Larry Lawrence | February 5, 2019
Archives: Moore Than Meets the Eye
Among the close-knit fraternity of motorcyclists in central Indiana in the 1960s and ‘70s, Ralph Moore was an iconic personality. Moore was not only a national-caliber racer, whose career spanned the 1920s to the late 1950s, he meant much more to the Hoosier racing scene than just being a big-name rider. Over the years dozens of racers would not have been able to pursue their dream of racing had it not been for Moore’s support. His motorcycle dealership on the near eastside of Indy was a hangout for motorcycle riders of all types. Motocrossers, road racers, flat trackers, hillclimbers, drag racers and regular everyday riders all rubbed elbows at Indiana Cycle Sales and at one time or another most likely got help from Moore and his dealership.
Archives: Moore Than Meets the Eye
Bringing the motorcycling community together was important to Moore. He was one of the founders of the Mid-West Motorcycle Club. Mid-West MC is the oldest motorcycle club in Indiana and one of the ten oldest in the United States. The club was founded in 1923 in the basement of John Morgan’s Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Shop on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis. The goals that Moore and the other founders of the club worked towards was making Mid-West an asset to the city, doing what they could to fight back against the negative image of motorcyclists especially prevalent in the 1960s and ‘70s. The club promoted all kinds of activities for riders, including races, group tours and perhaps most notably coordinating charitable rides and activities.
Moore was active with Mid-West MC throughout his adult life. In fact, the night Ralph died from a heart attack in 1977, he’d just returned home from a club meeting.
Moore got into motorcycling in the early days, taking a job in an Indianapolis Harley-Davidson shop in 1919, while a teenager. He began competing in hillclimbs during the heyday of that genre in the 1920s. At the height of factory involvement in hillclimb, Moore ascended the ranks to become one of the elite climbers of his time. In 1929 he became a Harley factor supported rider when Milwaukee sent him a machine for competition. Surprisingly, Moore found his own hillclimb rig better than the one Harley sent, so he returned the factory machine and kept running the bikes he built.
He won numerous local and regional climbs and several times was on the verge of winning a national championship in the 1930s only to be thwarted, mostly by rival, Joe Petrali, arguably the greatest hillclimber of all-time. Moore was a consistent top-five ranked AMA National Hillclimb racer from the late 1920s through the late 1930s.
He was just 20 years old when he helped start the Mid-West Motorcycle Club in 1923. The club became one of the original chartered clubs when the AMA was founded in 1924. Over the years Moore assumed ever greater leadership roles with the club. During the dark days of World War II, when so many clubs foundered and dropped their membership with the struggling AMA, Moore made sure Mid-West remained steady with its support of the national body and maintained the club’s charter even during that period of meager funding.
In mid-1930s Moore opened his first motorcycle shop. Early on it was a repair shop that also sold used bikes. About that same time Moore became somewhat of a rarity – a hillclimber who branched out to do other forms of racing. It turned out to be a good move. In 1935 at the Jacksonville 200 (predecessor to the Daytona 200), Moore was one of the front-runners all race and finished a strong sixth. He’d seamlessly made a successful transition from the specialty of hillclimb to another form of racing.
Based on performances like that, Triumph sent Moore motorcycles to compete on in those pre-World War days. Having support from the British maker turned out to be a blessing and a curse.
Moore showed up to race the 1940 Daytona 200 on his Triumph. Ralph’s son Rick Moore said the AMA was doing all it could at the time to tip the scales in favor of the American brands Harley-Davidson and Indian. Rick claims that included trying to keep the number of entries on foreign bikes as low as possible.
“Dad had already raced in the Savannah and Jacksonville Road Race Nationals, which basically became Daytona,” Rick says. “And, on top of that, he’d also already raced in the Daytona 200 in 1937. Well, he shows up for the 1940 race with the Triumph and E.C. Smith (the AMA’s Racing Director) said to him, ‘You’re a hillclimber, so you have to race in the B class.’ He basically made him race in the 100 with the amateurs even though he was already a proven pro. Smith was the last word, so there wasn’t much he could do, so he raced in the 100 instead.”
He eventually was allowed back into the big race and at Daytona Moore raced Harleys, Indians and ended up on Nortons and Triumphs in the 1950s. Amazingly, Moore continued pro racing well into his 50s and was competitive the entire time. In fact, his best result in the 200 came in 1956 – he finished 20th when he was 53 years old!
Possibly the only thing that slowed down Moore’s racing was the fact that his son Rick started doing well enough in the late 1950s, that Ralph decided to scale things back to concentrate on helping his son. Rick, like his dad, became one of the top racers in Indiana. Racing was a family affair with the Moores. Besides Ralph and Rick, Ralph’s brother Gordon also raced, as did his nephew Delbert.
After World War II Ralph and partner Ray Stearns pooled their resources and opened R&R Indian Sales in Indianapolis. Before opening the partners had to empty an entire train car of Indian motorcycles sent to them by the factory. Indian went through a tough time post-war, but fortunately the dealership had also taken on Triumph, so when Indian went belly up, they simply changed the name of the dealership to Indiana Cycle Sales.
Moore’s dealership was one of the first in the country to sell Yamahas. But according to Rick, they had to do so many repairs of the early Yamahas, that it colored his dad’s opinion of Japanese-made motorcycles and it cost them dearly.
“When Honda approached dad about becoming the first Honda dealership in Indianapolis, all he could think about was the trouble he’d had with those Yamahas,” Rick explains with a grin. “He told the rep, ‘I don’t want to sell that junk.’ It was probably the worst business decision he ever made.”
From the time Moore started his motorcycle shop in 1946, to the time he passed away in 1977, the dealership sold 24 different brands of machines.
Moore’s passion for racing and motorcycling in general never wavered. His biggest kick was getting new riders involved.
“There were times guys would come in and couldn’t get approved for credit,” Rick said. “My dad was always a good judge of character and if he thought someone was a good guy, he would sell them a bike and let them make weekly payments directly to the dealership. People appreciated him for that. They’d be customers for life.”
While Ralph Moore never quite attained supreme glory as a national champion, it was hard-core enthusiasts like him, who lived and breathed motorcycles, that helped foster motorcycling into the massively popular pastime it would become in the latter decades of the 20th century.