Hall of Fame Inductee – 2007
J.C. “Pappy” Hoel Outstanding Achievement Award
Born in 1917, Al Nelson began riding motorcycles in 1932 at the age of 16. He learned to race on an Indian Scout, purchased at the famous Clarence “Pappy” Hoel’s Indian Dealership in Sturgis. Nelson competed and won nearly every area “outlaw” race in the Black Hills and Eastern Wyoming.
His racing career began in 1935 when the Rapid City Pioneers Motorcycle Club began holding races around the Black Hills. The AMA did not sanction these events and at the time AMA Chairman E. C. Smith characterized them as “outlaw” races. According to Nelson, the track at the Meade County Fairgrounds in Sturgis was the best track in the area, and the original “outlaw” races at this track were the impetus for the establishment of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. In early 1938, Nelson became friends with Johnny Spiegelhoff, a rider from Milwaukee, who ultimately became the 1938 Sturgis Champion. Nelson won most of the Saturday races in 1938, but was edged out by his friend Spiegelhoff in Sunday’s championship final.
In 1939, Nelson moved to Milwaukee and moved in with Spiegelhoff. Nelson rode a few races in the Milwaukee area on his “Daytona” Indian Scout before being contacted by the Harley-Davidson people to ride Harley-Davidson’s.
During the 1939-40 racing season, Nelson had ridden his motorcycle to Langhorne, PA and Daytona Beach, to compete in national events. While he and Spiegelhoff traveled together for a time during the 1939-40 seasons, trailering their bikes, Nelson felt guilty. He very strongly supported the Class C rule about riding his racer to the race feeling this practice increased his stamina for the distance races.
By 1940, Nelson had earned enough points to get his Expert license, and he returned to Sturgis to win the main event on a Harley-Davidson, setting a track record for the 10-mile that remains unbroken. After winning the Black Hills Motor Classic Championship, Nelson returned home and at 6 AM, his father handed him plans for a construction project in Wyoming and told him to, “Get to work!” essentially ending Nelson’s motorcycle racing career.