1909 Review

This article by Peter Paul (P.P.) Willis was published the day after Christmas 1909 in the Indianapolis Star. It was a year-in-review piece typical in newspapers as the annual calendar turns and is centered on the emergence of speedways - most notably the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Atlanta Speedway - in the face of established road races such as the Vanderbilt Cup. The article speculated on the future of both forms of racing in America while discussing the the potential for a proliferation of purpose-built speedways or "tracks" as they frequently referred to them. Notably the writers of the day made a distinction between "tracks" and "speedways" in that both were typically seen as "circular" closed circuits but that tracks, loosely defined, were a mile or less in length and speedways exceeded that length. The article reviews the performance of specific drivers in road racing as well as noting the various people and geographic locations indicating that they would construct speedways. Speed records, too, are discussed. Note that all those records were set at the Brickyard and Atlanta Speedway the venues.
The article starts by enumerating three points:

  1. With the advent of the speedways in Indianapolis and Atlanta other motorsports promoters and cities appeared ready to follow suit.
  2. Road racing still prevailed in producing the most important auto races of the year. Mingled with this point is the observation that stock cars were vehicle of choice for competition as opposed to purpose-built or what was called "freak" racers. The prevailing view that the stock cars were seen as most relevant to product produced for the consumer. Not mentioned is the reality that the manufacturers were even at this early date concerned about the spiraling costs of competition and specially produced machines were seen as excessive. In the face of point #1 this led to speculation that the emergence of speedways could curb the growth or sound the death knell for the great road races on public roads.
  3. Hill climbs and endurance events like the Glidden Tour were seen as viable and certain to continue. The hill climbs were judged particularly practical in illustrating the value of cars in taxing conditions. Every consumer wanted to know their car would serve them well in a challenging situation like a steep incline. As for the endurance runs the article suggests some adjustments to the rules would improve the product but that the events were still useful to the industry.

The sense of rivalry between Indianapolis and Atlanta is noted as the article delves into the topic of records and venue where they were established. The recent December time trials at the Brickyard are referenced humorously as the "polar races" with mentions of records established by Johnny Aitken in a National and Lewis Strang in a Fiat. Atlanta's inaugural race meet in November saw the breaking of numerous speed records set in August at the first auto races of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the running surface was paved.
Check out the list of records for car, driver, class and venue that the article provides:

  • Overall Records: One mile - StrangFiat, 37.71 seconds (Atlanta); Two miles - StrangFiat, 1 minute, 21.51 seconds; Five miles - StrangFiat, 3:17.70 (Indianapolis); 10 miles - StrangFiat, 7:01.49 (Atlanta); 20 to 150 miles - George Robertson, Fiat, 2:05:00.63 (150 miles), (Atlanta); 200 miles - Bob BurmanBuick, 2:46:48.47 (Atlanta); 250 miles - Louis ChevroletBuick, 4:38;57.4 (Atlanta); One kilometer, Barney OldfieldBenz, 26.2 seconds (Indianapolis).
  • Free-For-All class: Two to 10 miles - Strang, Fiat, 7:01.49 at 10 miles (Atlanta); 20 to 160 miles - Robertson, Fiat, 2:13:44.38 at 160 miles (Atlanta); 170 to 200 miles, Louis DisbrowRainier 2:53:48.32 (Atlanta).
  • 450 to 600 cubic inch class: 30 to 50 miles - Roberston, Fiat, 42:02.98 at 50 miles (Atlanta).
  • 301 to 450 cubic inch class: 10 to 20 miles - AitkenNational, 16:18.41 at 20 miles (Indianapolis); 30 to 200 miles, ChevroletBuick, 2:46:48.47 at 200 miles (Atlanta); 210 to 220 miles - Note: The attached article lists Fred Ellis as the driver for the following record but it was actually Leigh Lynch who was leading the ill-fated Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race when it was halted. The car Lynch drove was a Jackson and the time at 220 miles was 3:49:37.7 at Indianapolis; 230 to 250 miles - BurmanBuick, 4:38:57.4 at 250 miles (Indianapolis).
  • 231 to 300 cubic inch class: Five miles - Strang, Buick, 4:48 (Indianapolis); Six miles - Ray HarrounMarmon, 5:40.83 (Atlanta); 20 miles - ChevroletBuick 1?:10.70 (Atlanta); 75 miles, Strang, Buick, 1:09:37.5 (Indianapolis); 80 to 120 miles, HarrounMarmon, 1:49:26.94 at 120 miles (Atlanta).
  • 161 to 230 cubic inch class: Four miles - Joe MatsonChalmers, 4:05.5 (Atlanta); Five miles - Louis SchwitzerStoddard-Dayton, 5:13.4 (Indianapolis); 20 to 40 miles - Billy KnipperChalmers 39:40 at 40 miles (Atlanta); 80 miles - Billy KnipperChalmers 1:20:29 at 80 miles (Atlanta); 90 miles - Joe Nelson, Buick, 1:30.28 (Atlanta); 100 miles - Billy KnipperChalmers 1:40:46.82 at 100 miles (Atlanta).

All of this excitement over tremendous speed generated a wave of announced plans to construct additional speedways from all corners of the country. According to the article the Brickyard was more the model than Atlanta and probably so due to the state-of-the-art paving in the day. Among the cities with boosters for such projects were: St.Paul/Minneapolis, Detroit (with two projects one apparently a proposed combination speedway and aviation grounds that attracted some interest from the Wright Brothers), Cleveland, New York (where three projects were reportedly under consideration with Art Pardington of Long Island Motor Parkway and Vanderbilt Cup fame specifically mentioned as leading one effort, the McAdoo Tunnel Company another and the third by "Senator" W.J. Morgan, the famed promoter of Daytona-Ormond speed trials, who had formed the New York Motor Racing Association) and El Paso, Texas. Other cities having investors expressing interest were: Baltimore; Springfield, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; San Francisco; Readville, Pennsylvania; Chicago; Providence and the Play Del Rey board track underway by Jack Prince in Los Angeles.
The article next reviews road racing for the year with a particular focus on the Vanderbilt Cup and Crown Point, Indiana's Cobe Trophy. With respect to the Vanderbilt the article notes that the participating cars were required to be stock machines of two classes: 451 to 600 cubic inches and 301 to 450 cubic inches. The fact that other races for smaller cars were concurrently conducted is noted. These were: Wheatley Hills (231 to 300 cubic inches) and the Massapequa Sweepstakes (161 to 230 cubic inches).
As for the Cobe Trophy is flagged as the "new star" on the horizon. Motor Age magazine's C.G. Sinsabaugh is quoted with some statistics concerning road races and especially in year-over-year comparison 1909 vs. 1908. Among these are:

  • 1908 had 21 road races while there were 27 in 1909.
  • In 1908 race distances averaged 229.2 miles while in 1909 the number was 211.
  • In Europe there were nine major road races in 1908 and there were eight in 1909.

Some statistics for American road races in 1909:

  • 27 road racess
  • Average speed: 49.2 MPH
  • Slowest race average: 24.8 MPH (Los Angeles to Phoenix)
  • Fastest race average: 69.9 MPH (Riverhead)
  • Longest race: 480 miles (Los Angeles to Phoenix)
  • Shortest race: 43.8 miles (Portland)
  • Number of starters - 223
  • Average number of starteres - 8.25

Sinsabaugh named the following drivers as at the top American road racers of the day:

The article closes by asserting that lessons had been learned in many areas and calls out safety without providing specifics. Also it notes that the 1910 venue for the Cobe Trophy was still up in the air and that locations in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin were all in contention. The suggestion was that the strongest candidate was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - a prediction that proved correct.

09Review122609.pdf1.42 MB