1908 Vanderbilt Cup Challenges

The William Kissiam Vanderbilt Jr. International Cup Road Race was America's first international road race and the biggest race in the country for several years beginning in 1904. The event was staged on public roads of Long Island, New York from 1904 through 1906 before being canceled for one year in 1907. It returned in 1908 still utilizing Long Island public roads but also incorporating a privately owned concrete highway known officially as the Long Island Motor Parkway. The races never utilized the same exact course twice but many of the same turns were used in more than one year.
 
Because public roads were utilized and the courses were so long, as much as 30 miles, they were impossible to effectively police. With no admission fee, open access and the public's tremendous curiosity for these noisy contraptions huge crowds estimated to be excess of 200,000 attended some of the events. They were unruly and reckless, frequently crossing the racing surface with race cars fast approaching. The inevitable happened in 1906 and a spectator was killed. This generated an outrage and the commitment of the race organizers to create a fail safe course on which to conduct the race. With much fanfare William K. Vanderbilt Jr. and his associates promised an ultra modern, concrete-paved closed circuit free of spectator intervention.
 
It never happened. In a series of missteps and miscommunication the group over promised and under delivered. Their vision was never realized but in the end the first real American highway was created.
 
Throughout 1907 and into 1908, however, a rivalry emerged between the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Automobile Club of Ameica (ACA). The ACA with an earned reputation for being a club of elitists were closely linked with the international auto racing leadership at the Automobile Club of France (ACF) where international rules for racing were established. The ACF required that each country be represented from a single automobile club and that had been established with America as the ACA. In a meeting in Ostend, Belgium in 1907 new rules for race cars were established without America represented. This is the meaning behind the Indianapolis Star article in attachment 1908VCRrules041108 as the AAA perspective focused on the weight of cars while the new Ostend rules, more modern, focused on cylinder displacement. In this article The Vanderbilt Cup Race Commission and the AAA are essentially saying, "in your face, ACA" with their announcement.
 
The rule changes  affected the Vanderbilt Cup and American manufacturers who did not want to make the investment to build new, purpose-built race cars for the big race. The result was that America's race cars were essentially of a different "formula" than those from Europe. The rivalry of the two American clubs became a bitter feud as the ACA got busy and began to organize the first American Grand Prize in Savannah.
 
Meanwhile Vanderbilt and his crew struggled to drum up enough entries from American manufacturers and the private owners of aged European makes. After much acrimony the two sides mended fences but the Vanderbilt Cup would be forever reduced in stature. Prior to that, however, the struggles to pull off the race were legion - including staging the race in Long Island despite the fact that the course was no more safe than it ever was and crowd control was issue. Still, Vanderbilt and his New York Society friends wanted the event close to home.
 
The article in attachment Savannah050308 notes a May 2 meeting that Vanderbilt and Race Commissioner Jefferson DeMont Thompson had with representatives of the road course in Savannah. As the article indicates Vanderbilt's mind was probably already decided before he entered the meeting.
 
Throughout 1908 Vanderbilt and his organizing team struggled to attract entries to their race, obtain the cooperation of the European cars and clubs and battle the ACA. The article in attachment VCR052408 was published in the Indianapolis Star on May 24, 1908 reports on how Vanderbilt and his team were slowly moving to the decision to hold the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island.
 
In attachment VCR052708 another Indianapolis Star article published on May 27, 1908 discusses the growing animosity between the ACA and AAA. An illustration of the hardball they played the comes in the Indianapolis Star article in attachment AAAloss070508. This story reports on Vanderbilt's quest to get the ACF to relent and allow French manufacturers enter his race. The ACA had appealed to the ACF to choke off foreign entries in the Vanderbilt Cup. The ACF agreed and the Vanderbilt Cup's field was reduced both in terms of quality and quantity.
 
The two clubs also fought for influence by by claiming rights to sanction auto races, especially the big road races. After the AAA announced that it would only sanction the Vanderbilt Cup, the Jefferson DeMont Thompson stock car race (much discussed, never happened) and the Glidden Tour it left an opening for the ACA. The 1908 Briarcliff road race (attachment Glidden071208) became a bone of contention. As reported elsewhere, the Briarcliff road race was never repeated after its inaugural run in 1908.
 
Attachment VCR080208 contains a brief article (published August 2) pushing an optimistic view that all was well with preparations for the Vanderbilt Cup. Due to the ongoing war with the ACA the event had plenty of doubters. The stubborn insistence of holding the race on Long Island despite the fact that the new Long Island Motor Parkway in no way provided enough roadway to create a complete circuit and that most of the course would again have to consist of public roads also raised doubts.
 
The article, while lacking in specifics, suggests that the Parkway would be completed in ample time for the race. Also, the article indicates that several foreign cars were expected to enter. This was at the very least disingenuous as no factory teams could enter by ruling of the ACF. Of the few foreign makes that would eventually compete, all were private entries of previous generation technology.
 
The article in attachment VCR81608 announces the entry of the Chadwick factory car - a Pottstown, Pennsylvania based company known as Chadwick Engineering Works. The article provides a little detail on the six-cylinder racer and indicates that the car would practice on the Parkway in early October (the race date was said to be October 24). The article also references the name of State Engineer Frederick Skene who was also invovled with the Briarcliff course. Skene worked with one of Vanderbilt's chief aids, Arthur Pardington, to review the public roads portion of the course, making suggestions for their preparation including the amount of raw petroleum to be apply to tamp down dust.
 
An overview of the configuration of the course is provided in the August 23 article (attachment VCR082308) although it is certainly most meaningful to people very familiar with Long Island. The course is described as roughly 25 miles long with 11 of it made up of the new, cement-paved Parkway. The truth of the matter was that while the Long Island Motor Parkway was given its name due to a legal loophole that got around some legislation limiting "speedways." The reality was that it was the most technically advanced racing surface in the world at that moment in time.
 
The ACA - AAA war finally ended in September. Two short articles here report on the development. Attachment VCR091608 contains a September 17, 1908 Indianapolis Star article that says an agreement was reached the previous evening. As much as anything the agreement partitioned the "sandbox." The ACA was recognized as the sole organization representing United States auto racing to the international governing body. The AAA was recognized as the governing body for all national or domestic races not builded as "international." What, exactly, distinguished an "international" race from a "national" one was not immediately clear.
 
The important thing in the moment was that they were not discrediting each other and that they would not longer try to sabotage one another. The ACA agreed to stop ttying to persuade local clubs across the country from leaving the AAA as the national organization. Also, the agreement opened the door to allow the foreign manufacturers to enter the Vanderbilt Cup in subsequent years. Again, it was still unclear as to how the two races would resolve those national and international designations. Attachment ACA-AAA092708 repeats the same news with less detail - but underscores the lack of clarity in the agreement.

AttachmentSize
1908VCRrules041108.pdf201.35 KB
Savannah050308.pdf433.4 KB
VCR052408.pdf556.41 KB
VCR052708.pdf423.03 KB
AAAloss070508.pdf224.65 KB
Glidden071208.pdf392.06 KB
VCR080208.pdf185.91 KB
VCR081608.pdf398.49 KB
VCR082308.pdf1.15 MB
VCR091608.pdf494 KB
AAA-ACA092708.pdf210.19 KB