Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Wall of Death-Part II

The Wall of Death - American Motor Drome Co. - "a motorcycle thrill show caught in a time warp!"- (Leesburg Bikefest – April 2015), story and photos by motorsport journalist Tom Rose 

note: I first wrote about the Wall of Death in 2008 and that article can be found elsewhere in this blog and in the Oct 2008 issue of Road Bike Magazine

The Wall of Death is a motorcycle thrill show that began appearing at traveling carnivals and fairs about 100 years ago. The riders perform on the inside vertical wall of a large wooden barrel. Spectators view the show from a platform around the top of the barrel, looking down into the barrel to see the show.

Author H.G. Wells published his science fiction classic The Time Machine in 1895. Through the novel and later the movie millions became captivated by the idea time travel. Of course, the whole premise is just as categorized, “science fiction”.   However, the idea is indeed intriguing. There are a few instances where it is actually possible to go back to an earlier time and relive history.

Jay Lightnin' Bentley tells the story of his
American Motor Drome Co.
I had the unique opportunity for time travel at the 2015 Leesburg Bikefest, drifting back through the past 100 years talking with Jay “Lightnin’ Bentley about his American Motor Drome Company and the Wall of Death. The show has not changed. It is the same show your father and grandfather saw at the traveling carnivals of the 20s, 30s and 40s. It is the same 1928 101 Indian Scout motorcycle. The same wooden barrel motor drome. A real live time capsule right there in Leesburg, FL. A motorcycle thrill show caught in a time warp!

Jay Lightnin’ Bentley began riding the wall with traveling carnivals over 45 years ago. After 25 years riding for other shows Jay decided it was time to go into business for himself. He took out a 2nd mortgage to buy materials and went to work in his back yard. His neighbors thought he was building an ark.  No plans or blueprints, it was all in his head. The primary material is Douglas fir. It took 2 years but from Jay’s dream and hard work the American Motor Drome Co. was born.

Once completed Jay took the show on the road to bike shows, fairs, carnivals and race tracks. Crossing the continent keeping the tradition alive. Jay puts 2 riders on the wall at the same time, crisscrossing, requiring the ultimate in skill, precision and concentration.  He used have 3 riders on the wall but a tragic accident resulted in the death of a rider and Jay cut the 3rd rider from his shows. “Too dangerous!” says Jay. Over the years there have been accidents and injuries to riders. Wall of Death riders are not eligible for insurance. Bentley maintains a fund for injured riders financed by donations from spectators. During the show riders race within inches of the top of the wall and pluck donations for the fund from the hands of spectators in their teeth! He has been at it with his wall for some 20 years now. It is a dieing from of entertainment. His American Motor Drome is one of only 2 that work full time. In total only 4 such shows exist (once there were over 40).  


“We’re here to keep the Wall of Death tradition alive. When old timers show up with kids and grandkids memories are made that will last a lifetime. That’s why we are here. That is why we do it. To preserve history and let the youngsters of today see just what it was like in the 20s at the county fair.” Jay Lightnin’ Bentley

And that’s the way it was in Leesburg last week-end. Among all the rock bands, bikinis,  tattoo artists, and Harley-Davidsons…..Jay Bentley’s American Motor Drome time warp, a history lesson, physics class (centrifugal force) and a very entertaining thrill show all for on $5.00 ticket. Long live The Wall of Death!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wall of Death

Rhett Rotten & The Wall of Death as reported in RoadBike Magazine October 2008

The Wall of Death is a true motorcycling classic. It is as much a part of

motorcycle history as Indian and Harley Davidson, Triumph and BSA. It is an outgrowth of the board track racing of the
early 1900s, a form of racing so dangerous and deadly that it was eventually outlawed.

"I'm no daredevel. A daredevel blasts off into the air over school buses & canyons. I am a racer & a stunt rider, I have a plan for everything I do." Rhett Rotten

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

AHRMA at Daytona 2011 - Racing the way it should be, the old time way!

Most people have some interest in history, and like to know how the world of our fathers and grandfathers worked. If you fit that mold you have to attend an AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) race meet. The racers of the past built and tuned their own bikes at home and went racing on the week ends. They loaded their bikes and tools in the back of their truck or on a trailer, picked up their buddy who served as pit crew and mechanic and headed for the races. They raced a circuit that included National Championships at places like Milwaukee, Springfield, Laconia, Langhorne and Dodge City. In between there were races every week end at local tracks and county fairs. Once a year, since 1937, there has been the big race at Daytona.  An AHRMA race is as close as you can get to those good old days of racing.

Daytona Beach, FL - October 2011: I have been attending the Daytona AHRMA races for over 10 years. I have a formula for having fun and catching the excitement of motorcycle racing the way it used to be. Just walk around, look, listen and above all talk to people. Talk to other spectators, officials, mechanics and riders. It is the people that make the sport.  Some observations gathered from walking around Daytona International Speedway on Oct. 15th, 2011........

Nobby Clark: It was good to see the Nobby in the pits working on the bikes again. Illness caused him to miss several events this past year but he tells me he is feeling much better and back on the circuit now. Nobby is arguably the greatest motorcycle mechanic and tuner to ever turn a wrench. His bikes earned 13 world championships and 4 Daytona 200 victories. He has worked with the motorcycle legends of our time including Kenny Roberts, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and many others.

Dunlop Tires: I asked the Dunlop tire man “Can you comment on the Daytona 200 tire controversy?” Dunlop is the exclusive supplier of tires for the Daytona 200. Last March the race was plagued by widespread tire failures that caused serious crashes and resulted, long delays, a shortened race and a questionable winner. The delay enabled a racer with a blown engine to install a new engine and ultimately win the race.  “Multiple situations led to the less than satisfactory performance in the 200. Our scheduled December tire tests were set for 3 days but limited to one partial day due to rain. The tests were especially important because the track had been resurfaced. Also, to change from a night race to day resulted in an increase of 30+ degrees track temp.  We are working hard on the tires for Daytona. We will have it right for the 200 in March 2012.”

Pat Mooney: Pat is known as AHRMA’s Mr. Daytona for his multiple victories in several classes over 10+ years. Approaching Pat on Saturday morning, his comment “I haven’t won a race yet! But today will be a better day”. Pat went on to win the 500 Premier after a thrilling duel with Tim Joyce and Doug Polen. Mooney pulled away on the 11X Manx Norton after Joyce went wide into turn 1 and hard charging Polen and Canadian Nick Cole could not keep up. Pats son, Pat Jr also won his Battle of Twins Formula 3 race so it was indeed a better day for the Mooney family.  

Ron Hulloman of Titusville, FL racing his Suzuki GSX 100 in the Championship Cup Series: I asked, “How’s it going, Ron?”  All he could say was, “This thing is FAST, I’m having fun!”

Richard Chambers always gives a stellar performance as the PA announcer who is everywhere at once! Think that is impossible, you have to see and hear it to believe. A former racer who knows and loves the sport, Richard covers the action and interviews the participants with his portable mike and a Vino 125 scooter. It would be difficult to replace his one man show with 5 others.

David Aschenbrener, David & Mike Carter at the International Horseshoe
Infield: A great place to watch the races and hang out with old friends and make some new ones. I watched several great races with David & Mike Carter of the legendary Carter Brothers Garage, custom tank fabricator David Aschenbrener. Jacksonville publisher Sam Taylor provided lunch, bratwurst on the grill, chips & dip, cookies and beer.

There are always the crashes, that's why you can't go racing without CORNER WORKERS!

That's the way it was, October 15, 2011 AHRMA & CCS racing at Daytona.

Learn more about AHRMA at their web site:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Riding Into History - May 2011 - Grand Marshal's Historic Ride

Riding & Dining with Number 34!

I have had the great pleasure of participating in the numerous facets of this outstanding event over the years. On Friday May 20th I checked off one area that I had missed, the Historic Ride. Arriving at the World Golf Village at RIH Chairman Larry Meeker was busy registering riders as former Chairman Bill Robinson lined up the riders & bikes on the starting grid. The green flag was scheduled to drop at for a 55 mile Florida back road ride into the Ancient City of St. Augustine, FL. The destination Harry's Seafood Bar & Grill on the waterfront in the shadow of the Castillo de San Marcos (the fort built by the Spanish in 1762). How fitting that we are indeed Riding Into History in the nations oldest city. Yes, old bikes, old riders, old city and the old fort all adding up to a great ride.

The ride did not disappoint. We followed 2 lane blacktop roads along the banks of the St. Johns River and then through farmland and Florida jungle to the ancient brick streets of the old city to Harry's.  I picked a couple of my favorite bikes and positioned to ride with a BMW R60 and a beautiful 67 Velocette 500 Single. Ahhh, the sound of that big thumper! It was motorcycling at it's best, 50 bikes and riders lead by the legendary World Champion road racer Kevin Schwantz riding a Suzuki GS 1000 E.

Lunch was a treat, the best of company, conversation and food. I took the opportunity to talk with Kevin about some racing topics as he remains a part of the highly successful Suzuki AMA Pro Racing teams.  A real insight on the tires and new pavement at Daytona, cooling the fuel, etc. 

Riding Into History is without question one of the premier motorcycle events in the US. The all volunteer leaders and staff present a world class event and do things the right way. Put RIH on your schedule.

All this for the benefit of The Wounded Warror Project:

Photos of the Grand Marshal's Historic Ride: ttp://

Friday, May 13, 2011

Riding Into History - May 21, 2011

Wounded Warrior ProjectRiding Into History is the premier motorcycle event in Florida, bringing classic and vintage bikes together with motorcyclists all for the benefit of a most worthwhile charity, The Wounded Warrior Project. This years 12th edition promises to be one of the best. You can be there and be part of this great event for as little as $10!

Laura Allen, The BSA Girl, displays her '67 Thunderbolt at the 2010 RIH

Meet legendary world class racing champion, Kevin Schwantz, this year's Grand Marshal.

You'll see over 300 vintage, classic & custom motorcycles displayed in the pristine setting of the World Golf Village near the ancient city of St Augustine, FL. This is an event that you must experience first hand. Once you do you'll be back year after year.  

for details of Riding Into History 2011:
for photos of past RIH events, check my photo site:

Poster from 2010 featuring the art of world class motorcycle artist Don Bradley.

I will publish photos of this years event on Monday May 23rd.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fishing with Gavin Marchal Andrews

Freshwater fishing action in Central Florida!

I have been fishing Florida’s freshwater lakes and streams all my life. I have been on the water with come great guides and fishing buddies over the  years. However, the last few years I have had the opportunity to pair up with a guy that just seems to know how to catch fish under all conditions. Last week Gavin took me to his favorite spot. We’ll just call it Lake X, somewhere in Central Florida. No, he will not allow me to share his secrets. But if you ever have to opportunity to go on a fishing trip with Gavin Andrews, don’t pass it up. I guarantee you’ll have the time of your life. And you will catch fish!
   Don't pass up a chance to go fishing with Gavin----------------

You will catch fish!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Daytona 200- Great Day for The Italians at Daytona!

The Daytona 200- Great Day for The Italians at Daytona
 March 12. 2011

The 70th edition of America’s most historic motorcycle race has gone into the history books with a spectacular finish seeing 6 riders in competition for 1st place on the final lap. Two of those riders crashed (uninjured) at the finish line as Jason DiSalvo rode the Ducati 848 to a first ever victory for the Italian manufacturer. All this with a light breeze, temperature in the 70s and a sunny Florida sky. Sounds great, doesn’t it. Well it could have been had it not been for the promoters, AMA Pro Sports & Daytona Motorsports Group who managed a great race to mediocrity.

  1. Competitors were provided (sold) tires that were unreliable and unpredictable under race conditions. This after live tire tests, one in January and another “secret test” in February.

  1. At about 18 laps, the first of 2 pit stops, front tires showed excessive wear and began to fail. The seriousness of the situation was emphasized when Danny Eslick crashed due to a front tire failure on lap 25 of the scheduled 57 lap race.

  1. AMA & Dunlop got together and decided to stop the race (red flag) for a mandatory front tire change for all riders. (can’t argue this from the standpoint of rider safety, but, it should not have been necessary, see # 1)

  1. Mounting and changing a front tire should take a maximum of 15 minutes.   Teams that I talked to said they were ready to go in 30 minutes. However the red flag lingered for almost 2 hours. Then the controlling AMA people shortened the race to 142 miles because they did not have enough tires to go the 200 miles, particularly considering the questionable tire reliability.  

  1. The long delay allowed for the eventual winning Ducati/DiSalvo team to replace the engine that blew out on the final green lap before the race was stopped.

  1. The delay resulted in SPEED TV abandoning the race leaving viewers to a tape delay late night continuation.

Summary: Some great riding and racing overshadowed by poor race management resulted in the Great American Motorcycle Race being relegated to a 15 lap sprint with no live TV coverage. The winner required 2 engines to run for 142 miles. They should have had a DNF/blown engine instead of the winner’s trophy. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Daytona 200

The Daytona 200 is the most historic and arguably the most prestigious motorcycle race in America. This years race at Daytona International Speedway will be the 70th running of the event that began in 1937 when Ed Kretz averaged 73.34 mph aboard his Indian Sport Scout to outrun a field of 86 on a race course that combined the sand of the beach and the asphalt paved highway A1A.

With any major sporting event there is always the story, and the many stories within the story.  Often the story within can outshine the story itself.  One of this years stories will be Sorrento, Fl racer Pat Mooney's Daytona campaign.

I will follow the Daytona 200 again this year as I have for many years, and I'll follow the Mooney Campaign with in depth coverage as it all plays out from beginning to the checkered flag on the afternoon of March 12, 2011.

Watch the slide show of privateer Pat Mooney at Daytona. Finished 22nd, the British rider on the American bike. Through the speed traps in excess of 165 MPH! A salute to the little guy in the big race.

visit the Pat Mooney Racing page:

e-mail Tom Rose at: