History Lives On at Sears Point Raceway
"I was really touched when they asked me to come out to Sears Point Raceway and do this," said Hill, now 78 years old. "I love to talk to people about racing and a lot of them still remember me when I ran Indians. It's going to be a great time out there."
Along with Ernie Beckman, they were called the "Indian Wrecking Crew" as they traveled from state-to-state barreling over the competition, including Harley-Davidson, which ruled the road back then.
AMA Vintage Motorcycles Days West kicks off Sonomafest 2001, a10-day soiree for motorcycle enthusiasts at Sears Point Raceway, April 27-May 6. The festival will be highlighted by the AMA U.S. Chevy Trucks Superbike Championship, May 4-6.
Hill and Tuman drove on everything from country backroads to dirt tracks to paved one-mile circuits aboard their Indian motorcycles. During their heyday in the AMA from the 1940s to the mid-1950s, Hill and Tuman combined for 17 victories in AMA National events, and also combined to win the prestigious No. 1 plate three times.
Tuman was first exposed to motorcycles after taking a job as a mechanic at an Indian motorcycle shop in San Francisco in 1941.
"I told the manager that I wanted the job and that my tools were being shipped out here," said Tuman, now 79. "He liked me and put me to work but he didn't know I really didn't have any tools. I got my first paycheck and went across the street and bought my tools. I actually still have some of those tools to this day."
Tuman competed in his first AMA-sanctioned event in 1946, just after returning from service in World War II. He placed second in Mendota (Ill.) on an Indian behind Leo Anthony, who was riding the motorcycle of choice back then, a Harley-Davidson.
"I figured if I could do that well that I was going to stick with it," Tumansaid. "I didn't really surprise myself. I just had to prove it to myself that Icould ride with those guys, and I did."
Tuman won the first race of his AMA career in 1946 at Springfield (Ill.) and continued on the circuit for the next nine years, retiring in 1955. He posted five AMA National victories, and earned the No. 1 plate after a stellar year in 1953. At one point in his career, he had 130 consecutive first-place efforts. Tuman has been inducted into four different motorcycle halls of fame.
Hill, meanwhile, began his career in 1942 but didn't flourish until afterreturning from service in World War II. Once back on American soil, Hilldominated tracks across the country.
For his career, Hill posted seven AMA National victories and was also thechampion of the Daytona 200 in 1954. He also took second place at Daytona in 1951 and even won the California Championships at Bay Meadows in San Mateo in 1952. He earned the No. 1 AMA plate in both 1951-52 and, like Tuman, has been inducted into four different motorcycle halls of fame.
"Indian was the bike that helped make it happen for me," said Hill. "Back then a lot of people were riding the Harley-Davidson but I went with the Indian and it was the right choice."
To this day, Hill and Tuman are close friends, but the same couldn't be said once they strapped on their helmets before a race. Sure, they raced for the same manufacturer, but there could only be one winner.
"It wasn't that we were mad at each other but we wanted to beat each other," Hill said. "We didn't do anything nasty, just competed."
"We traveled together and ate together so we were good friends butwhen we got on the track that was the end of the friendship," said Tuman. "He won some and I won some. It was a great time of my life."
And those two lives will be joined, once again, when the "Indian Wrecking Crew" comes to Sears Point Raceway for AMA Vintage Motorcycles Days West.
More by Danielle Grossman