1909 Speed Records

This records chart is yet another item from a special Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star that touted the excitement of the upcoming first automobile races at the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The date was August 15, 1909.
This is a very handy reference for anyone looking for "official" automobile speed records as of August 15, 1909. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway founders' focus on achieving the reputation as the world's "greatest" Speedway was so intense everyone obssessed over setting speed records.
The attached chart reports on the speed records for various distances, venue types and classifications of cars. "Track records" in those days meant a speed on any form of oval-shaped racing facility. There could be records for specific tracks but the officials of the day credited competitors for records for different distances on ANY track. For example, a speed recorded on a mile track or a speed recorded for a mile distance on the 2.5 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be compared. Note that the chart information asserts that all the records were certified by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
With respect to the car classifications, the records are organized in the following manner:

  • Heavyweight (1,432 to 2,204 pound gasoline cars)
  • Middleweight (881 to 1,432 pound gasoline cars)
  • Lightweight (551 to 881 pound gasoline cars)
  • Steam (all weights)

With respect to venues there were two categories: track and straightaway. All the straightaway records were made at Ormond Beach near Daytona in Florida.
Some observations:

  • The accomplishments of Barney Oldfield in 1904 have been forgotten over the decades. Despite the fact this chart was five years hence the records had amazingly endured. During 1904 he barnstormed the country busting off speed records on mile dirt tracks for one to 50 miles. In some ways that was the zenith of his career. It certainly established him endeliby as America's first and for many subsequent years biggest auto racing star. His car was the infamous Peerless "Green Dragon." In their day they were poetry on dirt.
  • Other long-standing records came from 1905, notably during 24 hour "grinder" runs. Guy Vaughn had set the 24 hour mark as well as the milestones along the way in June 1905 at Empire City in New York. In November Jap Clemens and Charlie Merz smashed the 24 hour mark and most of the milestones along the way at the Indiana State Fairgrounds track. George Robertson had driven his Simplex to set the 24 hour mark in October 1908 at Brighton Beach.
  • Only two records had been set in 1909 - the 25 mile marker by Ralph DePalma with his Fiat and the 100 mile record by Bob Burman in his Buick at Columbus, Ohio in June. He also held the previous record from earlier in the year at New Orleans.
  • Most of the steam track records were fairly old as well dating back to 1904 and 1905. Webb Jay in particular was a tremendous competitor back then with his White Whistling Billy racer.
  • Ford Motor Company's focus is apparent as all the lightweight records were held by that company and its driver Frank Kulick.
  • Note that Fred Marriott's 1906 land speed records from Ormond were the fastest speeds yet attained anywhere.
  • Other great names on the chart are: Emanuel Cedrino (lightweight Fiat); Louis Chevrolet (Darracq at Ormond) and David Bruce-Brown (Benz at Ormond).
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