1908 Vanderbilt Cup

The 1908 Vanderbilt Cup was a hard fought revival. The death of a spectator in 1906, the excessively optomistic projections on the development of the concrete paved Long Island Motor Parkway and the unanticipated battle with the ACA all cast doubt on the AAA's ability to pull the contest off. With the September 16, 1908 "peace treaty" with the ACA the Vanderbilt Cup race commission could move full speed ahead unimpeded. The following articles were published in the Indianapolis Star.
Published September 27, 1908 the article in attachment VCR092708 announces a entirely new race to christen the opening of the Long Island Motor Parkway. This competition, called the "Long Island Motor Parkway Sweepstakes," was actually the top card of an event that included a total of five races. In addition to the Long Island Motor Parkway race the other four carried names familiar and historic to Long Island: Meadow Brook Sweepstakes, Garden City Sweepstakes, Jericho Sweepstakes and Nassau Sweepstakes. Scheduled for October 10 - two weeks before the Vanderbilt Cup - the contests were of varying lengths ranging from 100 to 250 miles. The cars, all stock cars, were classified by list price. The article reports that they would be started individually in 30 second intervals, the tradition of the Vanderbilt Cup and road racing of the era. In previous years the Vanderbilt Cup held an elimination race for the American entries because the races of 1904 through 1906 limited entries in the main event to five representatives of each country - Germany, Italy, France and America. The Sweepstakes races were seen as a replacement.
The article also provided an update on progress on the Motor Parkway construction. Despite constant upbeat reports this had to be an embarrassment for the Motor Parkway Corporation and the Vanderbilt Cup race commission. The original plan called for the Parkway to provide the entire course. The 1907 race was cancelled because the Parkway was not prepared within forecast and the fear that a return to public roads would be irresponsible with respect to safety. Even by 1908 the progress could be described as pathetic - at least in the face of their orginal goals - as organizers glossed over the fact that most of the course, 14 miles of it, was again on public roads and in no way mitigated the likelihood of additional spectator deaths.
The image in attachment VCR092708i accompanied the article published the same day. It was a photo of William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. but the cutline below has major inaccuracies. The caption indicates that George Arents, a driver in the first Vanderbilt Cup, was killed during the 1904 event. This is inaccurate. Arents was seriously injured and in a coma for an extended period but survived and lived a long life. His riding mechanic, Carl Mensel, died of a crushed skull. Another error concerns the 1906 accident that cost the life of a single spectator, Curt Gruner. This information reports that several spectators were killed which could have easily have happend, but did not. The overall tone of the caption suggests that the race might be cancelled which is almost bizarre in that it was positioned on the newspaper page directly beside the upbeat report of how everything was coming together.
The article in attachment VCR102408 describes the setting in Long Island the night before the Vanderbilt Cup, October 23, 1908. The Vanderbilt races were almost without exception gigantic affairs. Aside from the tickets for the relatively small number grandstand seats - around 5,000 - vantage points were first come, first serve with no charge by the organizers. Although there was no attempt to record the information, some land owners, typically farmers in rural Long Island, set up makeshift stands for small clusters of people to sit. Others charged visitors for the right to park their cars from choice vantage points and prepared food and refreshments for sale. All of this access at virtually no charge, the proximity to New York and the absence of entertainment options and electrionic devices we take for granted today produced massive crowds. Estimates ranged wildly and the truth is nobody can know with any accuracy because there was no way to account for traffic other to observe and guess. Estimates ran as high as 250,000 to 300,000 people - larger than today's Indianapolis 500.
The policing of the course is noted to be the responsibility of the Irish Volunteers, described as amateur soldiers. They were a New York security organization. Course security was a core problem for the Vanderbilt Race Commission and was never resolved. New York State would not support the event with their state militia. Private groups such as the Irish Volunteers or the Nassau County Sheriff's deputized citizens were woefully inadequate to the purpose. The article also provides a good reference as it includes an enty list in their starting order which was determined by a drawing.
The big article is in attachment VCR102508 which covers the race won by George Robertson in an American Locomobile with Herb Lytle in the Isotta used by Lewis Strang to win the Savannah stock car race, Briarcliff and Lowell earlier in the year. Many secondary resources and books tend to repeat the notion that the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup race was America's first great victory over international competition. That claim is a little weak due to the ACA claiming all the European manufacturers for the American Grand Prize. The foreign entries were privately owned and all of them were either stock and therefore lower horsepower or several years old. The Isotta, for example, was stock with roughly half the horsepower (60 HP) of the Locomobile. There is no doubt the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup was a shadow of its former self and newspapers of the day made note of it.
Much was made over the speed attained over the 258+ miles. At 64.40 MPH Robertson had exceeded the 64.2 MPH "American" record for long distance road racing set just two weeks earlier when Lytle and the Isotta won the Long Island Motor Parkway Sweepstakes. The report claims 250,000 people witnesses the Vanderbilt Cup but that is just a guess.
The big incidents of the race involved another one of those millionaire playboys and another spectator injury. The millionaire had a great name: Foxhaul Keene. Keene scorched his moustache when his Mercedes - yes, he owned it - burst into flame when it cracked a cylinder. As for the spectator injury it came at the very end of the race. After Lytle had crossed the finish line and it was clear that Robertson had won the race the crowd was uncontainable and stormed the course. Officials shut down the event immediately. Without electronic communication getting word to adrenaline-pumped drivers wasn't easy. Jim Florida in the second Locomobile stormed on and did not realize the situation until he came upon a crowd at start-finish. Slicing through the scattering throng one young man, 18-year-old David Schull, failed to gang way. Schull was lucky in that he only suffered a broken leg but it was another statistic in the amazing, wreckless story of organizing the Vanderbilt Cup.
Published the same day as part of the Vanderbilt Cup race coverage was a group of photos (attachment VCR102508i) of some of the top drivers in the competition. These included George Robertson, Willie Haupt, Montague Roberts and Harry Michener. The interesting point is that neither Roberts nor Michener raced in the Vanderbilt Cup.

VCR092708.pdf1.2 MB
VCR092708i.pdf358.25 KB
VCR102408.pdf907.05 KB
VCR102508.pdf956.99 KB
VCR102508i.pdf334.37 KB