Freddie Marsh amassed an amateur racing career that lasted longer than many people live. Propelled by a love for motorcycling that persisted even after he surpassed 100 years of age, Marsh raced in seven different decades. He also owned dealerships in Connecticut from 1926 until the time of his death in 2003.
Born in Italy in 1900, Marsh came to the United States with his family while he was still an infant. Like so many other new immigrant families, Marsh's parents struggled to make a living. After his mother died when Freddie was 12, the family fell apart and Freddie found himself living and working on a farm in Connecticut.
On that farm, he found the seed of a lifelong addiction in the form of the owner's motorcycle, which Freddie was allowed to ride around the fields and unpaved roads of the 100-acre farm. Those days were his first lessons in finding traction on dirt, and they would pay off many times over the coming decades.
Marsh used money he earned by working as a streetcar conductor in Hartford, Connecticut, to buy his first motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson, and later snagged a job at the Harley dealership. In 1922, he built what he described as "a home-brew motorcycle" to race in the 500cc class. Like so many other Harley riders of the time, he took one cylinder off his 1,000cc machine to go racing.
In 1926, Indian approached Marsh to see if he was interested in opening a dealership in Hartford. The Springfield, Massachusetts company had already passed its peak, but Indian made an offer Marsh couldn't refuse, so he quit his job at the Harley-Davidson shop and went into business selling Indians.
As a dealer, Marsh could get his hands on an Indian race bike. The race bikes of the era were little more than an engine, two wheels and a kill switch. With no brakes or transmission, racers would scrub off speed by hitting the kill switch in the corner.
Marsh traveled all over the Northeast racing flat-track, and somewhere along the line, maybe due to the determined look in his dark eyes or the way he rode, he picked up the nickname, "Demon."
For years after he gave up flat-track racing, Marsh continued to race hillclimbs. He built a variety of hillclimb machines from the Norton, AJS and other brands of machines he sold after Indian stopped producing motorcycles in 1953.
Marsh's many years as a dealer and a racer meant that motorcyclists all across the region knew of him.
"A lot of guys in their 50s and 60s will tell you they bought their first motorcycle from him," said Leo Castell, editor and publisher of The Motorcyclist's Post, a monthly magazine based in Connecticut. "Freddie's a real institution up here."
In his final years, Marsh spent his days at the Moto Guzzi dealership in East Windsor, Connecticut, that was run by his nephew, Allen Marks.
Even after he surpassed 100 years of age, Marsh rode an old, Indian-badged, 50cc scooter. His frail health and failing eyesight meant he was limited to riding laps of the parking lot at his dealership, but he maintained that a regimen of riding 75 laps each morning was what kept him going. His love of motorcycling was evident as he circled the lot, turning left in a smooth oval, just like in his dirt-track days, with a smile permanently in place.
Marsh died June 8, 2003.
Inducted in 2002.