Paul Goldsmith was one of the leading motorcycle racers during the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. The Michigan rider’s most famous of five AMA national victories came at the Daytona 200 in 1953 aboard a Harley-Davidson. After retiring from motorcycle racing, Goldsmith went on to a very successful automobile racing career. He won the final NASCAR race run on the beach at Daytona Beach in 1958. He also competed several times in the Indianapolis 500, finishing third in 1960.
Born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on October 2, 1925, Goldsmith moved with his family to Detroit when he was a teenager. He first started riding motorcycles after World War II and almost immediately began racing. He found early on that he had a natural talent for racing.
"The first race I ever entered was in Marshall, Michigan," Goldsmith recalls. "They didn’t have enough experts so they let me ride in that race and I finished third. They never let me go back down and race in the amateurs after that."
With help from famous Detroit Harley-Davidson dealer Earl Robinson, and one of Robinson’s mechanics named Boots Carnegie, Goldsmith began racing all across the Midwest in 1947. He won a slew of county fair races and slowly began making a name for himself at the AMA nationals. His first really strong showing came in 1949 when he finished fourth in the Springfield Mile in Illinois. The following season, Goldsmith earned his first podium finish in an AMA national when he took third behind Joe Weatherly and Chet Dykgraff on the half-mile in Richmond, Virginia. Later that year he was third again on the mile at San Mateo, California.
It was in San Mateo that legendary tuner and team owner Tom Sifton asked Goldsmith if a young novice rider he had could follow him around a few laps in practice. That youngster was none other than Joe Leonard, who would go on to become one of the all-time greats in AMA racing.
"I guess you could say I taught Joe Leonard how to ride," quips Goldsmith.
Goldsmith finally took his first AMA national win in 1952, winning on the Milwaukee Mile, always a good place to win if you rode a Harley-Davidson. He missed much of the wild times of the racing circuit due to the fact that he was working full-time in the Chrysler factory in Detroit and had to be at work bright and early on Monday mornings.
"I guess I was pretty businesslike compared to a lot of the guys back then," says Goldsmith. "There was very little glamour in racing in those days. We all slept in our cars. It was tough, but we all had a great time, as well."
The 1953 season might have been the pinnacle in Goldsmith’s motorcycle racing career. The British-made Nortons had dominated the Daytona 200 and Harley-Davidson hadn’t won the race since 1940. Harley had introduced its new KR racing model and was hoping for big things from the new machine. Goldsmith came to the rescue for the Milwaukee faithful. He took the lead from Ed Kretz on the beach course just before the halfway mark of the race and pulled away to take the victory in record time. The next Harley finisher was back in eighth place, so it was a good thing for the Motor Company that Goldsmith turned in such a great performance.
"That year Smokey Yunick was helping me on the new Harley," Goldsmith remembers. "We spent a lot of time on the old jungle road, running that thing up and down the road and testing different things. Smokey really had that bike ready for the race."
Goldsmith rounded out the ’53 season with a victory at the grueling Langhorne (Pennsylvania) 100 Mile AMA national. The rough, cinder Langhorne mile oval was considered the ultimate test of man and machine. His excellent season was rewarded with the AMA’s prestigious Most Popular Rider of the Year Award (now called Pro Athlete of the Year).
Goldsmith took four podium finishes in 1954, including a victory in the Charity Newsies in Columbus, Ohio, his favorite circuit (right). That was good enough to earn him second in the first year of the Grand National Series. The winner of the series was former Goldsmith student Joe Leonard.
By 1955, Goldsmith was winding down his motorcycle racing career. He was racing stock cars for General Motors by then and was getting pressure from them to give up the bikes. His final AMA national victory came in Schererville, Indiana, on August 7, 1955.
"Even though I was starting to do really well in the cars, I just hated giving up motorcycle racing," Goldsmith remembers. "Finally, one day I went to my tuner’s house (Dick Gross) and I gave him my bike, trailer and all the spares. I handed him the bike’s title and said, 'That’s it, I’m going home.' Now he owned the bikes so I couldn’t race them, since in those days you had to actually own the bike to race it."
With that, Goldsmith was gone from the motorcycle racing circuit. He came back and rode two more times in the Daytona 200, but that was it and he was off to race NASCAR.
Goldsmith instantly became one of the stars of the NASCAR circuit, driving for Pontiac and later Chrysler. Goldsmith was one of the few men ever to compete in the Daytona 200, the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500, and was the only racer to win both the Daytona 200 and the Daytona 500. While in NASCAR, Goldsmith became one of the first to fly to all the races. His flying hobby would eventually become a thriving business.
After retiring from racing altogether in 1969, Goldsmith concentrated on building his aviation engine business. When inducted in 1999, Goldsmith’s aviation concern in Northern Indiana employed 40 people. He also owns a number of Burger King restaurants in the Midwest and has two thoroughbred race horse ranches in Ocala, Florida.
While Goldsmith certainly has the resources to retire, he said he tried it once and couldn’t stand it. At 74 years of age, he still flies over 600 hours per year. He has one son and daughter. His son is a commercial pilot.