1950's Catalina Grand Prix

Since it began in 1907, the Isle of Man Grand Prix has been one of motorcycling premier racing events.  In 1951, race promoters from California decided they would like to bring an Isle of Man style race to the US.  A small island located 22 miles of the coast of California was chosen for it's varied terrain which was similar to that of the Isle of Man.  Catalina Island provided the necessary blend of city and mountain riding, making for an exciting 10 lap/100 mile race.

Motorcycles were shipped over via barge and the participants and spectators took a short ferry ride from LA to reach the island.

The Catalina Grand Prix was an incredibly popular race during it's 8 year run.  Many marques built bikes just for this race.  BSA built a motorcycle called the Gold Star Catalina Scrambler which could be purchased by the public as well.  

Harley-Davidson introduced their new "K" model in 1952 and had three K models in the top ten for both 1953 and 1954.  Also riding for Harley-Davidson was Ray Tanner who rode a classic 74 cubic inch motorcycle complete with tank shift and floor boards.  He was very successful with this combination, making the top ten five times, his best a second place finish in 1954.  Tanner's success was attributed to an interesting technique in which he would slide the motorcycle sideways into a turn and then drag the floorboards to slow down enough to stay on the road.

Even with Harley-Davidson's success, the predominate motorcycles used in the Catalina Grand Prix were British.  Triumph, BSA and Velocette were popular among the racers, but you could also see BMW's, MotoGuzzi's, Matchless', Ariel's and a few other marques running around the course. 

Special sidecar rig built for filming the race

So why did such a popular event only last for 8 years?  Turns out that one evening after racing was over for the day, the mayor of Avalon (which was the city the race course went through) was mugged on his way home.  He was able to then convince the Chamber of Commerce to cancel the races.  It wasn't until 2010, that Catalina Grand Prix was finally held again, after a 52 year hiatus.