Few in this nation’s extensive motorsports history have impacted as many disciplines as Floyd “Pop” Dreyer. He cast his long, innovative shadow across motorcycles, sprint cars, midgets and Indianapolis cars, establishing a legacy that endures to this day.
In 1931, Dreyer fabricated the bodywork for the entire Indianapolis 500 front row. He pioneered the use of magnesium wheels and fiberglass bodies for race cars. He developed his own potent line of speed equipment and even engines that bore his name.
Ironically, this all came about because of an unexpected layover in Indianapolis while in transit from his Ohio home to Oklahoma.
Motorcycles inspired Dreyer’s passion for speed. When his older brother let him ride his new Pope, he had to order the kid off the seat! Permanently smitten, in 1913, the 15-year-old traded his bicycle for an Indian motorcycle.
Not content with simply cruising the roads, Dreyer turned to competition when a customer of the motorcycle dealership he worked for offered him a shot at racing a motorcycle/sidecar rig.
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Dreyer succeeded immediately, his daring style attracting the attention of the Indian Motorcycle and the Flexible Sidecar companies. Both signed him to contracts. He won races and championships with the Motorcycles and Allied Trades Ass’n, the predecessor of the AMA, dominating the sport for nearly a decade.
Dreyer’s dream of a long career jolted to an unexpected end in 1922 when he suffered a broken back in a four-motorcycle crash. He returned after a long rehabilitation, but he sensed he’d lost the razor-sharp edge of his once uncanny skill and retired following the 1923 season.
Dreyer found work with the Duesenbergs, welding their luxury passenger cars in Indianapolis. Fred and Augie Duesenberg were so impressed with his ability, they put him to work in their race car shop.
“I only have a sketch of a part and I’m not even sure it’s going to work,” Fred Duesenberg told Dreyer. “But before I get a print drawn, you’ve made it just the way I wanted it.”
Dreyer excelled in the normally behind-schedule atmosphere that typified Duesenberg racing projects.
When Frank Lockhart needed help with his Stutz Blackhawk land-speed record car, Fred Duesenberg recommended Dreyer. Embroiled in another around-the-clock push, out of necessity Dreyer learned the art of hand forming metal into curvaceous race car bodies from master craftsman Myron Stevens.
After Lockhart’s death in the car during a record attempt at Daytona Beach, Fla., Dreyer opened his own fabrication shop. Generating a diversity of racing parts, he developed a reputation for quick, quality work and rapidly built a waiting list of customers.
Fueled by adrenaline, sandwiches and his trademark pipe smoldering in his mouth, the ambitious Dreyer often pulled 48-hour shifts to satisfy the demand and graduated from part fabrication to complete car builds.
From his small shop, still part of the Dreyer motorcycle distributorship, he created some of America’s most innovative and successful sprint cars, midgets and championship cars.
During a 12-year span, 1936-1952, (War years excluded), Dreyer owned sprint cars won 57 races with 24 seconds and three major championships. Customer cars added dozens of victories.
The list of drivers who raced Dreyer cars is staggering. Sam Hanks, Duke Nalon, Rex Mays, Eddie Sachs, Tommy Hinnershitz, Jackie Holmes, Lee Wallard, Jud Larson, and Mauri Rose only scratch the surface of those talented wheelmen.
In 1955, Dreyer’s life returned full circle when he opened a BMW Motorcycle shop. Then, in 1958, an upstart Japanese motorcycle captured his attention, and he became the first Honda distributor east of the Mississippi. Still operated by his descendants, the distributorship is the oldest in the nation.
Besides the motorcycle association, the Dreyer name remains linked to auto racing with the Dreyer-Reinbold Indy car team. Dennis Reinbold is Dreyer’s grandson.
Nearly up until his death on Feb. 25, 1989, at age 91, the energetic Dreyer worked in his shop and rode motorcycles.