Sam Arena Sr. took a lot of hard knocks to become one of the leading motorcycle racers of the 1930s and ‘40s.
At first he endured poundings from his older brother when as a teenager Sam would sneak out on his older sibling’s Indian motorcycle for secret rides.
“He finally bought a bike for me,” Arena said. “I think he got tired of beating me up all the time.”
A decade later the beatings got a bit more serious when some corrupt Miami cops decided they’d beat some money out of Arena when he was caught testing his Harley-Davidson race bike on outskirts of town. After being taken in Arena was offered two choices – he could pay an additional fee, beyond what he’d already paid for the ticket, or get 50 lashes with a strap.
“They were just trying to get as much money out of me as they could and all I had was $35 to my name, so I told them to go ahead and give me the strap,” Arena said.
That wasn’t the answer the cops were looking for and a group of them came at him.
“I kicked one of them square in the balls as he was coming at me,” Arena remembered. “We got into a big dust up. They finally get me down and started lashing me in the ass with a belt with a buckle on it. They gave me about 25 lashes and said ‘Are you going to pay now?’ and I told them to just go on and finish it and they beat the hell out of me.”
Fortunately the dealer, Mr. Pitts, was friends with the district attorney and when the DA saw what the police had done to Arena he threatened them with a lawsuit and all charges against Arena were dropped.
Arena proved to be a quick healer and just days after the Miami incident he was leading the Jacksonville 200 (a predecessor to the Daytona 200) by a comfortable margin late in the race when a bungled pit stop cost him victory.