The Grand Old Man of AMA Hillclimb during the 1950s, Mitzel won a total of eight AMA National Hillclimb Championships during his nearly 40-year racing career, certainly one of the longest racing careers of any Hall of Fame inductee. Mitzel rode as a factory Indian rider during the heyday of professional hillclimbing in the late 1920s and through the 1930s. In addition to being one of the best hillclimb racers of all time, Mitzel also made the occasional foray into dirt track and road racing, earning some impressive results on the tracks in the 1930s.
Born in York, Pennsylvania, on March 7, 1897, Mitzel first learned to ride at the age of 15. In 1916, he entered his first race. In the early ‘20s, Mitzel attended a hillclimb held outside of Pittsburgh. It was then that he decided he wanted to try that sport. His first hillclimb outing wasn’t a successful one. He blew up his motor while warming it up before his first run.
“I just slapped that bike together and expected miracles,” Mitzel said of his first hillclimb machine in a 1950 interview. “I saw that there was more to building a hillclimber than meets the eye.”
By the middle 1920s, Mitzel had learned much about building a competitive hillclimb machine and was quickly becoming one of the top hillclimbers in the country. In 1928, he won the AMA Eastern National Hillclimb title aboard an Indian.
In the early 1930s, Mitzel bought a dirt track Indian racebike and was instantly one the top riders in the Eastern United States. He won the 50-mile Pennsylvania State Championship race and finished second to Woodsie Castonguay at the famous Langhorne 100 in 1935. In the mid ‘30s, Mitzel competed in the 200-mile nationals held in Jacksonville, Florida, and the next year in Savannah, Georgia. When the 200-miler moved to the beach at Daytona for the first time in 1937, Mitzel was there. He rode a steady race and finished a very respectable eighth. Not bad for a hillclimb specialist.
In the 1930s, Class A dirt track racing was dying out and the factories turned their attention to hillclimbing. During this period, hillclimbing was arguably the most popular form of motorcycle racing. It was certainly the style of racing that received the most interest from the factories. Mitzel was one of the top hillclimbers during this golden era of the sport. Indian gave him factory bikes and he won national titles in 1936 and 1939.
Mitzel held sort of an oddball record in the ‘30s when he set the fastest speed a motorcycle ever recorded on a frozen lake at 113 mph.
“I preferred hillclimbing to racing,” Mitzel said in 1950. “At the time, it paid more prize money. I also felt that hillclimbing was not as dangerous as racing.”
Even though hillclimbing may not have been as dangerous as dirt track racing, Mitzel still suffered a serious crash at Akron, Ohio in 1938. At that hillclimb, he hit a tree stump and broke his leg, leaving him out of competition for nearly a year.
After World War II, Mitzel, now in his early 50s, not only resumed hillclimbing, but also continued to win. In 1949, he won another national title on Mt. Garfield in Muskegon, Michigan. He continued to win into the 1950s, winning titles again in 1952 and ’53. He continued to hillclimb through the end of the 1950s.
When not racing, Mitzel ran a trucking business. His son, Gordon, followed in his father's footsteps and became a nationally-ranked AMA hillclimber in the 1950s
Inducted in 1998