Bill Tuman was the last single-day winner of the AMA Grand National Championship, the result of his victory at the Springfield Mile in 1953. Tuman was part of Indian Motorcycle's famous racing team that was dubbed the "Indian Wrecking Crew", a group of top racers in the late 1940s and early '50s that included Bobby Hill, Ernie Beckman and Tuman.
Tuman won a total of five AMA Grand Nationals during his professional racing career that spanned the years 1947 to 1955. One of the most surprising victories for Tuman was at an AMA Grand National on the mile dirt oval in San Mateo, Calif., on June 22, 1952. Tuman beat all of the top riders from the west coast on one of their own tracks, something that rarely happened in those days. That win in California, demonstrated Tuman's ability to master tracks quickly and his capability to earn unexpected victories. However, racing outside of the midwest was a rarity for Tuman. With four children to raise, Tuman tried to race as much as possible near his home in Rockford, Ill. Tuman often missed AMA Grand Nationals in order to race, and usually win, a slew of local and regional races. Not only did racing locally keep Tuman closer to his home and his family, but it turned out to be profitable as well.
"I was making too much money racing the local events to worry about racing in all the nationals," Tuman recalls. "I can remember during county fair times I would race six and seven races a week."
Born in Rockford, Ill., on Aug. 3, 1921, Tuman didn't even begin racing until he was 25-years-old. He lived in San Francisco after World War II and got a job building race bikes out of the famous Hap Jones race shop. After watching the legendary Sam Arena win a race Tuman became hooked on the sport. Tuman's first race bike was a hopped-up Indian army surplus bike.
Tuman quickly made it through the amateur ranks and turned pro in 1947. His first professional race was at Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1947. Tuman earned podium finishes in 1948 and '49, before taking his first national win in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 17, 1950. A month later Tuman took his second national win in Reading, Pa. In March of 1951 at the annual AMA Awards Banquet in Daytona Beach, Fla., Tuman was voted the AMA's Most Popular Rider of 1950.
Tuman's best season came in 1953 when he won the legendary Independence Day weekend event at Dodge City, Kan., a 200 miler over a two-mile dirt oval, on a Norton. The heat was tremendous that day. Many riders dropped out due to the searing heat, but Tuman said he made it through to victory by drinking all the water he could stand before the race and chewing on lemons during the race. The next month Tuman earned the biggest win of his career by taking first at Springfield, Ill., and becoming the newly-crowned national champion. It's interesting to note that Tuman won Springfield racing a borrowed motor from a fellow Indian rider. His own motor was worn out from the dozens of local races he had competed in that summer. It would prove to be the final time that an Indian rider would win the prestigious AMA Grand National No. 1 plate.
After Indian folded, racing became exceedingly more difficult for Tuman. The parts supply was quickly drying up and Tuman was spending endless hours keeping his racing machine going. Racing became a bit of a chore, and after a regional race in Pennsylvania in 1955, Tuman pulled into the pits after the race and abruptly announced his retirement. Tuman's relatively short, but spectacular racing career was over at the age of 33. Remarkably, Tuman's most serious racing injury during his decade-long career was a sprained ankle.
After retirement from racing Tuman stayed in the motorcycling industry, first as a road agent for BSA and later as a Honda dealer. He and his wife, Betty, are still active as representatives in AMA district 17. The Tumans raised five children. His son Bill Jr., followed in his father's footsteps and raced motorcycles in the '70s and '80s.
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.