As the motorcycle industry developed throughout the early 20th century, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst provided a picture of the industry’s proudest goals: speed, passion, growth, and optimism for a better tomorrow. The Cornfield Classic in Marion, Indiana, was one of many nation-changing races for Parkhurst.
A Bright Childhood
Leslie Parkhurst was born on May 18, 1895, in South Dakota, just as the motorbike industry was beginning to take off. As a young boy, Parkhurst sported a mop of bright red hair, as well as a bright temperament. Together, these features earned him the nickname “Red,” first to his friends and then to his fans. He grew to 6 ft 4 in, long, lanky, and always smiling.
Even as a brand new teenager, Parkhurst displayed an interest in the world of racing. In Denver, Colorado, he won his first motorcycle race at the young age of 13, winning the praise and fascination of many onlookers. He primarily raced on motordromes (board tracks). He remained unafraid of the racing risks required of him.
In 1914, just 5 years after his first race, “Red” Parkhurst’s natural talent and love for speed caught the interest of the Harley-Davidson motorbike company. During a race in Milwaukee, Florida, Bill Ottaway, a close affiliate of Harley-Davidson, knew he was special. Harley-Davidson was in the process of assembling their first racing team, and Parkhurst received the honor of being the first member. With the aid of increasingly-remarkable machines, he would go on to set astounding records, building industry milestones along the way.
A Changing World
One reason that racing enthusiasts were so prominent in the early 1900s is that the world was making great strides in so many other areas. Humans had long dreamed of flying, racing, and whipping through the air like so many other creatures can. With technology and machinery advancing, achieving these speeds became possible.
Leslie “Red” Parkhurst not only embodied these human dreams, but he was also one of the leading American heroes who taught spectators that it is okay to follow your dreams. Parkhurst raced fearlessly on board tracks, roads, and beaches alike.
In 1915, Parkhurst reached 83 miles-per-hour on his Harley-Davidson machine, the fastest anyone had ever gone on a motorcycle. 5 years later, in 1920, he once again smashed this record by reaching almost 112 miles-per-hour on Daytona Beach, Florida. In the 1921 season, Parkhurst signed a contract with Excelsior but quickly returned to Harley-Davidson the following year.
A Lifetime of Racing Inspiration
Leslie Parkhurst eventually got married and began having children. At this point, he shifted to part-time racing. However, his love for motorcycles continued throughout his life, and he continued contributing to the industry’s development. He offered his knowledge and gifts to growing automotive companies, including Firestone and Valvoline.
Today, “Red” Parkhurst continues to serve as a reminder of those early motorcycle days. Much has been achieved in the industry. It should be celebrated as much today as Parkhurst celebrated it then.
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As a historical society, we also focus on research. Do you have a story to share about motorcycling or motorcycle racing in Indiana? We are collecting motorcycle archives and stories throughout the state of Indiana to share on our website, social media, and annual event. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (765)-231-6898.