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Freddie Spencer

Sport: Cycling

Born: August 8, 1903

Died: December 1, 1992

Town: Plainfield

Freddie Spencer was born August 8, 1903 in Plainfield. Freddie got his start in the sport working as a mechanic in the Plainfield bicycle shop of Jack Horner, which had been operating since the early 1900s. Two distance runners, Walt Ruitt and Jack Clark, befriended Freddie and invited him to train with them. His combination of cycling enthusiasm, athleticism and endurance made him tough to beat. He began racing as an amateur at the Newark Velodrome, which was the heart of professional cycling at the time. In the summer of 1923, he won 42 of 43 races and caught the attention of promoter John Chapman.

The following year, Chapman brought Freddie into his fold as a professional at $200 a race. In turning pro so, he relinquished eligibility to compete in the 1924 Olympics. Cycling fans dubbed Freddie the Jersey Jammer and in 1925, he became world sprint champion with guaranteed appearance fees of $10,000 to $20,000 a season for the rest of the decade, even as enthusiasm for pro cycling began to wane. At his peak he made close to $100,000 in salary, winnings and endorsements. Among his partners in the popular six-day races was Bobby Walthour, Jr., son of one of America’s greatest cyclists.

Freddie rode bicycles with special chrome-plated frames. Not only did he cut an unmistakable figure on the track with his “gallop” pedaling style, the shiny frame acted as a rearview mirror, so he could keep his eye on anyone gaining ground or trying to make a move. This was a big advantage, as he preferred to take early leads and then hold off challengers.

Freddie became so popular that Calvin Coolidge invited him to the White House. There are numerous photos of Freddie posing with movie stars of the day. One of his greatest admirers was Major Taylor, an African-American cycling pioneer from a generation earlier. He golfed with Bobby Jones. In 1927, Tex Rickard arranged a Kings of Sports banquet and invited Freddie, along with Jones, Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Gene Tunney, Johnny Weissmuller and hockey star Bill Cook.

Freddie won US championships in 1928 and 1929, and set a record for the half-mile in Newark with a time of 52.3 seconds. In a 1929 event in New York, he smashed world records at four distances,

The Great Depression was just around the corner, and the crowds that used to pack Madison Square Garden to watch cycling thinned dramatically. The Newark Velodrome was torn down. Freddie continued to compete in pro events until 1938 and then retired comfortably to his home in Rahway. A 50-mile July 4th race was held for many years in New Jersey and Freddie was always there to present the trophy to the winner. In 1990, he was inducted into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.


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