Extravagant Speedway Plans

The attached article, published August 27, 1909 was published in the Indianapolis Star just days after the first auto race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Despite the tragedies endured in that event where five people lost their lives, the Speedway forged ahead with plans to stage an air show with additional auto races in the weeks following the August 19 - 21 races. The devestating fatal accidents occurred on the first and third days of the meet. The five men killed were:

This article announces plans that Speedway management had to produce an extravagant event involving an aviation show as well as major races including the official running of the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race and - amazingly - a 24 hour race. The article reports that Speedway management planned to illuminate the track by installing Prest-O-Lite gas burners every 20 feet. Words like "crass" or even "insane" might have been employed in questioning the judgment of such a move as well as the entire event in general.
As for the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy the Speedway and the American Automobile Association (AAA) had called the August 21 race off almost as if it had never occurred. This was despite the completion of 235 miles of the scheduled 300. The big accident involving Charlie Merz' dark blue National Motor Vehicle Company racer that claimed three lives was not even the final straw that forced officials' hands. It was not until 30 minutes later when Bruce Keene wrecked his Marmon entry into the suspension bridge abutment were the cars flagged off. This tirggered a protest by the Jackson Automobile Company who had a car well in the lead at the time.
The article tries to assert that the reason for halting the race had little to do with the condition of the rutted running surface and more to do with the physical conditioning of the drivers. These views are expressed by William Hickman Pickens a well known and sometime infamous promoter of early motor sport.
Pickens was frequently derided as a huckster that spent more than a few nights in county jails after being accused of questionable practices in promoting barnstorming events for the likes of Barney Oldfield. He and Oldfield had a reputation for being more focused on entertaining small town audiences at fairgrounds tracks across the country than participating in serious racing. The reality is the two men were making a living and trying to find a way to offer speed thrill shows while minimizing risk. Regardless, Pickens' reputation fell a good bit short of others in the community that had spoken out in support of the Speedway.
Pickens, who served as team manager for Buick at the time, tempered his remarks about driver physcial training by citing his team's chauffeurs as the exception. These were Louis Chevrolet, Bob Burman and Lewis Strang.
An excerpt of Pickens' remarks follows:
"In my opinon the accident to Bourque could not be attributed to the condition of the track, for at the place where his car left the track and turned over the course was in perfect condition and a straightaway. The accidents to the drivers of two other cars were caused, I think, by the physical condition of the men at the wheel, they having driven in most of the races for three days and were simply not able to stand the strain of a 300 ile race on the last day."
How much driver conditioning was a factor is hard to determine but the Pickens perspective was not widely embraced as the primary cause of the incidents. The consensus opinion was that the track's deterrioration was the fundamental reason for the excessively dangerous circumstances. Still, the article makes no mention of discussions about paving the track. A $150,000 investment is discussed but that was for additional grandstand seating with sand bags and fences designed to keep spectators at a greater distance from the speeding cars.
The other major point of the article was the effort underway to attract the top stars of aviation. Speedway Director of Contests Ernie Moross was heading up the project to attract the right pilots, planes, balloons and dirigibles to the event.
Super star Glenn Curtiss was targeted. Curtiss was a big "get" in the day, the winner of "airship races" in Rhiems, France. This was the first great air race in history and would serve as the gold standard for such endeavors for many years hence. It was here that Curtiss won the James Gordon Bennett Cup for aviation, recognized as the highest honor for such events. The aviation show would not only involve airplanes but also balloons and dirigibles. Top balloonist George Bumbaugh announced his plans to unveil his new, giant cigar-shaped dirigible at the event.
Eventually sanity prevailed and this event never took place. There was an aviation meet at the Speedway in June 1910.

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