On July 12, 2022, original Indian Wrecking Crew member and AMA Hall of Famer Allen “Bobby” Hill died just four days after his 100th birthday. His racing career was the stuff of legend, and he was the last surviving member of the original Wrecking Crew.
Racing isn’t always a family affair—but very frequently, it is. When Hill was a teenager, his older brother worked at a local Harley-Davidson dealership. Through him, Hill began to learn about and become interested in bikes. He rode for the first time at age 14, then went on to buy his first bike at age 16. It was a 45 cubic inch Harley-Davidson WLD—and the rest, as they say, is history.
By 1940, Hill had been bitten by the racing bug, and was just starting out as a novice. Then came WWII, which put any such racing dreams on hold. Hill joined the Marine Corps., where he served honorably and then returned to racing once he was back on home soil. Amazingly, he almost won his first-ever professional race—which also happened to be the 1947 Daytona 200.
What happened? Here’s the story, straight from Hill’s mouth via the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame:
"I could see Johnny Spiegelhoff (the eventual winner) ahead of me and I was gaining. I kept getting a pit signal from my crew that read P2. I thought they were telling me I was in second place. As it turns out I was really in the lead since we started by rows back then five seconds apart and were timed,” Hill began.
“Even though Spiegelhoff was in front of me, I was actually about 15 seconds in the lead. I didn't know that, though, and I was riding as hard as I could to catch Spiegelhoff. At about the 180-mile mark I came flying into the south turn and pitched the bike in hard. Two slower riders were going through the turn and I just drifted out wide and hit one of them and lost my rear brake lever. I came into the north turn and thought I had slowed down enough, but apparently, I didn't, and I crashed out of the race,” he concluded.
Luckily for both Hill and the sport of motorcycle racing, he simply picked himself up and moved on to the next race. In 1948, he went on to take his first win at Atlanta—but in an amazing twist, it was also the only race to feature two co-winners in the AMA’s history. Hill crossed the line at the same time as Billy Huber, and both were declared co-victors.
It was in the early 1950s that Hill’s racing career really hit its stride, though. That’s when Indian Motorcycle put together the first-ever Indian Wrecking Crew, which consisted of Hill, Ernie Beckman, and Bill Tuman. In 1951 and 1952, Hill won the AMA National Championship. In 1954, Hill went on to win the first-ever AMA Grand National Championship aboard a BSA, after having taken victory at the 1954 running of the Daytona 200.
By 1959, though, Hill decided it was time to hang up his racing gear. He continued building engines for other professional racers through the 1960s, and went on to become a truck driver. In 1998, Hill, Beckman, and Tuman were all inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. In 2016, the revived Indian Motorcycle invited Hill and Tuman to Sturgis for the official unveiling of the new FTR750.
Hill was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Nancy, along with many other family members. He is survived by three children and multiple grandchildren, as well as countless friends and fans around the world. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations in Bobby Hill’s name may be made to the Daytona 200 Monument. We’ll include a link in our Sources if you wish to donate.
Sources: American Motorcyclist Association, American Rider, AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, The Columbus Dispatch, Daytona 200 Monument