Note: The following is one of a series of articles looking at events in the history of Bulloch County.
The Bulloch Times-Statesboro News-Statesboro Eagle of March 11, 1937 reported “Savannah Bicyclists Coming Next Week.” And, “Statesboro is to have on Saturday of next week a motorcade of unusual interest.”
They are “a group of 20 or more youngsters from Savannah traveling in a cross-country bicycle race This group is sponsored, it is understood by the Savannah Kiwanis Club.”
And, “the start will be from Savannah at noon on Friday, from where the route will head to Jesup, Baxley and Lyons for Friday night. Leaving Lyons Saturday morning the party will come by way of Swainsboro.”
Then it will head on to Statesboro for lunch, thence to Savannah in the afternoon. The local member of the group is Ted Knipl, a recent citizen who came here from Savannah.
One week later, the Bulloch Times-Statesboro News-Statesboro Eagle of March 18, 1937 revealed that while in Statesboro, “they will make their headquarters at Minkovitz’s Store.”
The Bulloch Herald of March 26, 1937 announced the result of the first-ever 249-mile-long "Great Savannah to Savannah Bicycle Race." Local bicycle wizard Ted Knipl, known as the “Flying Dutchman,” was expected to win.
According to the Herald, Knipl rode the entire race course from Savannah to Savannah, which had consisted of four separate "legs. The first section of which ran from Savannah to Jesup, where everyone stopped to eat.
After starting the race Friday morning, disaster befell Knipl, who fell on the first leg of the race, shattering his bicycle's front wheel. Harold Jenkins, a rider who quit earlier, gave Knipl his own bicycle's front wheel.
The second section of the race ran from Jesup to Lyons, where the participants once again stopped for a meal. After lunch, the race resumed on the third section of the race that stretched from Lyons to Statesboro.
As the weather had turned into a driving rain, all of the riders stopped for dinner organized by the Statesboro’s Chamber of Commerce at the Tea Pot Grille.
After the meal, the riders attacked the final segment of the race from Statesboro back to Savannah. Knipl's time was 14 hours 56 minutes and 56 seconds.
That meant his average speed was 16 miles per hour, and he reached a top speed of 21 ½ miles. Savannah was not a stranger to grand automobile races.
In fact, four major automobile races sanctioned by the American Automobile Association and the Automobile Club of America were held from 1908 to 1911 on a specially-constructed race track in Savannah.
The year 1908 was a grand one for Savannah, which held the first-ever American Grand Prix in 1908. David Loney Bruce-Brown won both the 1910 and 1911 races in Savannah. He died in 1912 at a race practice.
In May of 1997 professional racing returned to Savannah: the PPG-Firestone Indy Lights Championship, the Super Touring Championship, the Barber Dodge Pro Series and the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 Championship.
All were run on a race track on Hutchinson Island. In 1982, the Great American Bike Race was created. Begun in 1990 and now called the Race Across America, it crosses the nation from the west coast to the east coast.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history who provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.