The Midwest's Great Race: The Peoria TT
The Peoria TT is one of the classic American motorcycle races, and was part of the revered Grand National Championship Triple Crown: the Peoria TT, the Castle Rock TT, and the Ascot TT. The Peoria TT is still held at Peoria Park, and continues to be one of the most prestigious and competitive races in the country.
In 1931, brothers Bob and Bruce Walters, with Bruce’s wife Gladys, moved to Peoria, Illinois, and took over an existing motorcycle dealership in the city. They had just come from Galesburg, Illinois, where they owned and ran a successful dealership and were active members of the Galesburg Motorcycle Club. When they arrived in Peoria and had established themselves, they helped form the Peoria Motorcycle Club. The Peoria Motorcycle Club, along with leadership from Bruce Walters, who was not a chartered member, started organizing their own local TT races.
In 1940, the club purchased an 80-acre plot of land south of Peoria proper which captivated Walter’s imagination. “Just looking at the land, I could visualize its potential," Walters said in a 1978 magazine interview. "It was just a valley full of willow trees then, but I could see that if we cleared the trees we’d have a natural amphitheater with a race track for a stage." The track has no grandstands or seats: spectators just bring their food, drink, and a blanket, and watch from the natural landscape surrounding the course; and this has never kept it from being one of the country’s most beloved and continuously well-attended races. By the end of his career, Walters would receive the AMA’s highest award for his lifelong contribution to furthering motorcycling: the Dug Perkins Award.
Once the track had been laid and racers started competing on it, it didn’t take long for it to start gaining national attention thanks to Walter’s tireless efforts to promote the track and the races which were held there. In 1947, the Peoria TT was issued a national sanction by the AMA, and grew to become one of the premier races on the AMA calendar. Herman Dahlke won the first Peoria TT, and such names as Eddie Mulder, Mert Lawwill, Bill Miller, Dick Mann, Bart Markel, Kenny Roberts, Jay Springsteen, Chris Carr, and Henry Wiles have competed and won eternal glory on its grounds. The bikes they used in these races were trackers made by stripping everyday street bikes down to just what they needed to run and throwing some tracker tires on there.
The Peoria TT is known to be one of the more exhilarating races in the circuit. The track is ⅝ of a mile long, and features a notably long front stretch and a long turn one. Coming out of turn one is a jump with a blind landing that has to be hit at speed—which is a terrifying move in and of itself. Due to the challenging nature of the track, and the caliber of racers who competed there, the Peoria TT has rightly earned its place in the AMA’s history of premier races.
The Peoria TT continues to run to this day, and remains one of the prestigious races of today’s AMA flat track circuit.