Jake De Rosier was, by all accounts, America’s first professional motorcycle racer, and one of the most famous motorcyclists in the world after beating Charlie Collier’s Matchless in a best-of-3 match race at Brooklands in 1911, on his track-racing Indian. De Rosier was born in Quebec in 1880, but moved to Massachusetts with his family by 1984. He started racing bicycles in 1894, and was declared a ‘professional’ soon after making ‘too much money’ winning Amateur championships. He switched to riding the new ‘pacer’ motorcycles in 1898, for aviation pioneer and auto racer Henri Fournier. These early pacers were notoriously unreliable, but provided an added level of excitement at hugely popular Velodrome races with their speed, noise, and new-fangled technical innovation. These were the first motorized vehicles many spectators had ever seen, and certainly the first motorcycles. De Rosier was a true pioneer of the sport, and rode Fournier’s machine (imported from France) at America’s first motor-paced bicycle event, at the Waltham Massachussets track in 1898.
In 1901 De Rosier was pacing American bicycle champion George Nelson, and met George Hendee, who’d brought a Hendee Special pacer to the race, with an engine by Oscar Hedstrom. The Indian was actually a reliable motorcycle, chiefly because Oscar Hedstrom had designed the first proper carburetor in the world. De Rosier switched to pacing for Hedstrom, and was among the very first employee of Indian. He didn’t stay an employee long, but kept a close relationship with Indian, which led to the first professional racing contract in the industry in 1905, with Indian to race their ‘motocycles’. De Rosier shortly became the most successful motorcycle racer in the world, and by 1910 was paid to ‘inaugurate’ many of Jack Prince’s new invention, an expansion of the wooden Velodromes he’d built and promoted around the USA – the Board Track.
Jake De Rosier was in Los Angeles in April 1910 for the grand opening of Jack Prince’s first-ever Board Track, at Playa del Rey, called the Los Angeles Motordrome. The Motordrome became for a short time (1910-1913) one of the world’s most important speed venues, on par with Indianapolis Motor Speedway (est.1909 – De Rosier rode at the opening) and Brooklands (est. 1907 – De Rosier was victorious there in 1911). Many world speed records were set at the track, car and motorcycle, and by 1911 De Rosier held every speed record classified by the FAM (Federation of American Motorcyclists), earned mostly on Prince’s Board Tracks around the country.
Motorcycle racing wasn’t an easy job, though, and De Rosier’s list of broken bones, burns, lost skin, and concussions fills a long list in profiles of the man during his career. They speak of dagger-like 4″ splinters from track boards piercing his skin, split shin bones wired together on site with no anesthetic (or penicillin), and far worse. De Rosier wasn’t immune from confrontations with the law, either, and was jailed for a night in New York City after a shoving match with a policeman at a race in Madison Square Garden. Jake De Rosier was physically diminutive, but hard as nails, and never stepped down from a fight.
De Rosier was a America’s first superstar motorcycle racer by 1910, in the physical condition of the toughest street brawler, but was reported to be surprisingly sweet in person. Undoubtedly he was quite a star with the ladies as well, and must have found excellent company while touring the country as a motorsports champion. Unfortunately, in April 1910 the girl he chose for 2 nights of fun turned out to be a beautiful 16 year old from a well-to-do family (Miss Pearl Clark), who’d escaped from her bedroom window to run away with him! The family was panicked, as the girl didn’t leave a note, and after finally calling home to tell her she was fine, they promptly had her arrested for ‘incorrigible behavior’. The press was keenly interested in a sex scandal with a star athlete – just like today in fact – and young Miss Pearl obliged them with a rather frank interview from the Detention Home, and was obligingly photographed in her most stylish outfit. It was a coming out party in a modern vein, with Pearl assuming the ‘no press is bad press’ attitude with a distinctly modern LA flavor. That she’d spent 2 nights with De Rosier was scandal enough, but on ‘confirmation of her story’ by a doctor (ie, checking her virginity status), her mother fainted, and wanted nothing more to do with the girl, who remained unrepentant. Today of course, minors are protected from press accounts, and Miss Pearl would never have been mentioned by name, or address! Read the account below, from the Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1910:
Hidden Love Her Undoing
– Pretty Girl Elopes With a Motorcycle Ride
– Miss Clark is Under Arrest; De Rosier Escapes
– Mother Faints When She Is Told the Truth
Pining for the excitement of the outer world, the glare of electrics, the charm of the café orchestras and the taste of rare wines and rich viands, Pearl Clark, 16 years of age, of No.2716 South Grand avenue, escaped from the quiet surroundings of her home, Wednesday night, and plunged into the life she thought she wanted. The plunge was brief. When the girl came to realize just what a gay life means, she found it very cold and cheerless. She hurried to a telephone to let her mother know of her whereabouts. As a result, Pearl is in the Detention Home on a charge of incorrigibility, and her alleged lover, Jake De Rosier, a French motorcycle racer, is sought for by detectives on criminal charges.
The case sounded from first reports like a pretty romance. Robbed of its romantic features, which, in the light of the girl’s acts and her rebellious spirit, are no longer to be considered. The episode reverts to the old story of a headstrong child, unappreciateiv of a quiet, pretty home, and desirous of showing how superior she was to her surroundings by taking the bit in her teeth and bolting. Miss Clark felt her first taste of annoyance yesterday afternoon, when photographers snapped her picture. Her demure attitude vanished for the moment and she gritted her pretty white teeth.
Miss Clark arrived from Boise about seven months ago. Her parents too up their residence on South Grand Avenue. The girl was surrounded by the best influences possible. Sh was given the advantage of piano and voice culture. She had plenty of time for reading and painting. Her friends were not questioned so long as they were boys of good families and apparently of good habits. She was carefully watched whenever she went out at night and her parents invariably accompanied her. But like many cases of the kind the girl tired of the quiet, peaceful life. Although she had many friends, she managed to make the acquaintance of De Rosier ‘on the side’. The French racer appealed to her as a voice from the outer world, the world she longed to see and master. Her family knew nothing of the girl’s attachment for De Rosier for she was very sly and quiet about it, but yesterday she admitted she had been meeting him clandestinely almost from her first month’s stay in this city.
Wednesday she decided that the step she wanted to take could no longer be put off. She had to take the plunge into the giddy whirly. She had a date with De Rosier, according to her confession yesterday, which was in brief as follows:
“He made an appointment with me and sent a messenger to the house. Later he came out on a motorcycle and handed me a quart bottle of champagne. I called him up and later arranged to meet him about 10 o’clock that night. I went to my room as usual and kept quiet until everyone was asleep and then I dressed myself. I did not intend to stay very long, and only wore such clothes as were necessary and didn’t take any of my other things. I got out the windowand dropped to the lawn and slipped out to Grand avenue and then went north until I met De Rosier. He took me to the Bristol Café where we had supper and drank quite a lot of Burgundy. In fact, we drank so much that we didn’t know much what we were doing. I didn’t, at any rate. We left there about midnight and De Rosier took me to his apartments at the Percival Hotel on South Hill street. We stayed there all night and Thursday afternoon went down to Venice and had dinner there with lots of Burgundy on the side and spent the night at the Windward Hotel. This morning, Jake brought me to Lot Angeles and left me and I telephoned my mother not to worry.”
The first intimation that the girl might be with De Rosier came from a telephone number she had pencilied on the wall alongside the telephone, and officers watched De Rosier’s rooms Thursday night, but he did not return.
Yesterday when Miss Clark telephoned from the American Drug Company’s storon in the Pacific Electric building, she told her mother not to worry, that she was safe and would return home. Her mother asked her to remain at the drug store until she could get downtown, that she wanted to talk the affair over. The girl consented. Mrs. Clark then called up police headquarters and Detective McNamara was dispatched to the drug store and there arrested her daughter, and marched her up to the Police Station.
Mrs. Clark arrived there a short time later. She refused to believe parts of her daughter’s statement, hoping against hope that the girl might be telling a falsehood. When informed by examining surgeons that the physical condition of the girl bore out certain features of her confession, Mrs. Clark fainted and was revived with difficulty. She left the hospital and returned home without again speaking to her daughter.
Miss Clark showed little remorse. She admitted that she had not enjoyed her escapade as much as she expected, but that she would like to have a couple of bottles of Burgundy to take to the Detention Home with her. The girl, to all outward appearances, is refined and modest. She is of a beautiful blonde type, dressed in the height of fashion, and with a trick of casting down her eyes while speaking.
Jake De Rosier is being earnestly sought and detectives state that a charge will be filed against hime, which, if proved to conviction, will prevent his breaking any more young hearts with his daring, death-challenging stunts for some time to come.