George Roeder was one of the leading AMA Grand National racer during the 1960s. He won eight nationals during the 1960s and was a member of the Harley-Davidson factory racing team. In addition to being one of the top AMA dirt track racers, Roeder also piloted a Harley-Davidson streamliner to a land-speed record in 1965.
Like many racers, when AMA rules required a rider to reach the age of 18 before he could get a professional racing license, George Roeder fibbed about his age and took part in his first money-paying race in 1954 at the age of 17, following in the footsteps of his brother, Charlie. Roeder, who was born on August 16, 1936, in Monroeville, Ohio, quickly advanced through the Novice and Amateur ranks. After a successful rookie Expert year in 1956, he started the 1957 season with a new Harley-Davidson that cost him only $100, thanks to the Ohio Harley-Davidson Dealers Association.
The next several years saw Roeder competing against the likes of Joe Leonard, Carroll Resweber, Everett Brashear, Dick Klamfoth, Sammy Tanner, Dick Mann and Bart Markel, all of whom are now fellow Motorcycle Hall of Fame members.
Roeder's first Grand National Championship victory came at the Springfield Mile in 1963. To this day, he recalls that race as his greatest performance. The 1963 campaign proved to be Roeder’s best. Riding Harleys owned and prepped by Ralph Berndt, the tuner who fielded bikes for four-time champion Carroll Resweber, Roeder added wins at the Freeport (Illinois) Half Mile and the Sacramento Mile. Despite winning three of the 14 Nationals staged that year, Roeder missed winning the coveted Number One plate, finishing just one point behind Dick Mann.
The following year, Roeder won two Grand National Championship races, the Heidelberg (Pennsylvania) Half Mile and the Kansas City Half Mile. In 1965, Roeder, still living in his hometown of Monroeville, Ohio, scored what could be loosely called a hometown victory when he won the Columbus Half Mile. He finished the year fifth in the point standings, behind fellow Dirt Track Hall of Fame members Markel, Mann, Nixon and Mert Lawwill.
Besides his well-recognized talent on the dirt tracks of America, Roeder also proved himself to be an excellent road racer as well. He earned four podium finishes in the Daytona 200 in the early-to-mid 1960s and was a runner-up at Laconia (New Hampshire) in 1963. Roeder never abandoned his dirt-track racing style though—he took most turns at the road races with his foot firmly planted on the tarmac.
Roeder is proud of having been named the AMA Most Popular Rider in both 1963 and 1965. The award was the result of voting by members of AMA-chartered clubs.
The 1967 season proved to be another exceptional year for Roeder. He earned five podium finishes at the nationals, including wins on the mile at Sacramento and the half-mile at San Jose, California, and once again finished second in the series, this time behind Gary Nixon.
Roeder temporarily retired from racing in 1968 after suffering a broken arm. He made a return to dirt track competition at the 1969 Nazareth (Pennsylvania) Mile only to suffer a broken ankle in practice. That sidelined him once again, but he made yet another foray into competition when he showed up at the 1974 San Jose Mile with a rigid-frame Harley.
Two years prior to Roeder's last go at National dirt track racing, he opened a Harley-Davidson dealership in Monroeville. Roeder sold the shop to his oldest son, Will, and daughter-in-law Julie in 1993, but more often than not you can still find him there. Back in the shop, Roeder helps maintain the Harleys raced by his sons, George II, known as "Geo," and Jess. As proud as he is of his 1963 Springfield Mile win, also very high on his list of thrills is the memorable night in 1998 when he watched "Geo" score his first Grand National Championship win at I-96 Speedway in Odessa, Michigan. To add icing to the cake, Jess won the 883 Sportster race at the half-mile track that night.
If you stop by Roeder's Harley-Davidson in Monroeville, be sure to check out the Bonneville streamliner on display. Powered by a Harley-Davidson 250cc Sprint motor, the streamliner was piloted to a record speed of 177.225 mph by Roeder at the Salt Flats in 1965.
George and his wife Jessie lived just a stone's throw from Roeder's Harley-Davidson. George was constantly on the go during the racing season, accompanying his sons to a seemingly endless string of races across the country. He seemed happy standing on the sidelines, but on occasion you could still find him strapping on his steel shoe and competing in vintage dirt track races. How does that old saying go? Once a racer, always a racer. That summed up George Roeder.
Roeder passed away on Thursday, May 8, 2003.