The Famous But Misunderstood 1905 Racer
One of the most curious cars in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup 923.3 cubic inch Premier purpose-built racer commissioned by Carl Fisher. Fisher, the most visionary of the four Speedway founders, was intent on representing America in the international road race.
Fisher was livid when he discovered the car exceeded the maximum weight regulation enforced by the American Automobile Association (AAA). Cars were not to weigh more than 2,200 pounds and the Indianapolis-built monstrosity was a hefty 300 pounds in excess. No amount of drilling holes through the frame could get the car within the regs.
Fisher pleaded his case to officials and found no sympathy. He and his white elephant race car were sent packing. Fisher even took out an ad in the motoring press to vent his disdain. Tough luck, Carl.
About a month later in November Fisher ran the mechanized beast in a five-mile handicap support race to a 100-mile feature staged at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. He won, and the story that has this the only time the car ever raced was promulgated over the subsequent decades that now add up to 111 years.
For years a placard stood in front of the machine at the Museum that reported that the car was designed and built for the 1903 Vanderbilt Cup. The problem with that glaring inaccuracy was that there was no 1903 Vanderbilt Cup. That legendary contest of racing lore did not start until 1904. Thankfully, that error has been rectified, but only recently.
Getting back to the story about the car having been raced but once. That's wrong too. While it may be true (unless I can uncover evidence otherwise) that Fisher only raced it once, the car competed at least one other time and I have good reason to believe that there were other occasions. The difference is that there was a different driver - Alonzo "A.C." Webb.
Webb was a respected race driver and businessman. He won the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Trophy in St. Louis and competed in the Vanderbilt Cup that same year - driving a Pope-Toledo on both occasions.
I take great satisfaction in uncovering the truth about auto racing history and debunking myths in the process. More than that, my joy comes in sharing it with you. All you have to is click thru.