1906 Russell Family Benefit Race

Before we ge started, please let me note that there is a companion entry with additional coverage of this same landmark race meet in early Indianapolis automobile history that you will want to familiarize yourself with by clicking thru


A unique race was staged on October 20, 1906 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It was one of the best examples I have found of an auto race of this early era that is interwoven with the context of the times. In particular, race relations. Interestingly, as I write this in 2016 we have the "Black Lives Matter" movement. While American society has clearly made progress since these days of 1906, this is evidence of the depth of the division among us when racial hatred has not been eradicated entirely over these past 110 years.
For the previous month to the publication of these articles one of the biggest news stories in Indianapolis was the shooting of a police officer by what the Star referred to as a "Negro." The black man's name was Jesse Coe and the officer was Charles Russell. A "Wild West" style posse was formed and Coe, who was a fugitive for two years, was finally hunted down in Kentucky. He was shot to death under suspect circumstances that suggest there was no intention by the law enforcement involved of taking him to trial.
Given the immense racial atrocities of the times when lynching and burning blacks were weekly news items and the Ku Klux Klan was revived from a hiatus dating back to the Civil War, it is impossible to know the real story behind the incident. It is entirely possible that Coe acted in self-defense, but the reality is he was hunted down, shot to death and branded as a bloodthirsty fiend.
Shortly after Russell's death, news that he let his life insurance policy expire hit the local papers. The local leaders of the automotive and motorsports industry came up with the idea of running a benefit for the fallen officer's family. Among the leaders of the plan to stage the benefit race was future Indianapolis Motor Speedway Founder Carl Fisher. Some of the articles in the attachments focus on the advance promotion of the event and include some post-event advertising from the local automobile dealerships.
The event is significant in auto racing history as well. It marks the use of Carl Fisher's Premier that was designed for and disqualified from the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup for failure to comply with car construction rules pertaining to weight. The driver in this instance was Alonzo Webb. Popular belief has it that the car was only driven in a race once - by Fisher during a handicap race that supported a 24 hour record run at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in November 1905. From First Super Speedway analysis this is widely held belief is simply wrong.
Let's take a look at the articles in the attachments below in the order of top-to-bottom.
Attachment BenefitNews101606 contains an article with the headline, "Auto Race Benefit fo Russell Family." The first sentence asserts that Jesse Coe murdered Patrolman Charles Russell two weeks prior. A group of supporters had gathered at Fisher Automobile Company the evening before to plan for the upcoming benefit event. The point is made that the surviving Russells were left in a difficult position with the loss of their husband and father. Apparently there were other community efforts taking place to assist the family, but details are not provided.
In a sign of the times, the benefit event involved both auto and horse racing. There were two horse races planned at the time, one pacing and one trotting. They were being organized by the Gentlemen's Driving Club
The automobile competition portion of the event called for a three-mile race of runabouts costing $1,000 or less as well as a novelty three-miler requiring passengers to vacate the vehicle at the end of one mile (a lap of the fairgrounds track) and then picked up again at the conclusion of the second mile. A five-mile race for stock touring cars costing $2,000 or less; a ten-miler for stock cars costing more than $2,000 and a ten mile contest for stripped stock cars were also on the card.
Attachment 101906autoraces contains another article promoting the event, scheduled the following day. The article is titled, "Fast Autos Entered." The recipient of the proceeds - to be held by the Indianapolis Star - had been organized and named, "The Russell Relief Fund" An optomistic appraisal of advance ticket sales at 25 cents a pop is reported. The two organizing groups: The Gentlemen's Driving Club for horses and the Indianapolis Automobile Racing Association.
Entries for both horses and cars are listed. First, let's review the cars:

As for the horses, this is what the article reports:

  • Lady D
  • Dan S
  • American Bell
  • Jollisco
  • Helen D
  • Zoo-Zoo
  • Susie Jefferson
  • Rici
  • Cynthia C
  • Budd
  • Sterling McKinney
  • Fanny Wilkes
  • Victor C

Attachment BenefitNews102206 contains an article, titled "Benefit Races Please," that summarizes the meet. The article pronounces the meet an unqualified success but does not report the amount of money raised - only a vague description, "a neat sum of money."
The two harness races were described as, "highly exciting." Zoo-Zoo won the free-for-all trot over Victor C. The Gentlemen's Driving Club trotting record was broken - by Zoo-Zoo at 1:07.25 in the half mile. Lady D won the free-for-all pace in straight heats over American Belle and Helen D with a best time of 1:05.5.
At the conclusion of the harness races a surprise challenge was introduced. This was a contest of police offiers who were challenged to compete in a half-mile run. A dozen men responded to the call, but interestingly only one, C.S. Adams, had the conditioning to complete the distance. His time was 3:51.5. That is nearly four minutes for a half-mile sprint which, by today's standards, sounds pathetic. Today's marathon, half-marathon, 10K and other foot race events for even average runners would have seemed incomprehensible to people of 1906 if this is the typical fitness level of police at the time. I say this even with consideration given to the fact that I am sure they were not in the high-tech footwear and running apparel used in current times.
The article reports that five auto races were completed. Two others were called off because the sun was setting and daylight was vanishing. The feature of the day was a five-mile open run with three heats. Dr. Frieberg in an Autocar racer defeated Tom Kincaid in a National in the first heat. My best calculations would have Kincaid as 19 or 20 years old at the time. In the second heat Webb, in the Premier, defeated Jap Clemens in a National. Webb beat Dr. Frieberg in the final with a time of 4:55.2.
Webb recorded the best mile of the afternoon at 57.8 seconds. This was reported to be a new track record, eclipsing a mark held by Barney Oldfield.

BenefitNews101606.pdf794.09 KB
101906autoraces.pdf1.49 MB
Clemmons101906.pdf1.78 MB
whiteflyerautorace.pdf1.94 MB
BuickAd-races.pdf2.28 MB
nationalautoracead102106.pdf2.15 MB
BenefitNews102206.pdf344.06 KB