The period of the “Splinterbowl Challengers is in the 1920’s. The front racer is an eight-valve factory motor. Approximately twelve were made or have been found. The second racer is Harley’s IOE (intake over exhaust). These were standard production motors. The rear racer is an Indian eight valve racer.
All of the motors had a lost oil system. The oil passed through the motor then went out on the chains and then was lost onto the track. The motors were mounted in reworked bicycle frames and were capable of 90+ miles per hour.
There was no transmission or clutch, only direct drive. They were pulled to start and only had a kill button and compression release which was used should they want to slow down. Oil was kept in one side of the gas tank (Harley) or separate tanks (others) with a hand pump to keep the pressure up.
The racetrack, an approximate 1/4 to1/2 mile, was made of wood 2 x 4’s laid on edge to create a banked oval.
Between the weather and the oil being dumped, the tracks were nearly impossible to maintain, many riders were injured from splinters, and even some deaths resulted. Consequently, this type of racing lasted only a few years (the late teens to mid or late 20’s). Hence the name, “Splinterbowl” or splinter board racing.
The riders were usually small and slender and wore leather pants with leggings over high-top lace up shoes or boots. The leggings would protect them from the chain and oil. They wore turtleneck sweatshirts, possibly with the factory name on the front. There were a few helmets but mostly leather caps with ear covers and goggles.
This sculpture would be a typical scene, possibly with different leaders, but Harley’s eight valves and the “wrecking crew” got their share of wins. Of course, the war was always on between Harley and Indian.
Artist Note: Notice rear racer looking over his shoulder, depicting there are more riders following.
The weight of the all steel, hand-fabricated sculpture is 100 lbs. The sculpture measures 4 ½’ by 11” deep. The walnut base is approximately 1 ½” high making the sculpture 9 ½” at the highest point. The motorcycles are all hand fabricated from the smallest motor part to the wheels. The riders are hand built from hammered and welded steel. The racetrack has simulated 2×4’s cut and shaped from plate steel. The creation time of “Splinterbowl Challengers” from inception to completion is two years.
Gil “Levi Hawk” Melton