Thursday, March 8, 2012
Daytona. March 1948
For years, from its inception in 1937 until the early ’60s, the prestigious Daytona 200 motorcycle race was run on Daytona Beach.
In 1948, LIFE magazine covered the races, both amateur and pro, at Daytona (the Road Course opened in 1936) and reported, in its April 19 issue, that “for four days last month the resort city of Daytona Beach could hardly have been noisier — or in more danger — if it had been under bombardment.”
Here are some rarely seen photos by Joseph Scherschel (brother of another LIFE photographer, Frank Scherschel) of a weekend that thrilled racing fans.
The 1948 event was marred not only by deaths and injuries but, as LIFE duly noted, by classic knuckleheadism. “Because the antics of an unruly minority reflect on the dignity of motorcycling,” the magazine observed, “the American Motorcycle Association may hire special police at future races. One duty will be to restrain sophomoric cyclists who amused themselves this year by tossing firecrackers into the crowd.”
155 motorcycles started, only 45 finished. Winning rider, Floyd Emde, averaged 84 mph and won the purse of $2,000. What LIFE failed to mention is that Emde (who was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998) won by the sliver-thin margin of 12 seconds; 1948 was the first time a rider led the race from flag to flag; and it was the last time an Indian Motorcycle won the 200.