AL “OLD #91” BURKE
Hall of Fame Inductee - Pre 2001 (1996)
Al grew up at a motorcycle shop during World War II. He was just eight years old when Eske Carlson of Carlson Brothers BSA & Norton Sales in Richfield, Minnesota said: "If you're going to hang around every day, you may as well learn something". He started taking wheels apart, then re-spoking them, then working on engines. When he was nine they sent him to the store on a Harley 45 with an outrigger sidecar to pick up some pop. He recalls that he killed the engine three times on glare ice that day. He finally gave it more throttle, dumped the clutch and took off in a full broad-slide out of the driveway. "I have always laughed that I started out in a full slide and never quit."
In 1949 Al rode to Sturgis on a girder fork, ridged frame, 21 cubic inch Velocette and got the award for the youngest rider attending from Pappy Hoel. He rode in his first motorcycle race in 1949 at the age of fifteen, on a BSA single. You couldn’t get into the AMA until you were eighteen in those days, so he rode outlaw every Sunday at Twin City Speedway, in-between the stock car races and through the big holes. He learned quickly how to ride around the holes instead of through them. In ‘52 he turned eighteen and rode his novice year and was one of the top points in the country. In 1953, he started as an Amateur. About half-way through the year he got a letter telling him he had been raised to Expert. He placed in five nationals and got awarded his national #91, in 1954, and was given a factory ride from Harley-Davidson in ‘55, riding for Harley until he retired in 1963. He won the Minnesota State Championship eight times, (they retired the title when he quit); won the National Short Track Championship at Santa Fe in ‘56 and ‘57; won the Canadian National in ‘56; and won the "Black Hills Classic" in ‘57.
In July 1956 Al set an all time record of 37 wins in one week on the short track. They raced what was called the "handicap/scratch program", where you go until there was only one winner. A rider could race seven times a night, if he kept winning. He won the heat and final in Iowa on Sunday, seven times at Milwaukee on Tuesday, seven times at Santa Fe on Wednesday, seven times on Thursday at Flint, Michigan, seven times on Friday and again seven times at Schereville, Indiana, taking 37 first places in a week.
Al retired from racing in 1963 after holding his national number for ten years.