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Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com
Sandra D rides the Wall. (California Hell Riders Collection)



It’s aggressive stuff, and over the last hundred years millions have witnessed its spectacle.

They say the Wall of Death started when motorcycle racers sought a new venue when the huge and lethally dangerous board oval tracks were dismantled around the time of World War 1. Almost immediately wooden “motordromes” popped up everywhere, essentially silos with 15-foot high vertical walls, typically 30 feet in diameter. Riders would fire their Indians or Harleys up to speed and tear around the 90-degree sides at 60 miles an hour, grabbing ones and fives from animated spectators taking in the scene from a walkway above.

Although stationary installations such as Coney Island’s operated until 1949, most ’dromes were moveable shows traveling the fair, carnie, and bike circuits most of the year. It was a wandering, outrider community, facing constant, uninsurable, danger and uncertainty, populated by uniquely competent – but often shady – men.

But there is also some strange psychic call of the Wall. In the mid-seventies an uncommonly pretty 14-year-old orphan runaway, traveling with horse shows, stepped up to the Sonny Pelaguin ’drome show in Florida. Something clicked and she just could not leave. Sonny took her in, and brought her along. Samantha Morgan, stage name ‘Sam Storm,’ became the most famous female Wall rider of all time.

Samantha ‘Sam Storm’ Morgan on stage at Sturgis.
(California Hell Riders Collection)

Tall and lithe, with flowing blonde hair, Sam’s image was strikingly new and different to the Wallbirds. In her way she was an identity of contraries. Feminine through and through, she was an accomplished, self-trained musician, a stained-glass artist, and a lifelong animal lover. And she was curiously clumsy with everyday movements, famous for her amused self-mocking after she slipped on a fire extinguisher, setting it off on herself.

But on the Wall, especially perched on her 1931 Indian named “Bess,” she was the picture of grace. Wearing a passionate smile, she would glide around no-hands, sometimes riding sidesaddle, arms waving gently like Homer’s Sirens, as she defied that treacherous razor’s edge between centrifugal force and gravity.

Sam’s fame grew; her life became full. She performed internationally and she ran the Salt Flats in Bonneville aboard an Indian. Just six years ago she won every heart in North Dakota with her speech the day she and Sonny Pelaquin were inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame.

Samantha on the Bonneville Salt Flats, holding the incredible DVD film
"The World’s Fastest Indian." (California Hell Riders Collection)

Sam’s walk up to that podium was likely painful. She had been broken over time, so busted up on a Wall in France in 1992 that it was four months before she could come home. There were burns from a flaming Wall stunt. Another big one came in 1998, requiring metal parts in her back and an artificial vertebra, and then a final crushing crash in 2005.

“When she died in 2008,” says Sandra Donmoyer, “it was from more than her injuries. She died of sadness that she might possibly not be able to ride anymore. Her passion for the Wall was her life, keeping it going, bringing in strong women.”

Sandra should know. An articulate, athletic 33-year-old now based at Thrill City Cycle in Swansea, MA, Sandra grew up in California with a curious childhood ambition. She wanted to be like Sonora Webster, whose story was made famous by the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken.” Webster, like Samantha an orphan, ran away to join a traveling stunt show. Despite enormous obstacles, she emerged as the world’s foremost female horse diver, leaping on horseback from high platforms into a pool of water below.

By high school time, Sandra was in Key West with her dad, a military man with a passion for motorcycles. Sandra, blonde hair flowing, must have been a something to behold when she tootled into school on her 1974 Iron Head, her first vehicle.

She had gone to boot camp and was ready to head off to the service when she encountered the Wall. At Daytona’s Biketoberfest in 1998, she was spotted in the crowd by second-generation Wall rider Don Daniels II, who, after asking her dad’s permission, courted her by phone from the road. By the next spring, Sandra was in the ticket booth at the ’drome. She never looked back.

That’s when Sandra met Samantha, seemingly the veritable incarnation of Sonora Webster. The two hit it off immediately, a loving, mentoring, almost mother-daughter relationship.

When Sam was at her Florida home recovering from injuries, Sandra decided to surprise her by beginning to learn to ride the Wall herself. Doni was less than enthusiastic from the start, but due to Samantha’s accident, his father’s show was short of riders, and so he relented. Sandra says, “Guess I was in the right place at the right time. I sure had the guts to do it. You could say I’d been thinking about it since I came out on the road. I felt like I’d paid my dues”

Samantha was blown away to see Sandra perform and subsequently taught her all manner of tricks of the trade. ‘Sandra D,’ as the publicists call her today, has become a star of her own. She and Doni have taken over Don Sr.’s California Hell Riders ’drome and still take it out on the road when they can.

Sandra and husband Doni Daniels entertain as a team.
(California Hell Riders Collection)

’Dromes are fading out these days, along with so many colorfully dangerous forms of entertainment of years past. There are thought to be just three active in the country today.

You can see Sandra D, Doni, and the gang during Bike Week this March at the Iron Horse Saloon in Ormond Beach. When you do, remember Sam Storm. Just as Sam wanted so much for the Wall of Death to keep on going, so does Sandra D want the memory of Sam to survive. When Sandra’s bike roars up those boards, she will, as always, have Samantha’s ashes in a locket around her neck.

And it just may be that this is not quite where the story ends. Sandra and Doni have a beautiful five-year-old daughter named Skye. Asked what she would do if Skye, too, heard the call of the Wall, Sandra pauses for a second and then firms right up. “I would want her to go to college first, but, then, if she wanted to try it, how could I say no? Hello! I do it.”

Sandra and Samantha. (California Hell Riders Collection)

© 2013 Lew Boyd - Coastal 181

If you were interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy the DVD below:
The World’s Fastest Indian

DVD with Anthony Hopkins, Iain Rea,
and Tessa Mitchell

Stop by our Book Store Directory for a look at our book and DVD selections:

Book Store

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

1/15/13 - Hooker Hood - The Top Cat of Memphis

12/27/12 - Ollie Silva - Winning Without Words


© 2007-12 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181



























































































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