Homecoming Day is Big Event at Madison Square Garden for the ‘Pedalers’

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/December 6, 1934

The six-day bicycle race has its uses.

It serves every sports columnist with at least one column every year.

The column can be about the “color” of the race, the weird crowds, the smoke-befogged atmosphere, the noise, the rubbing of elbows between Park Avenuers and East Siders.

It can be a sad column about the veteran riders in the race riding their poor old hearts out against bubbling youth. It can be a scientific column about how the riders take on weight during the race, what they eat, and how much, and why.

Or it can be a reminiscent column about the good old days of the six-day race when it was conducted by Patrick Powers, and the late Harry Pollok in the old Garden, and when “Piggy” Moran, and old Bommy Walthoar, and Walter Rutt, and Joe Fogler, and Al Goulett, and other great pedalers were monarchs of the timber tureen.

The six-day bicycle race was once peculiar to Manhattan Island. Of late years it has spread out over these United States.

It goes good in some towns, not so good in others. It is an excellent excuse to stay up all night, inhaling foul air, and many find it an exciting form of contest.

Business is very nice at Madison Square Garden this year, which is very pleasing to Mr. John Chapman, sometimes described as the “Czar” of the six-day game. Mr. Chapman is a fine old gentleman who has been promoting six-day races many years, and is undoubtedly the greatest promoter of this particular sport the world has ever seen.

Mr. Chapman has an able assistant in a brisk, pudgy young man named Harry Mendel, highly popular with newspapermen. He makes his headquarters to New Jersey, where, in Summer, he sometimes promotes fights.

Mr. Chapman was himself a bicycle rider years back on the old Salt Lake City saucer. This was in the time of some mighty wheel drivers. As a promoter, Mr. Chapman has the faculty of making more money on less receipts than any man that ever promoted anything.

He has a farm in Georgia, and a summer home in New Jersey. He is one of the great old characters of the American sporting game, not much of a hand for seeking the limelight, but a shrewd director of what has become a New York institution.

The riders come from all over the world, are craftily teamed for the races in New York, and elsewhere, and must find it profitable, as they follow the six-day game until they are too old to push a pedal.

They do not make much money at any one time, proportionately to other working men of sport, like boxers, golfers, ball players and jockeys, but they average up in the year pretty well. Some six-day riders have retired well fixed.

They ride not only in this country, but all over Europe, where the game is even more popular than it is here. They are of all sizes. Some of the best riders are quite small. It is a fact they nearly all gain weight during the long grind.

The six-day race in the old Garden was for years the annual carnival of the underworld. Very tough gentlemen of those times attended, drinking champagne by the case in the barroom just off the main entrance, their women attending them with their gentlemen’s pistols concealed in their muffs.

The old Strong Arm Squad, made up of athletic young men wearing blue flannel shirts, often descended on the old Garden daring the six-day race and knocked the tough boys about. It was well known that you dare not toss your overcoat aside while watching a race at the old Garden, or you departed coatless.

These things do not happen at the six-day race nowadays.

It is a quiet, docile pastime, enlivened for the sanguinary minded by an occasional “spill,” or fall of the riders.

Mr. Hype Igoe, now the dean of the six-day fans, goes home at intervals during the race. In the old days, Mr. Igoe never left the Garden from the moment the doors opened until the last instant of the race.

Some of the old time fans think there is too much stealing of laps by the riding teams nowadays, and too much hippodroming generally. The answer of Mr. Chapman to this charge might be that the race is drawing better than ever this year so the new generation of six-day fans must like the current system.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s