In 2021, Harley-Davidson wears the “HOG” designation proudly on several of its sleeves. It’s what Harley owners proudly call their bikes, what the Harley Owners Group calls itself, and even the three-letter designation when Harley rolls across the stock ticker on Wall Street. Did you ever wonder where that name comes from, though? Some people know, but some don’t. Excellent YouTube channel On Yer Bike did a short video about the life and times of original Wrecking Crew member Ray Weishaar, so it’s time to dive in.
Weishaar was born in Oklahoma on September 9, 1890, but his family moved shortly afterward to Wichita, Kansas. That’s where he grew up, and why he’d later come to be known as the Kansas Cyclone. After Weishaar’s dad died when he was just nine years old, he went to work to make money for his family as a cable splicer for the Bell telephone company.
In America, at the turn of the 20th century, motorcycles weren’t a leisure item. They were a relatively cheap means of transportation, so Weishaar eventually bought himself one. As you probably know if you’re reading this, bikes have a way of working their magic on so many of us who grow to love them. Soon, Weishaar wasn’t just commuting, but also riding for fun. That enthusiasm led him to start racing, and soon he was hopping aboard all the latest machinery of the time, racing Excelsiors and Indians with abandon.
Now, Weishaar had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career. However, one thing was incredibly clear: even with mechanical or other technical difficulties, he consistently refused to throw in the towel unless his bike was unrideable. Broken handlebar? No worries, Weishaar finished the race anyway. At one race, his helmet strap broke and he held it in his teeth until he tossed it into the pits during one lap, in frustration. This guy clearly didn’t know how to give up.
It’s for good reason that Harley-Davidson took note of this talented up-and-comer, and recruited him for their race team in 1916. Called the Wrecking Crew, that team and its glorious racing history is still spoken of in reverent tones a full century after the fact. Weishaar was part of it—and also the reason why Harley adopted the “HOG” identity all the way back then.
Racing was a major form of entertainment for the general public back then, but what did racers do when they weren’t racing? If they were at a track somewhere, they’d find ways to amuse themselves. On one fateful race weekend in Marion, Indiana, Weishaar disappeared from the track for around an hour in search of some fun. He came back with a new piglet friend he called “Johnny,” who became his regular companion. Soon, Weishaar would do his victory laps after any races the Wrecking Crew won, with his good buddy Johnny riding on his bike.
As you might guess, the story of dirt- and board-track racing in this era was particularly brutal. Speeds and machinery got quicker, but safety equipment, brakes, and all manner of things that help rein in modern racing crash injuries weren’t anywhere up to the task. Weishaar eventually died after a racing crash at Ascot Speedway in Van Nuys, California, on April 13, 1924. He was able to walk away from the actual crash, but later succumbed to massive internal injuries at a nearby hospital. He was 33 years old at the time of his death.
Weishaar’s death, along with the death of fellow competitor Gene Walker a couple months later, led racing series to rethink the speeds and displacement classes of race bikes. Although his story came to a tragic end, Weishaar’s legend—and Johnny the piglet’s, too—lives on today.