Born in Fresno, California on 4 Aug 1904, one of the first real track legends was Lloyd 'Sprouts' Elder, a lanky American who learned racing on some of the last surviving board tracks during the 1920s.
Elder really began to make a name for himself by racing overseas. He earned the "Golden Helmet" for winning the Australian Championship in 1927. He won the title against top Australian as well as several top British and American riders who also spent the winter months racing in the Australian summer. Elder also won racing titles in South America.
Elder turned his attention to Speedway racing in Great Britain in 1928, where he became one of the real big money riders. Appearance fees were his strong point and he seldom rode unless he received at least £100, plus his other winnings at each track. He is variously reported to have had at least five such meetings per week. Altogether, he is alleged to have earned the best part of £50,000 during his three year stint in this country. He later invested his money in a silver mine and lost the lot!
In 'The Romance of the Speedway' by Sprouts Elder
*, he describes his riding style: As regards my own style of riding, I have often been criticised for the habit of bending down over my machine during a race, and a great many folk seem to think that I am wondering where the "horses" have got to. This is an entirely wrong impression, for what on earth would be the good of looking at the motor while on the move? You can't coax an engine by looking at it and making a noise like an oil can. The real explanation of this little manoeuvre on my part is that I am taking sly backward glances under my armpit to see where the other riders are. My habit of crouching too is the result of a preference for wide and slightly dropped bars, which I find afford me a greater leverage over the steering wheel.
* Published 1930 in London by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
He was fearless, and his superb performances won him a place in the hearts of those who saw him ride. First and foremost a showman, he was a wonderful asset in any programme. Tall (six foot three inches), thin and with utter disregard for convention, the American ace created a sensation wherever he raced.
During his days in Britain, he was associated with West Ham in 1929, and also appeared in the overseas section of the Star Championship that same season. Then in 1930 he linked with Belle Vue, although he didn't actually make any appearances for the Aces, prior to racing in the Southern League with Southampton.
In the 1930s Elder returned to the United States to help get American Speedway organized. For a short period during the mid-30s, night Speedway racing was among the popular forms of motorcycle racing in the country. Elder, along with the Milne brothers, Jack and Cordy, Lammy Lamoreaux and Bo Lisman, helped found and popularise Speedway racing in America.
Elder retired from racing after joining the California Highway Patrol. He was responsible for getting the Highway Patrol to sponsor a number of Speedway races during the late-1930s.
Elder retired from the Patrol after suffering life-threatening injuries in a traffic accident but, even after retirement, Elder stayed close to racing through his duties on the AMA Competition Committee. Elder committed suicide in 1957 following the death of his wife.
Click here for an interesting article about Sprouts Elder's connection with West Ham.
Thanks to 'Speedway - The Pre-war Years' by Robert Bamford [ISBN 0 7524 2749 0] and the AMA's Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum