Johnny Spiegelhoff was a leading racer of the 1940s. The rider from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, won the Daytona 200 in 1947 aboard a pre-War Indian Sport Scout. Spiegelhoff also won the Langhorne 100 in 1946 and numerous regional and state championships during his 12-year racing career. Like many racers of his era, Spiegelhoff’s career was cut in half due to the four-year stop of national racing during World War II.
Spiegelhoff was born on April 17, 1915. He began riding motorcycles during the Depression of the 1930s. Hillclimbs gave Spiegelhoff his first taste of competition, but by 1934 he turned his attention to flat track racing. He bought his first race bike by taking out a loan against his car. He picked up the bike on a Saturday morning and by the end of the weekend had worn out the tires after spending most of Saturday and Sunday riding lap after lap, learning to broad slide around the mile dirt oval of the Milwaukee State Fairgrounds.
By the late 1930s, Spiegelhoff was one of the leading racers in the Midwest. He also raced in Canada and finished second in that country’s national championship in 1938. Also in 1938, Spiegelhoff was the star rider and winner at the very first Black Hills Rally event in Sturgis, South Dakota. There, he was given the nickname “The Milwaukee Demon.” The rally at Sturgis would go on to become one of the biggest annual gatherings of motorcyclists in the country.
Spiegelhoff began to shine on the national level in the late 1930s. In 1939, he set the fastest qualifying time at the prestigious Springfield (Illinois) Mile and finished fourth in the final. In 1940, Spiegelhoff finished runner-up at Springfield to Melvin Rhoades. That would prove to be his best finish at Springfield. For years, Spiegelhoff would be one of the favorites at the race, and even though he led many times and earned a number of top-five finishes through 1948, he never seemed to have luck on his side at Springfield.
After World War II, racing slowly began to return in 1946 and Spiegelhoff took the victory in one of the first nationals. He won the infamous Langhorne (Pennsylvania) 100 on his pre-War Indian Scout. Langhorne, which was held on an egg-shaped oiled-dirt mile oval, was considered one of the most grueling races of its day.
Luck was again with Spiegelhoff at the Daytona 200 in February of 1947. It was the first return to racing at Daytona after the war and the event drew close to 30,000 spectators to the beach course. Over 140 riders raced in the 200-miler. Ed Kretz and Floyd Emde battled for the lead early while Spiegelhoff ran third. A brush fire started in a field next to the track and for a few laps the riders were forced to ride through flames before the blaze was brought under control.
After six laps, Emde dropped from the race with engine problems and on lap 12 Kretz’s bike snapped a chain. That left Spiegelhoff in the lead. Bobby Hill steadily closed the gap on Spiegelhoff and three-quarters of the way through the race had caught the leader, but in the process had burned up his brakes. Hill faded back in the field. In the end, it was Spiegelhoff winning over fellow Indian rider Ted Edwards, of Atlanta, by one minute.
The Daytona victory put Spiegelhoff in an elite category and was the highlight of his career.
Spiegelhoff was small in stature at 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing 150 pounds. His racing style was said to be one of the smoothest of his era and many younger riders tried to emulate his technique.
Spiegelhoff retired from racing after the 1948 season. He and his wife raised two daughters. Spiegelhoff died in February of 1975 while vacationing in Mexico. He was 59.
Inducted in 1998