Early Road Racing

The first big auto races were in Europe, starting with the great city-to-city events such as Paris to Bordeaux and the tragic Paris to Madrid race in 1903. The James Gordon Bennett Cup race emerged as the biggest race in the world in 1904, but was quickly usurped by the advent of the French Grand Prix in 1906. In the United States the Vanderbilt Cup and later, the Grand Prize emerged as major events, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators. The early road races were exactly that - races on public roads. This created a host of issues most notably protecting spectators from themselves as they strayed onto the racing surface of courses covering 20 miles or more. The races attracting tremendous interest with throngs numbering well over 100,000 people in some cases. This not only reflected the tremendous interest in the still-new automobiles and the daredevil drivers but also because the access was free of charge - there was simply no way to capture revenue from something that people obviously valued. The advent of enclosed purpose-built speedways like the Indianapolis Motor Speedways and the board tracks helped usher in the demise of this early form of road racing. While road racing in the form of dedicated circuits or heavily protected metropolitan street races continue today this style of racing has yet to attain the popularity in America that oval track racing has.