Wearing a leather cap, a well-manicured moustache and a steely gaze Glenn Hammond Curtiss stares out of a time-worn black and white postcard-like photo. In the background frothy waves plash upon a beach, the very hard packed sands upon which his experimental V-8 powered motorcycle would transport him into the history books as “The Fastest Man in the World.” The day was Thursday January 24, the year 1907; the place, Ormond Beach on the east coast of Florida. The record… 136.3 mph, a land speed record that would stand for eleven years and then only surpassed by an automobile. It would not be until 1930 that a motorcycle would best Glenn Curtiss’s feat of daring-do and mechanical design.
The surfside setting for the famous blast down the beach had its origins a few years earlier when in 1902 influential Ormond Beach residents began promoting racing on the local beach with an inaugural automobile speed run. The sport grew in popularity and even Henry Ford showed up for an event in one of his early cars, and slept in it since at the time he couldn’t afford the hotel room. Another “celebrity” who could afford about anything took up residence in Ormond Beach, none other than John D. Rockefeller who had decided to live to a 100 and was looking for the perfect healthy environment in order to reach the century mark (he made it to 97). Ormond Beach became a playground the rich and famous… and those feeling the need for speed. Case in point, one Glenn H. Curtiss, a true American hero and a larger than life personality who exploits would even inspire a popular series of youth books “The Adventures of Tom Swift” penned by Victor Appleton. And yes, there was one volume circa 1910 titled “Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle or Fun and Adventures on the Road.”