Bruce Walters is considered the father of the famous and prestigious Peoria TT National. Walters, along with his brother, Bob, owned a Harley-Davidson dealership in Peoria, Illinois, and was a key early member of the Peoria Motorcycle Club. Walters also served on the AMA’s Competition Committee for years and helped form the rules and regulations that governed the sport. Walters was presented the Dud Perkins Award, the highest honor the American Motorcyclist Association can bestow upon a member, in 1975 for his years of service to motorcycling.
Ambrose (Bruce) Walters was born in Johnson County, Iowa on February 3, 1898. He took up motorcycling at age 15 when he bought a 1913 Indian. In 1922, Bruce and his brother opened their first motorcycle dealership in Galesburg, Illinois, and nine years later they bought an existing dealership in Peoria. Bruce took over running the Peoria dealership and in 1931 he helped form the Peoria Motorcycle Club.
Walters enjoyed competition and raced motorcycles in one form or another nearly his entire life. His biggest successes in racing came in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. He was a top competitor in regional flat track races, enduros and hillclimbs. Walters even raced nationals during that period and scored a top-10 finish in the Daytona 200 in 1939.
Perhaps the race Walters loved most was the Jack Pine Enduro. He rode in the famed race 26 times and finished the grueling event 21 times over the years. He rode his last Jack Pine at the ripe old age of 67. Walters loved riding on the street as well. In fact he didn’t even own an automobile until he was 41 — and then only because his shop took it in trade for a new Harley!
The Peoria Motorcycle Club held local competitions and one of those events, a TT race which began in the 1930s, would go on to become one of the classic motorcycle races in America — the Peoria TT. In 1940, the club purchased an 80-acre tract of land south of Peoria.
"Just looking at the land, I could visualize its potential," Walters said in a 1978 magazine interview. "It was just a valley full of willow trees then, but I could see that if we cleared the trees we’d have a natural amphitheater with a race track for a stage."
In 1947, the Peoria TT was issued a national sanction by the AMA. Alabama racer Herman Dahlke won the national (in the premier 80-cubic-inch category) that year to become the event’s first winner. Walters worked tirelessly to promote the TT and the event rapidly grew into one of the premier races on the annual AMA racing calendar.
In addition to cultivating the Peoria TT, Walters also served as organizer for the Alligator Enduro, run in conjunction with Bike Week at Daytona Beach, Florida. Walters also served the AMA in his capacity of Competition Committee member. He approached his work with the AMA with the same zeal he did with his other endeavors and his voice was highly respected within the motorcycling industry. In 1968, Walters was honored with a special citation for his many contributions to the Committee’s work.
In 1949, the Walters brothers built a new store for their Peoria dealership and it was considered one of the most modern dealerships of the era. They enjoyed hosting traveling riders from all over the country and built a shower in the dealership for riders to use when they were riding and camping out in the area. Walters Brothers Harley-Davidson continues to operate today as one of the best-known dealerships in America, under the direction of Walters’ protégé Wayne Wiebler.
Walters was given the AMA's highest honor in 1975 when he was presented with the prestigious Dud Perkins Award for his major contributions to motorcycling. Walters died in 1980 and was survived by his wife, Gladys.
Then-AMA Executive Director Lin Kuchler said, "The passing of Bruce Walters marks the end of an era for motorcycling and the AMA. He was a fine gentleman, a great motorcyclist and a good friend. Bruce will be missed."
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003.