1906 Vanderbilt Cup Practice

The first attachment (VCRNews092706) below contains an article about opening practice for the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. It was originally published in the September 27, 1906 Indianapolis News. It is titled, "Foreign Drivers On Vanderbilt Cup Course." The public had a fascination with the dashing European men in their exotic machines from oh-so-far-away.
The article leads with a report that Vincenzo Lancia, referred to as, "the Italian race crack," was first on the course, covering a 29.7-mile lap in 32 minutes, 40 seconds. Felice Nazzaro is noted as his teammate at Fiat. Race Founder William K. Vanderbilt's cousin Elliot Shepard, driving for the French Hotchkiss factory, lapped the course in 38 minutes.
Camille Jenatzy reportedly drove a "120" Mercedes with its owner Robert Graves riding in the mechanic's seat. I believe this was a private entry arranged with factory support through the New York importer for the manufacturer. This avoided the costs and hassle of shipping cars and so was probably a good business decision. It says something about the respect the importer and Mercedes had for Graves as a caretaker of the car (and effectively their brand) and so it would be interesting to learn more about this owner. Unfortunately they punctured a tire and could not complete a full lap of the circuit in their first outing.
The big controversy of the days leading up to this, the third running of the Vanderbilt Cup, was that the Pope-Toledo driven by rugged veteran Herb Lytle to fourth place in the American Elimination Trial was disqualified. Apparently the car had stalled on the course, was attended to and then pushed to start. That assistance to get underway was, it seems, against the rules.
Interestingly, the article suggests that entrant Colonel Albert Pope and driver Herb Lytle were not invited to a meeting of participants and American Automobile Association (AAA) officials where the disqualification was announced. The meeting took place at the Garden City Hotel on Tuesday evening of race week. Obviously this was seen as poor form by some observers. One of the three Frayer-Miller cars was announced as one of the five new American qualifiers to the big show.
Finally, the article shares that the official explanation for George Robertson's American Elimination Trial practice wreck in the fast Apperson racer was a punctured tire. Who knows? Certainly the Edgar Apperson and brother Elmer would not want it attributed to mechanical failure because of their commercial interests.
The second attachment, VCRNews100506, contains an article summarizing the final day of practice as well as reporting on the industry leaders from Indianapolis who planned to attend the big race as well as the odds and betting lines. The article describes a field of 18 cars with five each from the United States, France and Italy with Germany adding three Mercedes for Foxhall Keene, Camille Jenatzy and William Luttgen. The race was scheduled to start at 6 AM.
France's team included George Heath (Panhard), Louis Wagner (Darracq), Albert Clement (Clement-Bayard), Shepard in the Hotchkiss and Arthur Duray (his name is misspelled in the article) in the De Dietrich. Representing Italy were the Fiats of Lancia, Nazzaro and Dr. Aldo Weilschott. Itala provided two other cars for the pride of Italy with Maurice Fabry and Alessandro Cagno at the steering wheels.
The American team was determined by the American Elimination Trial won by Joe Tracy in the Locomobile. In addition to Tracy, the other drivers were Frank Lawwell in the Frayer-Miller (as noted above) as well as Hubert Le Blon (Thomas), "Hugh" E.N. Harding (Haynes) and Walter Christie in his "freak" front wheel drive Christie.
Betting on the contest was described as brisk - and in this different era completely open. Bets were taken at the magnificent Garden City Hotel. E.E. Schwarzkopf (an import-export trade agent) placed $1,000 for the Holtan Company to bet that the three Fiats would beat the French team. Harry Allen, brother of the agent for the De Dietrich entry reportedly commissioned Schwarzkopf to place up to $5,000 on Duray against any other driver in the field.
The open book on the race offered these odds:

  • The Fiat trio: 2 to 1 
  • Wagner and Clement: 3 to 1
  • Heath and Weilschott: 4 to 1
  • Jenatzy, Cagno and Fabry: 8 to 1
  • Luttgen, Le Blon and Tracy: 10 to 1
  • Shepard: 15 to 1
  • Lawwell: 50 to 1
  • Christie: 100 to 1

The final practice produced some interesting notes. Lawwell in the Frayer-Miller, an air-cooled engine, shocked the "clockers" at Krug's Corner with a time of in the range of 25 to 27 minutes. The top times for the American Elimination Trial were roughly 30 minutes so this was significant. Skeptics speculated that he took a short cut around the course which was entirely possible given its tremendous length of 29.7 miles. Such antics were not unheard of during the day but the purpose other than mind games or bragging rights is hard to imagine.
Some of the motivation was that a man named J.F. Stone, the entrant of the car, was applying pressure to go faster. As a side note, Lawwell's American Elimination Trial car was apparently damaged in pactice early in the week when it collided with a telegraph pole. Lancia was also reportedly fast in the 25 minute range.

VCRNews092706.pdf503.02 KB
VCRNews100506.pdf1.03 MB