Clymer was one of America’s leading motorcycle racers in the 1910s and ‘20s, then spent the last half century of his life as a leader in automotive and motorcycle publishing. Many of the books he published have become valuable reference works, including his Indianapolis 500 annuals, which he began producing in 1946, supplementing the prewar Motor Age editions. Clymer made a mark within racing circles by leading the prestigious 1916 Dodge City 300 on a factory Harley-Davidson and winning that year’s Pikes Peak Hill Climb. He won the national sidecar championship in 1920 and hill climbing titles throughout the decade. Later he promoted dozens of AMA national races. His publishing experience began in his early 20s, with Motorcycle Topics. In 1951, he purchased Cycle magazine and ran it until selling in 1966. When Indian collapsed in the early 1950s, Clymer helped sustain it. When it failed, he spent the remainder of his life trying to revive it. Clymer was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1998.
By Don Emde
A lot of people specialize in a single thing in life. There are few, however, whose lives are filled with so many different areas of achievement as Floyd Clymer.
Born in 1895, Clymer was seven when he and his father traveled to Denver from their Berthoud, Colorado home to buy the family's first car, a single-cylinder, chain-drive Oldsmobile. He recalled later they needed water often on the six-hour drive home, stopping every few miles at irrigation ditches to fill a bucket.
In 1906, Clymer's father wanted young Floyd to learn about business, so the two opened the "Berthoud Auto Co." His father continued his dental work in the back room of the office building while 11-year-old Floyd sold Maxwell, Cadillac and Reo cars up front.
The Clymers closed the store when they moved to Loveland, Colorado, and Floyd devoted his time to motorcycle racing and hill-climbing, and starting a magazine called "Motorcycle Topics."
His big break came in 1916 when Harley-Davidson added him to its factory team for the big 300-mile race at Dodge City, Kansas. He set a world's record of 83 mph for the first 100 miles, which brought him national recognition.
Success on racetracks and hill climbs — including victories at Pikes Peak and San Juan Capistrano — continued in the years to come, as did city-to-city speed records in both cars and motorcycles. Now well-known throughout motorsports, he restarted his auto and motorcycle business with locations in Greeley and Denver. He also became a distributor for various automakers throughout the Rockies, and manufactured spotlights and other auto accessories.
Clymer semi-retired before World War II, but returned to work in 1945 when he sensed postwar euphoria had created opportunities for products highlighting America's history. Clymer, with his personal knowledge of the automobile and motorcycle industry, started a publishing business designed to make use of that knowledge and the large library of early magazines and sales literature he had collected.
The years to follow saw his business enterprise expand greatly as he embarked on numerous causes that he felt important, including promoting the Dodge City motorcycle races. He also expended no small effort to bring back the Indian motorcycle, document the history of the Indianapolis 500 and serve for many years as president of the Trailblazers historic motorcycle organization.
Publishing was Clymer's specialty, and he fairly could be credited as America's most prolific publisher of automotive- and motorcycle-related books, magazines and manuals. In 1951, he purchased Cycle magazine from Petersen Publishing and it was for many years one of the world's leading motorcycle magazines.
Clymer died suddenly of a heart attack in 1970 while talking to an industry friend. He left behind his wife, Merle, and two children from an earlier marriage.
Original copies of Floyd Clymer's Historical Motor Scrapbook, Indianapolis 500 Yearbooks and other publications remain highly collectible today while Clymer Manuals continue as one of the largest lines of repair manuals for motorcycles, quads, ATVs, marine engines and tractor & farm equipment.
It is fitting that Floyd Clymer joins the Heroes of Horsepower this year, having known many of the others as a friend, competitor, customer or subject of a feature story he may have penned himself.
Emde and his late father, Floyd, are the only father and son to have won the DAYTONA 200. An avid historian, collector and publisher of motorcycle history, Don also heads the Trailblazers organization once led by Floyd Clymer. Read about Don's latest book, "The Speed Kings," and more at EmdeBooks.com
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles
(Mark Hicks Westside Photography)