FAM), through to the mid-1930s when, brought on by the Great Depression and the closing of nearly all the motorcycle makers except for Harley-Davidson and Indian, the AMA decided to start transitioning to Class C (Production racing) as the main national championship events as a way to cut costs. That’s about the time Fred Toscani was coming onto the racing scene. Toscani was square in the middle of two eras and he was perhaps the last great start of the original Class A.
Archives: Class A’s Last Champion
Toscani, a native of Garfield, New Jersey, won numerous Class A National Championship races riding Indian and later JAP-powered motorcycles. One of the top stars of his era, Toscani won nine national championship races during his short, six-year professional racing career. He was recognized as AMA National Champion in 1938. Toscani is often referred to as the last Class A Champion, since, outside of hillclimbing. Class A faded out and Class C (production) racing was recognized as the national championships by the late 1930s.
Alfred Toscani was born in Patterson, New Jersey, on Nov. 1, 1908. He began riding as a teen and quickly became a top amateur rider in his region. Fred was also a promising amateur boxer who fought under the name of Freddie Rivers and compiled a 14-1 record. He gave up boxing to pursue racing.
By the late 1920s, his dedication to racing began to pay dividends. He won the New Jersey 25-Mile Amateur Championship in 1929. In addition to racing, Toscani also enjoyed other types of riding. In 1930, he was recognized for setting a motorcycle world record broad jump of 54 feet, 3 inches. He set the record riding a 45-cubic-inch Indian and launching from a wooden ramp at 70 miles per hour.
Toscani was the country’s leading amateur in 1932. He turned professional in 1933. As a rookie pro in ’33, Toscani won the One-Mile and Five-Mile AMA National Championship races held on the Syracuse (N.Y.) Mile.
Toscani was a member of the New Jersey Night Riders Motorcycle Club and as a national champion he became a celebrity among motorcycle enthusiasts of the area. New Jersey riders would travel to races in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia to watch their hero Fred race. Toscani became known as racing’s “Wild Man” for his daring feats and fearless riding.
In 1934 and ’35, Toscani continued as one of the nation’s leading riders. He scored no national championships during those two seasons, but consistently finished in the top three at national championship events.
In 1936, he returned to the annual AMA Class A National Championship races in Syracuse and won the 25-Mile national title. This time he was riding a British-built JAP, which was considered the top racing motor at that time. In 1937, Fred scored national championship wins on half-mile dirt tracks in Richmond, Virginia, and Sharon, Pennsylvania, again on the JAP. He defeated many of the greats of the day, including Joe Petrali, George Matheson, Jim Davis, and Woodsie Castonguay.
Toscani reached the zenith of his racing career in 1938. In August of that year, he traveled to the Milwaukee Mile, and in Harley-Davidson’s backyard, won the Three-Mile National Championship riding his JAP. A few weeks later in Syracuse, Fred dominated the final edition of the AMA Class A National Championships, winning the One-Mile, 15-Mile and 25-Mile National Championship races, giving him the overall national title.
Sadly, Toscani didn’t get the kind of recognition his fellow champions in Class C were receiving. The truth for much of the 1930s, certainly by the second half of the decade, Class A was barely hanging on, keeping the old timers happy, but most of the machinery, outside of the British-made JAPs that dominated the latter ‘30s, were old Indians and Harley’s that were so worn out by then they rarely stayed together for an entire race.
Freddy, as he was called in the racing fraternity, was one of the most popular riders of his day, liked by fans and fellow competitors alike. Quick with his bright smile, he could also be prickly at times. Fred was once involved in a multi-bike pile up. Afterward, in a riders meeting, he was trying to explain his side of the story to the other riders involved. Just then a rider who didn’t figure in the crash offered a little advice, to which Toscani replied: “Listen you, I’m talking like a gentleman to a couple of guys that need some explaining, but if any of you other birds butt in you are going to get punched right in the nose.”
Like many Class A riders of his era, Toscani looked at the burgeoning Class C production racing as amateurish, although in reality that was where most of the factory backing had been for several years. As Class A died out, Toscani retired from racing and lived out his years in New Jersey as an auto mechanic.
Toscani’s racing accomplishments were recognized years later when he was inducted into the Indian Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1992. Also that year, Fred was enshrined in the now defunct Eastern Speedway Historical Society Hall of Fame based in Lebanon, New Jersey. The Record newspaper, then New Jersey’s second-largest newspaper, carried a feature on Toscani for his induction.
Toscani passed away in 2001. He was 92. He was inducted posthumously into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003.
Toscani is not one of the better-known champions in the history of the sport. Perhaps that’s because he represented a fading era of the sport, that perhaps held on too long.