Sunday, 16 January 2011

Harry Hawker - Racing the Boards...

I've just finished reading an excellent biography of Harry Hawker, the famous Australian aviator who flew the Atlantic in 1919 and was also the co-founder of the Hawker Aircraft company. He had moved to England in 1911 and ended up working for the Sopwith Aviation Company who were based at Brooklands. Inevitably, with some spare time on his hands he also raced cars and motorcycles around the legendary banked track.
Like so many people obsessed with machines and speed, Harry also had a love of motorcycles and built two of his own in a small workshop in Melbourne. His  favourite project was a high-powered motorcycle which used a v-twin engine that Harry built himself in 1909. The design was based on the British J.A.P v-twin engine with a few Hawker modifications. I was interested to read that Harry raced this bike on a board track in Australia, just like the great board tracks of America at the time. The biography says that...

"Harry raced against his friends Harry Busteed and Cecil De Faga who also built their own machines. Busteed's machine had enormous cyclinders but used a simpler side valve design. They raced on a steeply banked wooden track which was built for racing pedal cycles... The track was only an eighth of a mile and the high powered motorcycles soon started to shake the wooden structure to pieces"

They were eventually barred from using this track and took to racing on the country roads around Melbourne instead. Here's a few photographs of Harry Hawker and his friends with their homemade racing motorcycles at the Princes Park track, Melbourne, Australia.
Harry Hawker and Cecil De Fraga racing on the Princes Park board track in 1910 (Bob Chamerlain)
Cecil de Fraga with his v-twin Bouchet at Princes Park in 1909 (Bob Chamberlain)
Harry Busteed with his home made racing motorcycle. The engine was so large that Harry had to sit over the rear wheel and use long handlebars (Bob Chamberlain)
Information and photographs taken from "Hawker" A Biography of Harry Hawker by L.K.Blackmore. Published in 1990 by Airline Publishing Ltd. ISBN 185310437X.

Click the link for more information about the fascinating life and times of Harry Hawker.


  1. Very cool Moto! I had the pleasure of going to Barber Motorsports Park in April '07 for the AMA Superbike races. We spent a half day inside the illustrious Barber Museum (like nothing I have ever seen before under one roof!) and one of their displays was a replica of a portion of a board track with several models interlaced along it as if at speed. I've always been fascinated by this sport and it's beginnings and to see what they did with/under those conditions in those days is mind boggling.
    Great stuff as always my man. Thanks for the stroll down History Lane!


  2. Hey Stu - thanks for dropping by. I'm totally fascinated with Board Track racing too, like nothing we'll see again and something we have never really seen here in UK. I'd love to see the dispaly at Barber Museum next time I get over to the USA, I've heard the bikes are amazing. Have you seen my other posts on board track racing - plenty of old photographs to savour.

  3. All great stuff man! Drop me an e-mail @'ve got a couple of half decent shots of that display I'll shoot your way and you can decide if they are worth using or not.

  4. Harry Hawker and my grandfather, Herbert Wright built the bike photographed when Harry was boarding with my grandparents in Morrabin. My grandmother's dialogue about it after their first trial was "it flew.. right up into the hedga at the end of the street." I would love a copy of the photo for my family history album. Contact at


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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.