The Old Jack Piner
The Jack Pine Enduro has been a motorcycle racing tradition since the 1910s, and for the first half of the 20th century the event was right up there with Daytona and Laconia in terms of prestige and motorcycling press coverage. Until the early 1960s, the winner of the Jack Pine was the nation’s National Endurance (Enduro) Champion, with the winner and the winning motorcycle brand celebrated in ads in all of the major motorcycling publications. And if there’s one name that was synonymous with the Jack Pine Enduro, it was Oscar Lenz, known to those in the Enduro world as the Old Jack Piner.
Lenz rode in the first 14 Jack Pines, and he won the event seven times. He later became the chief organizer of the event, laying out the 500-mile course every year from 1937 through the 1960s. Lenz was also a Harley-Davidson dealer in Lansing, Michigan, and a member of the AMA competition committee.
Lenz was born on January 9, 1894, in Bay City, Michigan, and he rode his first motorcycle – a beltdriven Harley-Davidson single – in 1912. He and his brother Oswald both purchased Thors in 1913, and Oscar promptly inserted studs in the tires of his bike and entered his first endurance run. By 1914, Lenz was helping lay out the local Bay City endurance run.
In 1915, Lenz quit his office job and started a motorcycle-delivery business. In 1916, he opened a Thor and Henderson dealership in Lansing, and a year later he picked up Harley-Davidson. Lenz was a charter member of the Lansing Motorcycle Club, which organized the National Championship event.
“In 1916, after riding and enjoying motorcycling for three years and having a desire to be independent, I decided to go into some line of business,” Oscar told Motorcycling and Bicycling magazine in 1921. “My thoughts naturally turned to the motorcycle and bicycle business, because I knew more about it than anything else, and also because I liked and believed in it. At this time, I had been in Lansing less than a year, and the town was absolutely dead as far as motorcycling and motorcycle sales was concerned.”
During World War I, Michigan Agricultural College (presentday Michigan State University) was converted into a military training cener. Lenz served as a motorcycle mechanic instructor during the war while maintaining his dealership with the help of his wife, Elizabeth, who was said to be the fastest wheel lacer in all of Michigan. The Lenzes had two children, June and Donald.
“My wife ran the business during my absence,” Oscar recalled. “She did not let things lag for a moment... and we had a good year.”
Hillclimbs and endurance runs were not the only fun that Lenz and the rest of the club had on a motorcycle. “Those were also the days of
motorcycle polo,” he recalled, “an we had
a fine team, playing all over the stae and winning most of our games.”
Lenz competed in all forms of motorcycle racing and did quite well in hillclimbing on a National level, but he loved endurance runs the most. In those days, the bikes used for endurance (enduro) racing were nothing more than streetbikes stripped of nonessentials and fitted with studded or knobby tires. The bikes were heavy and had little or no suspension. To even finish an endurance run was a major accomplishment, and Lenz seemed to relish the challenge.
Lenz competed in the classic Jack Pine Endurance Run from its beginnings in the mid-1910s. The Jack Pine was originally a three-day, 800-mile (later reduced to two days and 500 miles) off-road event, forcing the competitors to average 24 mph, checking in at checkpoints, fording rivers, and going through sand and every other type of terrain imaginable. Lenz was a master of the Jack Pine, winning for the first time in 1923. He won the event six more times through 1936.
In 1937, Lenz became the trailblazer for the Jack Pine. The job of laying out the 500-mile course normally took him two weeks, working from early morning to the end of the day. One of his favorite things to do while laying out the course was to stop whenever the crew came across a wild berry patch and have an impromptu snack. Some years, Jack Pine riders cursed Lenz for the torturous course he laid out.
Lenz became an institution among avid off-road motorcyclists and earned the nickname of the “Old Jack Piner.” In his later years, Lenz would host a dinner every year on the night before the start of the Jack Pine, and his stories about the old races and racers became legendary.
In a 1957 interview, Lenz was asked what his greatest thrill in motorcycling was.
“I’ve got a million of them,” he said. “It could have been the first ride on a strap-drive single, or the pride of owning my first motorcycle, or the day I opened my store and welcomed my first customer, or my first Jack Pine win, or working with the swell bunch of fellows on the competition committee, but the greatest thrill of all is when Jack Pine time rolls around and Jack Piners begin to gather. Call it homecoming week, the call of the clan or cowbell convention – it’s a special kind of comradeship that is genuine and lasting. It perhaps stems from a mutual feeling that we have been partners in a successful and wonderful adventure that we all enjoy and the backto-nature feeling we experience in traveling through our beautiful Jack Pine country. Whatever it is, it is strictly Jack Pine, and you must be bitten by the bug to know what I mean.”
Lenz served on the AMA’s competition committee for many years, helping to guide the rules of competition for the association. He was one of the earliest Harley-Davidson dealers in the country and ran that business through the mid-1960s. After selling the dealership, Lenz retired to Florida, but he always managed to come back to Michigan for the Jack Pine.
Lenz died on September 3, 1972. Today he is enshrined in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. CN