The Big Top is up, the performers are racing, a horrific crash, a bike and rider go over the top fencing and into the crowd, rider and eight spectators perish. Splinters from the worn or warped timber boards, flying off over the top of the 60 degree banked, almost well-of-death race tracks, the over 100 mph lap speeds and the roaring adrenaline were a large part of the win-at-any-cost fever of Board Track Racing.
Within the romance of speed and sound, and heightened senses was the human tally. And at some point the fascination and obsession with this way of life ceased to be. Board Track Racing died off; quietly. It had brought about the death of so many in spectacular fashion. The demise of Board Track Racing was in the early 1930s America. The Great Depression had brought about realigned appetites and more pronounced sensitivities.
From the end of the first decade of the 1900’s for a couple decades Board Track Racing was the life. While Europe raced two and four wheelers from city to city or along prearranged road courses, America went for speed and thunder on these 2x4 board laid edge-on in a circle or oval, banked to allow for higher speeds. Outright speed was of the essence. One could ask if the Board Tracking concept was transferred to the banked ultra-high-speed ovals of American style racing. From Board tracks, through Brick paved tracks (as Indy was) and now to the modern NASCAR tracks could well be stations in the evolution of American racing lore and race venues.
Board Track Racing began, and caught on, because there was no other place to legally ride your machine faster than the other manufacturer’s ones. Indian and Harley Davidson battled for recognition and market space in those early days. The J.A.P. engine (manufactured by John Alfred Prestwich Company, London, England) was known to be fast and reliable. It was imported to the USA and slotted into American frames.
Costing about an eighth the price of a regular road type surface to build, the Board Track was, like the circus Big Top, quick to set up, and race promoters could make short-term attractive financial gains from the massive crowds (records show over 80,000 at some venues) of paying spectators and from the advertisers and franchises. It was throttle-wide-open action out on the boards!
The J.A.P. Board Tracker featured here is one such example of built-for-raw-speed Board Racers. Identified from its specs as a 1915 manufactured, the bike was painstakingly restored by Sandalu Jayasuriya with the expert guidance of father Lal, a renowned motorcycle restorer for decades and the support of his two motorcycle-restoration-savvy brothers.
It is said that this J.A.P. Board Tracker Racer was brought into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by an American during the second or third decade of last century and that the bike had racing outings at Kandy and Nuwara Eliya road race circuits in the 1930’s / 40’s. After a long rest the bike was discovered in scrap condition. Restoration cost a large amount in financial terms and six months off young Sandalu Jayasuriya’s social calendar.
When a motorcycle has sat inactive for the better part of a century much loving care is needed to make it a runner once again, as is this example (possibly the only one of its kind a runner in our country). As such, several parts such as the stainless steel stub exhaust, handlebars, front fork spring brass fuel and oil lines and Magneto were locally repaired or turned out. Further parts such as the crankshaft bearing, valves, handlebar grips, clutch plates, cables, saddle and a few more were imported from various corners of the world.
1915 JAP Board Track Racer
Engine : 4-stroke, Air-cooled, Single Cylinder, Side Valve, Carburettor (double chamber, Amal).
Bore x Stroke : 85 x 105 mm
Compression Ratio: 5.0:1
Starting : Push Start
Clutch : Multi-plate, Dry
Ignition : Magneto
Final Drive: Chain
Brass-knobbed lever (on right of engine) is valve lifter to allow for ease of starting; tickler in carburetor float chamber enables manually holding float down to raise chamber fuel level. Squeezing the clutch lever disengages the drive at the clutch, letting it out connects crank output and rear sprocket and you’re off and racing! Throttle is by lever on handlebar.
This is an out and out racer, therefore no street-legal considerations.