Sugar Ray Robinson’s 1950. Tiger Woods’ 2000. Serena Williams’ 2015.
Few people know Ray Tauscher, or that his 1931 accomplishments could fit on this list, but the Portland motorcycle racer’s 12-month tear reached similar historic levels of solo athletic performance. That was the year Tauscher captured four world championships across Australia, England and France.
“He really had the perfect year,” says local documentarian Ned Thanhouser, who (alongside his son Michael) directed a new short film about Tauscher’s racing career and Oregon ties.
Ray Tauscher: America’s Forgotten World Champion Motorcycle Racer attempts to reclaim a dirt-track dynamo’s legendary status from nearly a century ago. Building the legend isn’t all that difficult, given Tauscher’s own biography. His life begins with a mythic rise in the Northwest, intersects with an Australian racing master (Frank Arthur) and bumps up against rivals with names like “Broadside” Vic Huxley.
Thanhouser’s latest documentary was birthed from a bankers box of memorabilia passed down through his local motorcycle club, the Flying Fifteen. Before his death in 2010, the club’s historian, Peter Fritsch, kept a Tauscher archive and nominated him for induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. With this film, Thanhouser picks up the mantle of excavating a forgotten Oregon athlete and follows up on his prior motorsports documentaries, like 2016’s The Monkey and Her Driver.
In the 1930s, as now, speedway racing in the U.S. was a niche sport. But throughout Europe and Australia, Tauscher (dubbed “Tauser” by the newspapers of the day) was a celebrity and box office draw.
“Just look at 50,000 spectators in Wembley Stadium who paid money to watch people turn left,” Thanhouser says of Tauscher’s 1931 championship win in London.
Despite the overseas hook, the film centers on an authentically Portland figure. Tauscher was born here, raised here, convalesced from riding injuries here and retired here. As a young man, Tauscher grew up at Southeast 8th Avenue and East Burnside Street, attended Washington High School and cut a daring figure as a multisport athlete and early 20th century thrill-seeker. In an East Portland setting that Thanhouser compares to modern-day Gresham in terms of space and pace, Tauscher and his brother, Jack, grabbed media attention with stunts ranging from parachuting to motorcycle polo.
“I think young kids were looking for headlines back then,” Thanhouser says. “Today those kinds of extreme sports are more organized, more commercial.”
Perhaps the strongest elements of Thanhouser’s film are its evocations of a now-distant sports culture—where the line was humbly thin between star athlete and local everyman. In Tauscher’s case, he was an international racing star one decade and a Portland postal inspector the next. The documentary depicts a gentleman daredevil who knew how to grin when flashbulbs were pointed his way but was modest enough to hide photos of his female flames until the very last page of his private scrapbook, Thanhouser shares with a laugh.
“He was a player, obviously!” he says. “But we weren’t trying to make him a braggadocio.”
In addition to his film’s forthcoming festival appearances in Italy and France, Thanhouser hopes one outcome could be Tauscher’s belated enshrinement in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Tauscher’s résumé seems unimpeachable. Thanhouser points out that the hall’s three auto racing inductees—Monte Shelton, Hershel McGriff and Len Sutton—were all respected champions on the regional and national circuits.
“Here with Ray, we have a world champion! But as with any organization, you’ve got politics,” Thanhouser explains. “The fact that [Tauscher] is not around to accept the award…maybe they want someone who can stand up and say thank you.”
For now, this doc is the closest Tauscher—who died in 1981—comes to speaking for himself in 2020. In the film, Portland voice actor Richard Moore endows Tauscher with a folksy, genial tone that occasionally opens the throttle a little—like in this quote Tauscher gave to The Oregonian circa 1932:
“Unless you have that natural feel for handling a motorcycle under the most nerve-tingling conditions, keep off the tracks.”
SEE IT: Ray Tauscher: America’s Forgotten World Champion Motorcycle Racer streams at raytauscher.com.