If you spend much time perusing the wonderful treasure trove of videos on the Wheels Through Time YouTube channel, you’ll quickly see just how excited Matt Walksler is about the bikes his museum houses. Dale’s Wheels Through Time was founded by Matt’s dad, who sadly passed earlier in 2021. Both father and son have enthusiastically worked together on both the bikes and the museum for years, so it couldn’t be in better hands.
Nowhere is that clearer than watching Matt Walksler explain exactly why this unbelievable Harley-Davidson Joe Petrali Factory CAC Racer is so very special. For those unfamiliar, Wheels Through Time is an impressive collection of American motorcycling and automotive ingenuity (which I almost misspelled “enginuity;” the spelling may be wrong, but the spirit was spot on). Most importantly, Dale Walksler established a rule early on that every single vehicle in the museum must be able to run. So, they do!
Where to begin? To be fair, Matt Walksler himself almost seemed too excited about this bike to start, so we probably shouldn’t feel too bad if we find that part difficult, too. If we modern racing fans think the impressive winning ways of top-level racers like Valentino Rossi or Marc Marquez are impressive, then Joe Petrali was at that level in board track, dirt track, and hillclimb events in his day. They’re very different types of racing, in very different eras, but that’s how talented and unstoppable Petrali was. There’s an excellent overview of Petrali’s career in Cycle World, which we’ll link in our Sources.
This particular bike isn’t the first Peashooter to find its way to WTT, but according to Matt, it easily outranks all the others. You see, Petrali wasn’t just a racer. He was also an engineer, and seemed to instinctively be able to modify his race bikes with things like the airbox on this particular CAC that weren’t available anywhere else. Incidentally, after retiring from motorcycle racing, Petrali went on to be the flight engineer for Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. By all accounts, his was a remarkable and singular talent.
This bike is serial number one, out of only a handful of this model that were ever built in the first place. It was restored by the Harley-Davidson Museum in 1974, and came with a huge folder full of paperwork documenting its entire history, including that resotration. It previously spent a lot of time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and both Dale and Matt Walksler had heard rumblings about this bike in the past. Matt mentions in this video that he considers it a great honor to his dad’s memory that this bike is, in fact, finally at WTT so he can get it running again.
That’s right—while it was beautifully restored in the ‘70s, it hasn’t actually run since the ‘30s, according to Matt. In fact, the serial number indicates that it’s a 350cc machine, but he has reason to believe it’s actually a 500. For that and so many other reasons, he’s looking forward to carefully disassembling it to learn more about what’s inside one of the last of the mighty Harley-Davidson single-cylinder, purpose-built racing bikes. Overhead valves and a hemispherical combustion chamber are expected, but which displacement machine is it?
Lucky for all of us, Matt plans to shoot at least one video going inside this amazing piece of history. We can’t wait to see what he finds.