Local Author: Andrew Homan

  • September 24, 2011

From: ‘Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr.'

In early September of 1907, Walthour was home in Atlanta once again. He did not have much time to socialize, but he did have a short interview with a Constitution reporter who could not help notice the big red scar he had on his sun-burned forehead, as well his missing front tooth.

“I'm not afraid to ride fast, for I haven't got but one time to die, and I don't believe that it will be on the track,” said Walthour. “I've got to hurry to Germany to keep my racing contracts. ... My contractors in Germany heard about me riding over there and they sent me a cable to quit and come across. They claim I am under contract to ride for them in Germany and nowhere else. Well, I'm well and I go across next week. But you ought to go out to Salt Lake. It's a case of come on in; the water's fine. I'm going to have to move out there, sure. No, I have no other wives out there; just one in Atlanta.”

Walthour arrived in Germany on September 17, in time to get some good workouts in before a race at the Spandau track on September 29, behind the big, powerful motors that he had promised not to race behind any more. The race was a one-hundred-kilometer affair in which he went up against a crowded field of Paul Guignard, John Bedell, Menus Bedell, Bruno Salzmann, and Arthur Vanderstuyft. At the crack of the pistol, Menus Bedell was in the lead, but quickly passed by Guignard and Walthour. Bedell eventually caught up to the pair and the three rode side by side, until Bedell took the lead again. A thunderous ovation came up from the great crowd in appreciation of Bedell's efforts.

After several more laps though, Walthour pulled ahead of Guignard and eventually took the lead from Bedell. By the half-way point, Guignard was rounding the lower turn when his pacing-machine's front tire burst. Guignard's pacer, Stiploschick, went down and Guignard crashed right behind him. Man and machine rolled over and over, and slid along the homestretch of the cement track. Suddenly, the tank caught fire and the motorcycle was soon engulfed in a mass of orange flames and black smoke. Panic reverberated throughout the stadium. Track attendants ran to extricate Guignard and Stiploschick from the wreckage. Both were far enough from the flames not to have been burned, and amazingly Guignard had escaped with just a few abrasions.

An attendant helped Guignard off the track, then rushed back to help Stiploschick, who had a broken arm. Without looking, the attendant ran out on the track, right into the path of Franz Hoffmann who has pacing Walthour at over fifty-five miles per hour. The attendant did not have time to jump aside before the heavy motorcycle struck him head on. Hoffmann and his machine fell to one side and rolled over several times. Walthour executed a somersault, as if he had been hurled from a catapult. He hit his head on the cement, then fell over on his back. An audible groan went up from the immense throng of spectators at the sight of the catastrophe. Walthour lay still, as did the ambulance attendant, and people turned their eyes away from the spectacle.

Walthour was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors found he had only a slight brain concussion and that he had not broken his back, as had been feared. The ambulance attendant was killed instantly. His head was crushed in and one hand was completely severed.

Hoffmann escaped with a badly wrenched leg and bruises, but his motor was smashed to pieces.

Author's Note:

A century before Lance Armstrong captured headlines around the world by winning a record seventh consecutive Tour de France, another American dominated the world of competitive cycling. His name was Bobby Walthour, and in the early 1900s he was one of the world's most famous and highly paid athletes. This account comes from Walthour's new biography, “Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr.”

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