Babe Tancrede was an early AMA Class C champion, his most famous win coming in the 1940 Daytona 200. Tancrede raced professionally for more than 20 years before retiring after the 1952 season. He was a popular rider amongst his peers and was awarded the Most Popular Rider of the Year Award (now known as the Pro Athlete of the Year Award) in 1939.
Tancrede was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on September 15, 1906. He began riding motorcycles as a teenager. He first gained fame as a top motorcycle polo competitor in the late 1920s. Fellow Rhode Island racer Ben Campanale recalled as a teenager seeing a poster in a grocery store advertising a motorcycle polo meet. The poster featured a shot of Tancrede, feet off the pegs and motorcycle airborne, in the heat of a polo game. Campanale said that poster was one of the major influences that got him involved in motorcycling. Later, Tancrede and Campanale would become teammates of sorts, traveling to races together.
On July 15, 1934, Tancrede won the first major AMA National TT Steeplechase title, the 200-miler in Keene, New Hampshire. Throughout the 1930s, Tancrede's reputation steadily grew, not only in New England, but throughout the country. He won numerous regional TT and hillclimbing titles during the mid-to-late 1930s. In 1936, Tancrede finished second, only 30 seconds behind winner Ed Kretz, in the Savannah, Georgia, 200-mile road race, the predecessor to the Daytona 200. Tancrede participated in the very first Daytona 200 in 1937, but dropped out after 21 laps and finished 59th.
1940 was arguably the pinnacle of Tancrede's racing career. He survived that year's Daytona 200, which was a race of attrition (only 15 of the 77 starters completed the race), to take the victory in the country's most prestigious motorcycle race. At Daytona, he was also awarded the 1939 AMA Most Popular Rider of the Year Award. When he returned from Florida, his wife had just given birth to their son. That June, Tancrede won the famous Laconia AMA road race national. He also traveled to California that year and finished third in the Oakland 200.
In 1941, finished as runner up to Canadian Billy Mathews at Daytona.
After World War II, Tancrede returned to racing and had his biggest success in regional races. He also earned podium finishes at Laconia three more times (runnerup in 1948 and 1951, and third in 1950). He was also a perennial top finisher at the Langhorne (Pennsylvania) 100 Mile National.
Outside of racing, Tancrede was employed as a motorcycle patrolman for the Woonsocket Police Department. He later started a heating oil delivery business. He and wife Stella had two children.
Tancrede decided to retire from racing in 1952. He had always raced motorcycles with foot-operated clutches and hand shifters. He said he never could quite come to grips with the new Harley-Davidson KR, with its handlebar-mounted clutch and foot shifter. He was also 46 years old, quite old for a motorcycle racer, even in those days.
Tancrede died on August 31, 1995, just short of 90 years old. He will always be remembered for his pleasant personality and his smooth and consistent riding style. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
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