1952 Harley-Davidson KR Tribute Bike

This 1952 Harley-Davidson KR tribute bike started as a basket case.

This 1952 Harley-Davidson KR tribute bike started as a basket case.

By Jim Babchak
Photos by Don Rogers

Basket Case Restored to Race Quality

Racing has always been one of the most exciting elements of motorcycling, and in the late 1940s and early ’50s flat track racing was a hugely popular sport that pitted Harley-Davidson against Indian and a few other imports of the era. Founded as Class A dirt track racing in 1932 by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), it attracted fans from far and wide and many factory special machines. The following year, 1933, Class C racing was added to the schedule, and it featured street legal motorcycles with displacements of up to 750cc for flathead machines and 500cc for overhead valve machines. This new Class C series encouraged everyday riders to participate and thus broaden the appeal of motor-cycling to the man on the street. The fact that it helped the manufacturers sell more motorcycles was a fortuitous by-product of the undertaking.

From its inception, the yearly winner of the Class C series was called the Grand National Champion, which was determined by the rider who won a single race, the famous Springfield Mile, held every year at the Illinois State Fairgrounds racetrack in front of a legion of enthusiastic race fans. The late 1940s (1947-50) saw Harley-Davidson take the championships three times under the brilliant ridership of Jimmy Chann (1947-49) and Larry Headrick (1950). From 1951-53 the momentum swung back to Indian with Bobby Hill winning in 1951 and 1952 and Bill Tuman winning in 1953, both on Indian Scouts. As you know, Indian Motorcycle ceased manufacturing in 1953, and Harley-Davidson came roaring back in 1954 to take the win under the ridership of Joe Leonard of San Jose, California, on a KR, the next generation of racer that replaced the WR. By then the rules had changed, as the championship was no longer decided by one race, but rather by the rider that won the most races over the season, a much fairer, more democratic approach that encompassed five different forms of competitions: the mile dirt track, the half-mile, the short-track, the TT steeplechase, and road races.

Ted Mitchell with the 1952 Harley-Davidson K model he restored as a tribute bike.

Ted Mitchell with the 1952 Harley-Davidson K model he restored as a KR tribute bike.

Our featured bike is a 1952 Harley-Davidson K Model (street version), built as a tribute to honor the great KR racers of yesteryear. The motorcycle, basically a basket case, showed up as a partial trade-in on a newer Harley at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville, Tennessee. It had a canary yellow molded frame, coffin gas tank, mag wheels, etc., a bastardized version of its former self chopped in the 1960s or ’70s, abused and unloved! Scott Maddux, the owner of Smoky Mountain H-D, was unsure what to do with the pile, so he sold it to Ted Mitchell, a friend and fellow enthusiast. Ted says, “I was looking for a project and wanted to either do a Wall of Death bike or a flat track racer, so this one was a good starting point.”

Ted had spent many a weekend at the Indianapolis Mile flat track races in the past and knew just what he wanted. The bike was missing lots of parts and in need of basically everything, but Ted dove right in. As a mechanic for UPS, he was well versed in all things mechanical, and he would do the entire restoration himself, including painting this basket case. He has been fooling with Harleys since the 1970s, so his experience with motorcycles is wide and deep.

Ted started with the frame, which was in desperate need of modification. He stripped all the molding off and fabricated the bolt-on hardtail rear section, giving the bike the correct stance and the look of a racer.