Portland’s daring motorcycle racer rose to prominence in Europe during the Depression, but remained little known at home

Abroad, he was not Ray Tauscher.

The press in Europe shortened the Portland motorcycle rider’s last name to Tauser – “because of the depression,” he told a reporter in his country.

Tauscher wasn’t complaining: it was 1931, and he understood the need to save everything in these difficult times, even if it was just a character line.

Also, in those early days, he wasn’t big enough to make a stench.

Ray Tauscher (Courtesy of Ned Thanhouser)

“The youngster on the speed tracks cannot become a star in one season,” he said of his debut on the international circuit. “The veterans know too much about him, have too much stuff at their disposal. The schnozzleduster is just one of 1,001 towers they can turn to in the blink of an eye.

Sorry, the schnozzle – what?

A schnozzleduster, it has been explained, is what you feel when a roaring rider next to you “deliberately spins his front wheel just enough to knock the front wheel of your own motorbike down underneath you, sending you over the edge. your schnozzle at 70 miles per hour. “

For Tauscher, who died in 1981 at the age of 76, the risk of such erasure was worth it.

The first decades of the 20th century were still the early days of the internal combustion engine; everything was new and exciting. And so motorcycle racing was a big deal, especially across the ocean, where a big race could attract over 50,000 spectators.

“Motorcycles were part of European culture straight away,” explains Ned Thanhouser, a filmmaker and motorcycle enthusiast who made a 17-minute film about Tauscher.

The short, which was screened at the 2021 Oregon Documentary Film Festival, features exciting racing footage that Thanhouser unearthed from the British Pathé film archives.

[WATCH: “Ray Tauscher: America’s Forgotten World Champion Motorcycle Racer.”]

Ray Tauscher

Riders Bobby Blakely and Ray Tauscher after a meet. (Courtesy of Ned Thanhouser)

Tauscher ran to the original Wembley Stadium in London, the citadel of football. The stadium had a capacity of over 80,000 and was packed when Tauscher won his first trophy there in December 1930.

He continued that victory by winning the biggest title in Australia on Christmas Day.

His domination was only just beginning.

“He won four international racing titles in a year, which is pretty amazing at the time,” Thanhouser said. “He was a world champion before there was an official world championship.”

Ray Tauscher

Ray Tauscher was a celebrity abroad, where he was known as Ray Tauser. (Courtesy of the movie “Ray Tauscher: America’s Forgotten World Champion Motorcycle Racer.”)

That meant he was paid well during the Great Depression: the best of the breed was making up to $ 7,500 a year, or over $ 150,000 in today’s dollars.

“The expenses are greatly reduced there, but a man can still save some rather expensive money,” Tauscher said at the time. “Yes I like it. It’s a great game.

Running, it seems, wasn’t the only game he loved when traveling the world.

On the back of Tauscher’s album, Thanhouser found a section devoted to girlfriends.

“He was a player, obviously,” said Thanhouser. “He kept all of those photos for years. These are good memories for him.

Danita Hunter, Tauscher’s step-granddaughter, wouldn’t be surprised if he had been a ladies’ man around this time.

“He had that big, big, big smile,” she recalls. “And he had a great sense of humor.”

Maybe Ray Tauscher was a gamer, but he never bragged about his romances – or even his racing wins, for that matter.

“He was a modest man,” says Hunter.

So modest that news of his accomplishments was never widely disseminated in his hometown.

Over the past few years, Thanhouser has tried to correct this, including nominating Tauscher for induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

“He deserves recognition,” Thanhouser says.

Ray Tauscher grew up on East Burnside Street and graduated from Washington High School. From an early age he found physical danger exciting. He started with the parachute jump before finding his way on a motorcycle.

Ray Tauscher

From the movie “Ray Tauscher: America’s Forgotten Motorcycle Racing Champion”.

The Portlander suddenly left the international racing circuit in 1935, at age 30, and returned to his hometown. He landed a job at the post office.

He kept his hand in the motorcycle game, running races at Jantzen Beach and mentoring young riders. Oregon sports columnist LH Gregory caught up with him in 1947, informing readers that “a true champion, a daring handlebar demon” quietly existed among them.

“Modest Ray hasn’t raced in eight seasons, and maybe we should tell you why,” Gregory wrote. “He got married. His wife made it clear that she preferred a living husband to a dead ex-motorcycle champion, and absolutely right too, and that put an end to that.

Not quite – at least not when a sports reporter showed up and cheered him on.

“The old fever hit Ray the other day and he rode his bike to Jantzen Beach, well, just to see if he could still get that damn sniffing thing going,” Gregory wrote. “Before he knew it, he had done five laps around this track, and they say he had his throttle wide open.”

The columnist added, with a wink:

“It’s confidential, and please take this as unsaid, especially since Ray promises not to do it again.”

The woman may have found out anyway. The marriage did not survive.

Ray Tauscher

Ray Tauscher on the track. (Courtesy of Ned Thanhouser)

For a while, golf became Ray Tauscher’s first love; he played in local tournaments, winning his share.

But then he met Hunter’s grandmother, Esther, at an Elks Lodge ball.

They became inseparable and soon married. Tauscher was no longer a ladies’ man or a man on a motorcycle. It was Esther’s man.

“He was so nice, so courteous,” Hunter recalls. “They seemed to be having so much fun together.”

And Esther has become the biggest fan of her new husband. The rest of the family learned of the exploits of international racing star Ray Tauser from her, not Modest Ray Tauscher.

“My Nana certainly talked about it a lot more than he did,” Hunter recalls. “I think he enjoyed it.”

–Douglas Perry

dperry@oregonian.com

@douglasmperry



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