Cliff Literall Injured, IMS Practice

The article in attachment IMSpractice091809 you will find here originally appeared in the August 18, 1909, Indianapolis Star as part of the ongoing coverage of events leading up to the first automobile races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which were to begin the following day. An interesting piece is the report of Stoddard-Dayton mechanic Cliff Literall being struck by a car (he died shortly thereafter) in front of Carl Fisher's dealership on Capitol Avenue. Fisher's business sold Stoddard-Dayton product and the company's race team had just arrived in Indianapolis for the Speedway's race meet. Fisher was president of the Speedway and one of its four founders.
 
Literall's wife was contacted in Dayton, Ohio and it was apparent to doctors that Literall would not survive as the heavy vehicle's wheels had passed over his head. While the article led with the most sensational news the topic was covered in two paragraphs. The rest of the article focused on track action and preparations for the races.
 
According to the article, every entry had arrived at the track and there was a steady stream of race cars onto the track throughout the day. American Motor Car Company driver Bob Drash debuted an intriguing "under-slung" designed car that was a crowd favorite because it was constructed in Indianapolis. Lozier driver William Heina appeared in a "monster" Lozier. Chadwick driver Len Zengel, whose name was again misspelled as "Zeingal," was again fast, nearly matching his fast time of two minutes, two seconds from two days earlier.
 
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this practice is that in what the article calls a "perilous" situation some 300 track workers were on the track repairing ruts as well as scattering crushed stones and asphaltum oil. These men were actually working on the track as race cars roared by at full speed! It is unclear how it was accomplished but apparently, the drivers were directed to the top or bottom of the track to avoid striking the men.
 
Ralph DePalma practiced in his Fiat but there was no report on the time. Keep in mind that it may have been that during practice only old-fashioned, handheld stopwatches were used and times might not have been recorded.
 
Other drivers mentioned were Edgar Apperson and Herb Lytle of Apperson, Charles Stutz (Marion), Harry Stillman (Marmon) and Bob Burman (Buick). The article makes special note that women were well represented in the stands for practice and from the reporters' perspective were every bit as knowledgeable about the goings-on as men.
 
Officials and enthusiasts were streaming into Indianapolis as well. The Chicago Auto Club's endurance run (for additional evidence, see brief August 17, 1909, Indianapolis News article in attachment IMSNews081709ii) was expected to terminate at the Monument Circle. George Dickson, a leading executive at National Motor Vehicle Company was to host them for a welcome reception. American Automobile Association (AAA) Starter Fred Wagner had arrived the previous evening. Art Pardington, long time AAA official and former referee of the Vanderbilt Cup was expected at the Speedway later that day and would serve as a judge.
 
The article in attachment IMSNews081609i was published the day before Litterall's injuries. This August 16 Indianapolis News article reports on the latest entries received that day and practice work of teams the previous afternoon. The two entries were an Indianapolis-built American and the Detroit-import by Ford. The Ford car never materialized.
 
On the track, we learn that Zengel in the Chadwick Six proved fastest with a lap at 2:02 for a 72.74 speed average. He was caught by a speed trap covering a mile in 45 seconds. "Hundreds" of fans were reportedly in attendance.
 
Herb Lytle in the Apperson Jack Rabbit made his first appearance at the track, cutting a 65 mph lap. Edgar Apperson, one of the founders, was expected to enter the race as a driver. He had established himself as a wheelman in other contests.
 
Johnny Aitken drove his National Six to a two-minute circuit, with Barney Oldfield in his privately owned "Old Glory" National Six recording a 2:15 lap. Many anticipated him to appear in another of his cars, a Benz, for a practice run. Another fan favorite was J. Walter Christie in what the paper calls his "Christie IV," with his distinctive front-wheel drive configuration. He reportedly hit 100 mph on the front stretch. The Marmon, Marion, Knox and Stoddard-Dayton teams all reeled off speeds faster than a mile-a-minute.
 
A much-anticipated entry was that of Indianapolis amateur Gilbert Van Camp, the heir to the Van Camp (you know, pork & beans!) packaged food company, in his Stearns. He was entered in a 10-mile stock chassis contest as well as a 15-mile international amateur championship against such other drivers as Art Greiner (Big "Six" Thomas). Van Camp had hired Oldfield to coach him and prepare his car.
 
A premier team was Buick, led by manager William Hickman Pickens. Lewis Strang, Louis Chevrolet, Bob Burman and George DeWitt were the drivers. Stoddard-Dayton, the team that would endure tragedy with Litteral's death, was also fully invested. They had a fleet of entries and was transporting all their employees to the races by passenger train from their headquarters in Dayton, Ohio.
 
An interesting aspect of this article is that it reports that while the track was fast, it was also treacherous with loose stones. It even reports that the drivers were openly disappointed with the running surface. As if to allay concerns, the article reports that the track was less risky for the drivers than it had been for the motorcycle riders in their fiasco event a week earlier because the autos were heavier and had four points of contact.
 
Even so, the article stresses that the track was very dangerous for the drivers as well. It was not uncommon for the press and even racing promoters to play up danger because those message sold papers and tickets - but in this case, the concerns were very real. Even Speedway management admitted the track was not as safe or fast as they had hoped. They clung to the notion that it would be "seasoned" through use. Laborers toiled around the clock to improve the uneven surface, but their efforts would prove to be of limited value.
 
Speedway Contests Director Ernie Moross remained resolute that the track was the fastest in America, and second only to Brooklands in the world. His credibility fell apart, though, when he proclaimed that when "finished" the Speedway would "eclipse Brooklands." Brooklands had a smoother, more durable concrete running surface and sported high banks. Moross is quoted:
 
"Those practice miles certainly furnished evidence that the track is fast, and nobody was hurt, was there? We expect the surface to be smoother when the first events are called, but at that, we do not claim it will be perfect. Time and work will be necessary to obtain perfection and everybody knows the course is new. Zengal's time in the Chadwick yesterday was the fastest ever made in this country on a circular course. He drove the two miles and a half in 2:02, which is an average of forty-eight seconds to a mile. One of the miles was in forty-five seconds, the fastest ever made on a circular track in America. There have been reports that some of the drivers are dissatisfied with the conditions, but they have said nothing to me and all have paid their entry fees and will drive."
 
Attachment IMSNews081709 reports on the previous day's (Monday) practice activity at the track. The running surface is again cited as rough. Driver Bob Drash of Milwaukee was reported to be putting the American entry through its paces.
 
An extremely interesting point is that William Heina had reportedly replaced Ralph Mulford at Lozier. The article says that Mulford was in a Stearns, but other sources show him also in a Lozier. He was a long-time employee of the company and in 1911 finished second driving a Lozier in a controversial finish to the first Indianapolis 500. Nonetheless, the article says what it says. 
 
Note, too, that as in many articles, this one refers to the oval as the "outer course." This reflects original plans of the Speedway to create a road course in the infield, but that was scuttled when after the disaster of these first races management elected to invest in a massive brick-paving project to make the oval safer and faster.
 
Among the drivers listed as active on the course were Zengal, Oldfield and Greiner. Van Camp is also called out and reportedly cut a lap at 2:30 in his privately-owned Stearns. There were high expectations for Oldfield to put his Benz entry through its paces. A counterpart to the Oldfield-Benz combination was the DePalma-Fiat entry. This was the still-famous-even-today Fiat Cyclone.
 
The article also reports on the arrival of a caravan of about a dozen Stoddard-Dayton cars, some of them entries in the races, traveling into Indianapolis on the old National Highway. More accurately, this thoroughfare was referred to as The National Road. Jap Clemens is noted as one of the drivers and was entered in the upcoming races. This is a little fateful in that crew member Cliff Litterall would be fatally injured in a matter of hours.
 
The article closes with a mention of a "big force of workmen" laboring away to condition the running surface. Optimistically, the article says Speedway officials were confident the drivers would be pleased with the track conditions when racing got started.
 
Attachment IMSNews081809a contains an Indianapolis News (evening paper) article that reports on the final day of practice before the race meet began. Aside from some preliminary test runs race morning, everyone was done with practice.
 
The iconic starter Fred Wagner is mentioned and would launch the operation of the meet by firing his pistol at noon. The first race scheduled was a five-miler for cars ranging in piston displacement from 161-to-200 cubic inches. Prophetically, the article asserts that experts believed the track was destined to become world famous. Indeed, history proves that prediction absolutely accurate.
 
The article reports that track officials conceded that the track was not in condition for record-breaking speed. "Newness" is blamed. However, those same managers expressed to the writer their confidence that the racing would be outstanding, the best ever presented on an American "circular track."
 
The article does a good job of summarizing the planned program across the three days. The major events were the 250-mile Prest-O-Lite Trophy on Thursday and the 300-mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy on Saturday. Thursday's card called for four events beyond the Prest-O-Lite feature. These were:

  • Event 1: Five-mile stripped chassis race. (seven entries)
  • Event 2: Ten-mile stripped chassis race. (eight entries)
  • Event 3: Five-mile stripped chassis race. (nine entries)
  • Event 4: Ten-mile free-for-all handicap. (29 entries)

While event 4 boasted a healthy field, a recurrent theme in most of these contests is how few competitors lined up for battle. The Prest-O-Lite feature only had 10 cars entered despite the long distance of 250-miles. By the time Wagner waved them into battle, there were only nine starters. In the end, only five cars were running and three went the distance.
 
Friday's card had the 100-mile G&J Trophy as the day-closing feature, although the sponsor's name is not mentioned in this article. G&J was a local rubber company. There were eight contests scheduled for Friday. In addition to the 100-mile feature, they were:

  • Event 5: Five-mile stripped chassis race. (eight entries)
  • Event 6: Ten-mile stripped chassis race. (nine entries)
  • Event 7: Trials to lower world's track records. (eight entries)
  • Event 8: Ten-mile race for cars in Class No. 1, the same as for the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy on Saturday. (18 entries)
  • Event 9: Fifty-mile stripped chassis race. (seven entries)
  • Event 10: Ten-mile free-for-all, Class E for Ford Trophy. (Ten entries)
  • Event 11: Five-mile free-for-all handicap; $100 gold, silver medals. (Thirty entries)
  • Event M: For Indianapolis Motor Speedway Trophy, 100 miles. (Eight entries)

 
The Saturday card planned five contests, including the ill-fated 300-mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy as the closing event of the three-day meet. The Saturday events were as follows:

  • Event 12: Fifteen-mile free-for-all handicap. (30 entries)
  • Event 13: Amateur championship of America. (4 entries)
  • Event 14: Twenty-five-mile free-for-all open, Remy Grand Brassard. (12 entries)
  • Event 15: Consolation race, five miles.
  • Event S: Wheeler-Schebler Trophy. (18 entries)

 
The article projects strong spectator attendance, saying, "Hundreds of automobile race enthusiasts from all parts of the country are already in the city and their numbers are being increased by the arrival of every train. Big crowds are also expected from points on all the interurban lines. Big Four trains are on a fifteen-minute schedule and street cars will carry the crowd to and from the course, while parking space has been laid out for an unlimited number of automobiles."
 
A nice description of the grounds is also provided - "Those visiting the course for the first time will probably be surprised at the magnitude of the Speedway. No expense has been spared to make it complete in every way. Everything is brand new and ready for inspection. There are forty-one buildings, including grandstands, judges' and press stands, garages, offices, etc., and all are painted uniformly in white and green and are gaily decorated with the flags of all nations."
 
It must have been breathtakingly grand to behold.
 
On the track, the cars are described as stripped of their bodywork and the drivers wore hoods. Crew members wore team colors of their factory companies. Also interesting is that the article reports that all "attaches" had to wear linen dusters, a common garment of motorists in the days of exposed passengers and dirt roads.
 
Another interesting comment provides insight to the setting at the June 5 National Balloon Race championship. Enjoy this additional excerpt:
 
"All roads leading to the Speedway will be alive with traffic tomorrow, and many will go early to avoid the rush. No congestion similar to that at the balloon races last spring is anticipated. Spectators blocked the road on that occasion because it was unnecessary for them to get inside to see the races. The Speedway is four miles from the Monument (Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, downtown Monument Circle) and reached by the way of West Washington Street past the insane asylum by Indiana Avenue."
 
The article offers an additional mention of the Chicago motorists caravan. It also mentions the parade of Stoddard-Dayton cars filing in from Ohio. All "leading" hotels in downtown were at capacity. Interestingly, the article reports that many people coming to Indianapolis from outside the city were arriving by train and had private Pullman cars and used them for sleeping quarters, just like hotel accommodations.
 
We also get a dose of reality from a couple of reported details. One, there was only two hours of track time practice on August 18 - the day before the meet. Two, laborers were toiling away to smooth the crushed stones. From these reporters it is apparent there was grave concern about the danger to which the running surface was exposing the drivers. Lewis Strang and Jimmy Ryall of Buick arrived late, missing practice.
 
The previous day's practice is described. Noteworthy is that apparently drivers engaged in speed duels, measuring themselves against each other. Amazing by today's standards, the running surface was narrowed in spots - although it is not clear how, probably some kind of temporary fencing or wooden boxes, barrels or hay bales - so the workers were on the course raking and smashing stones as the big racers sped by.
 
Practice, perhaps, bred a false sense of security - or wishful thinking. The article closes with commentary that track officials were pleased with practice as there were no accidents despite torrid and crowded practice sessions. They were hopeful the three-day race meet would be free of mishaps. In the end, these prayers were dashed. Although Cliff Leterall's injuries were the result of a traffic accident and only loosely connected to the races, the tragedy was a harbinger of much, much more pain.
 
Attachment IMSNewsLitterall081809 focuses on the Literall accident and is from the Indianapolis News. There are some interesting details provided, such as Literall was assigned to serve as a riding mechanic to one of the Stoddard-Dayton cars assigned to a driver identified as Tillotson. As an aside, there was a Stoddard-Dayton driver by that name, but he did not compete in the 1909 IMS races.
 
Literall made the fateful mistake of hitching a ride headed to the Speedway atop the fuel reservoir (essentially a metal drum) of a team car. The fuel drum was affixed to the machine at a point directly behind the seats of the driver, Bob Burtrell, and his riding mechanic. This was a fateful lapse in judgment as, probably in youthful enthusiasm, he wanted to get to the track and did not want to wait on Burtrell, who had ventured out in the Hoosier capital's downtown streets.
 
It's impossible to know exactly what happened, but Literall lost his grip and tumbled off the car and to the street. Speculation was that either Burtell's car's rear wheels crushed Literall or a second car crushed him. Literall clung to life overnight but succumbed to his injuries. 

AttachmentSize
IMSpractice091809.pdf1.72 MB
IMSNewsLitterall081809.pdf2.07 MB
IMSNews081709ii.pdf1.48 MB
IMSNews081609i.pdf6.22 MB
IMSNews081709.pdf5.51 MB
IMSNews081809a.pdf7.6 MB