First Time Trials Records on Brick

The attached articles report on the results of the first time trials that took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the track was paved with brick. These appeared in the December 18, 1909, Indianapolis Star.
The first article in attachment IMStrials121809 focuses on the results from the previous day, December 17, 1909 - a Friday. Bitter cold was the overwhelming feature of the day as drivers, mechanics, and observers endured the biting teeth of inclement weather. Future United States Vice President and current Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall put the exclamation point on the day by laying the "gold" brick to commemorate the completion of the massive 3.2 million brick paving project for the entire 2.5-mile oval.
The article starts with a callout box that summarizes the essential storylines of the day, including the points mentioned in the above paragraph. The report underscores that there were no serious accidents clearly an important point considering expensive paving project undertaken in response to the fatal accidents costing five lives at the inaugural races at the Speedway in August 1909. Johnny Aitken's new stock chassis world's records from one to 20 miles for National Motor Vehicle Company were noted as well as Lewis Strang's new track record for the mile in his Fiat.
Additional highlights of the day included Walter Christie's new American record for the quarter mile at 8.78 seconds or 103 MPH in his front wheel drive creation. This compared to Strang's 96 MPH speed attained with his "Giant" Fiat at the Atlanta Speedway race meet in November. Newell Motsinger drove the Empire to a world record for cars of 160 cubic inches for 20 miles at 25 minutes, 50.23 seconds.
A gathering of spectators described as "small" shivered as they watched Governor Marshall lay a brick reported to be worth $500. That value was almost certainly an exaggeration as the brick, described as a gold-plated silver, was later reported to be of the same brass used in the Wheeler-Schebler carburetors of Speedway Co-Founder Frank Wheeler's company. This was the opening ceremony and after the governor briefly addressed the gathering the time trials got underway.
Legendary American Automobile Association (AAA) race starter Fred Wagner remarked on how the cold - which threatened to freeze water in radiators and even lubricants - but would not chill the enthusiasm of the race teams and manufacturers.
"Nothing on earth would bring so many people and get them to endure the hardships of this cold winter's day as this automobile race," Wagner said.
Drivers like Aitken and Strang reportedly complained of aching ears, cheeks and fingers. Motsinger was the first man on the track in pursuit of a record. This allowed the big stars of the meet additional time to warm their engines and prepare. Strang's record run failed to eclipse his own American mark set at Atlanta Speedway the previous month but bettered Barney Oldfield's Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record from the previous August meet. Oldfield steered his Benz to a 43.6-second mile while Strang pushed his more powerful Fiat to 37.71.
Johnny Aitken's stock chassis records over 20 miles not only established new marks for the 301 to 450 cubic inch engine class but surpassed those of the next largest class of 450 to 600 cubic inch engines. George Robertson had set those marks (16 minutes, 24.17) in that larger engine class at Atlanta. Louis Chevrolet was the previous owner of the smaller class records (16:27.79 seconds), again established in Atlanta. Aitken's new record for the distance was 16:18:41.
A free-for-all "race" was staged but this was a little misleading in that it was not really a race but essentially a group time trial for mixed classes - not at all different from Formula One qualifying today. The event was deemed "spectacular" by the writer of the article but keep in mind this was the assessment of a man whose perspective was within the standards of the day. There were only seven cars participating.
Aitken came off as the class of the field but a couple of other drivers garnered attention. These men were Walter O. Donnelly, who drove a Packard owned by someone referred to as D. Busden (David Besuden?) of Cincinnati, and Howard Marmon making a rare appearance behind the wheel. Despite the article's report that this was Marmon's first time driving in a "race," he had driven earlier in the year in the Glidden Tour.
The second article in attachment IMStrials121809i was published the same day as the one summarized above and focused more on the upcoming events of the day. Track management announced that admission to the grounds would be free - a nod to the fact that virtually no one was coming to the track that was not associated with the teams or manufacturers.
The focus of the article, which is a digest of notes about the time trials, was most squarely on the most powerful cars of Christie and Strang. Interestingly, Christie reportedly said that in his 103 MPH quarter mile record run he shut the engine off and jammed on the brakes just after crossing the distance marker because he feared to enter turn one at such terrific velocity.
In addition to protecting their faces with chamois hoods, many of the drivers did not shave, thinking beards would help guard against the intense cold. Arthur C. Newby, known for fragile health, reportedly did not attend the previous day due to the frigid temperatures. Jane Fisher, Speedway President Carl Fisher's wife watched the events from her electric car. Carl reportedly sat with her much of the time.
Fred I. Willis, president of the Hearsey-Willis Automobile Company stood on a small heater throughout the first day's activities. He reportedly carried it with him to different vantage points. Exactly what this contraption was or what fuel it utilized is unclear, but my guess is coal.
The proceeds of ticket sales for the previous day were to be distributed among the drivers. As stated above the second day was free admission. The spectators that did attend reportedly crowded the track despite the fatal accidents to spectators the previous August. Sergeant Stoddard of the Indianapolis police led a team of officers that kept the lookers-on corraled.
A list of officials for the meet was provided in this article. They were:

  • Governor Thomas R. Marshall, honorary referee
  • Frank H. Martin, Chicago, referee
  • Fred Wagner, starter
  • Ernie Moross, director of Speedway contests, announcer
  • O.G. Temme, Automobile Club of Maryland, paddock manager
  • C.G. Sinsabaugh, Chicago, board of judges
  • Robert K. Kramer, Mudlavia
  • Charles Root, Chicago
  • F.W. Kohl, board of timers, Cleveland
  • Thomas Hay, Chicago
  • Frank Remy, Anderson, board of scorers
  • John S. Cox, Terre Haute, scoring director
  • C.H. Warner, Beloit, timing director
  • C.W. Sedwick, representative of the racing board of the AAA
  • W.H. Wellman, clerk of the course
  • A.M. Ragsdale, ambulance car

Warner and Kohl managed the Warner electric timing system. Kohl was the company's Indianapolis representative. Most of these men clustered in the judges' stand warming themselves around a coal-burning iron stove. Understandably, President Fisher was questioned about why he would want to stage a racing event in December. To this Fisher provided the obvious answer, "In order to have all 1910 yearbooks give the best records that can be made on this track in 1909 so that 1910 will be started with the local track to defeat."
One detail I found strange was that the drivers bathed their faces in the ice cold water in the creek on the inside of the track. Strang even applied snow to his face. How this helped their skin with effects of the frigid temperatures is hard to fathom. Moross was noted for his alacrity and energy in bustling about the grounds to make sure all was in order. He kept his humor, announcing through a megaphone to the cluster of fans in the grandstand, "The ushers will now please pass the ice cream cones..." The fans reportedly laughed at his remark.
The motorcycle racers did take to the bricks although you can imagine how exposed they were to the cold. Thor rider John Sink recorded a one minute, 4.28-second mile. Fellow Thor rider John Merz was even faster at 54.56 seconds. Chicago's Fred Huyck was fastest of all at 52.6 seconds on his Indian. Indianapolis area Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) official G.H. Hamilton supervised this portion of the day's card.
Fiat riding mechanic Anthony Scudellary (I believe this is a misspelling of his name) is noted for his youth at 23. I believe this is Anthony "Tony" Scudellari who was destined to lose his life in practice for the 1912 American Grand Prize on the Milwaukee road course with driver David Bruce-Brown in 1910.
William P. Blair, representative of the National Paving Brick Manufacturers' Association who supervised the construction of the paved track was in attendance. Predictably he pronounced that he was pleased with the results of the previous day.
Also published on Saturday, December 18, 1909, was the article found in attachment IMStrials121809. This is a summary of the eight-time trial events of the day.
Event 1, Class 5, 160 Cubic Inch Engines

  • Empire #10, Newell Motsinger: one-quarter mile (18.73 seconds); one-half mile (38.18 seconds); one kilometer (48.31 seconds) and one mile (one minute, 20.46 seconds).

Event 2, Class 4, 161 to 230 Cubic Inch Engines

  • Fuller #7, Louis Schweitzer, DNS (broken rear axle)
  • Cole #9, Bill Endicott: one-quarter mile (15.69 seconds); one-half mile (31.7 seconds); one kilometer (39.88 seconds) and one mile (one minute, 5.97 seconds).

Event 3, Class 2, 301 to 450 Cubic Inch Engines

  • National, #5, Johnny Aitken: one-quarter mile (11.60 seconds); one-half mile (23.20 seconds); one kilometer (30.20 seconds) and one mile (49.20 seconds).
  • National, #4, Tom Kincaid: one-quarter mile (11.80 seconds); one-half mile (22.60 seconds); one kilometer (30.20 seconds) and one mile (50 seconds).

Event 4, Class 1, 451 to 600 Cubic Inch Engines

  • Packard #12, Walter O. Donnelly (or is it O'Donnell as in this article the name is spelled "O'Donnell" and in the above article it is Donnelly, so who knows?): One-half mile (27.80 seconds) and one mile (58.6 seconds). The times for the other distances were not recorded due to a malfunction of the Warner electric timing device.
  • Donnelly was the only starter from an original four entries.

Event 5, Free-For-All (Strang & Christie)

  • Fiat, Lewis Strang:
  • First Trial: one-quarter mile (9.10 seconds), one-half mile (18.84 seconds) and one mile (40.61 seconds).
  • Second Trial: one-quarter mile (11.60 seconds), one-half mile (21.96 seconds) and one mile (46.18 seconds).
  • Third Trial: one-quarter mile (9.21 seconds), one-half mile (18.86 seconds) and one mile (no time). Full lap, 2.5 miles: one minute, 43.09 seconds.
  • Christie, Walter Christie: one-quarter mile (8.78 seconds); one-half mile (18.13 seconds); one kilometer (23.91 seconds) and one mile (47.06 seconds).

Event 6, (Special Event for Johnny Aitken, National #6): one mile (50.53 seconds); one-quarter mile (9.81 seconds); one-half mile (21.08); one mile in: 45 flat.
Event 7, Free-For-All, five to 20 Miles:

  • National, #5, Johnny Aitken: five miles (4:06.56); 10 miles (8:12.12); 15 miles (12:17.01) and 20 miles (16:18.41).
  • National,#4, Tom Kincaid: five miles (4:04.73); 10 miles (8:10.61); 15 miles (stopped on the track - ran out of gasoline).
  • Marmon, #6, Harry Stillman: five miles (4:17.41); 10 miles (8:33.11); 15 miles (12:47.11) and 20 miles (17:03.76).
  • Marmon, #7, Howard Marmon: five miles (4:25.86); 10 miles (8:50.82); 15 miles (13:21.18) and 20 miles (17:52.87).
  • Packard, #12, Walter O. Donnelly: five miles (4:42.69); 10 miles (9:28.35); 15 miles (13:59.81) and 20 miles (18:43.83).
  • Cole, #9, Harry Endicott: five miles (5:20.61); 10 miles (10.41:35); 15 miles (16:02.44) and 20 miles (20.22.11).
  • Empire, #10, Newell Motsinger: five miles (6:28.14); 10 miles (12:45.22); 15 miles (19:13.26) and 20 miles (25:50.23).

Event 8, Motorcycle One Mile Runs:

  • Fred Huyck, Indian: 52.60.
  • John Sink, Thor: 1:04.28
  • John Merz, Thor: 54:56

Given that the weather was such a huge factor in the time trial event I included the weather report from the front page of the December 18, 1909, Indianapolis Star. Check it out in attachment IMSweather121809. While the forecasts relied on technologies that could be judged primitive by today's standards the most useful information is the report of the temperatures from the previous day. The day's low point was 12 degrees Fahrenheit and that varied little as the high only reached 18. Note the use of the Star's editorial cartoon character, Jim Crow, who is depicted in a race car.
Also published in the Indianapolis Star on the same day as these other articles - December 18, 1909 - was the article in attachment IMSdiamond121809. Although this article has nothing to do with the time trials occurring at the Speedway that day, the subject, Indianapolis Mayor Charles Bookwalter was a supporter of the track and deep history "500" fans should understand he provided much-needed support in launching motorsports in the Hoosier capital. In that vein, I like to highlight other municipal and state leaders of the day. These are mentioned in this piece which concerns the presentation of a diamond pin to Bookwalter in recognition of his leadership and accomplishments. Below is a list of the names and titles mentioned in the article:

  • Dr. John L. Freeland (superintendent of the city hospital)
  • F.J. Mack (member of board of works)
  • Isidor Wulfson
  • George T. Brounig
  • Alfred E. Cook
  • Frederick E. Matson
  • Crate D. Bowen
  • James D. Pierce
  • Joseph T. Elliott
  • Preston C. Trusler
  • Frederick J. Noll, Jr.
  • Blaine H. Miller
  • Charles A. Brown
  • J. Harry Deane
  • Joseph L. Hogue
  • Charles R. Gift
  • Eugene F. Harris
  • Dr. Eugene Buehler
  • Dr. John L. Freeland
  • Leroy E. Snyder
  • Lew W. Cooper
  • Charles W. Tutewiler
  • William Shoppenhorst
  • John B. Wood
  • Robert Metzger
  • Thomas A. Winterrowd
  • Joseph Foppiano

An Indianapolis News article (evening paper) also reported on the first day. Keep in mind they had to publish before the day was finished to meet deadlines for newsstand and circulation, so the article in attachment IMSNews121709 does not report on the all the events of the day.
This article leads with a description of the weather, which, despite bright sun, was unseasonably cold. Keep in mind winter did not begin for three more days with the glory of Christmas five days later still. 
In addition to being sunny, the article describes high winds that swept the track of dust. The sunny day helped people see around the entire course, or so the article says. It also says that only about 500 people turned out for the first day as the icy temperatures were clearly a deterrent. 
It is interesting to note that the article indicates that the brick paving had only been completed two weeks prior during the first days of the special, wondrous month of December. The motive for jamming the time trials into the few weeks left in the year is spelled out: Fisher wanted to launch into 1910 as the president of the speedway that accounted for all American speed records. The Atlanta Speedway race meet in November had erased the marks set in Indianapolis during August. Lewis Strang was the top star in Atlanta and he was headed to Indianapolis with the same big Fiat.
The following excerpt provides the writer's impression of the newly reconditioned track.
"The new $700,000 speedway was today decorated with the flags of all nations and was policed by more than a score of patrolmen. More thorough preparations could not have been made had a crowd of 25,000 been expected. The new brick track was as smooth and clean as a model housewife's floor. Since the August races the seating capacity of the bleachers and amphitheater has been doubled and now, it is stated, there is seating capacity for 25,000. A strong cement retaining wall has been built on the curves for the protection of both drivers and spectators. The speedway plant now appears to be perfect in every detail, and experts say it is the finest in the world, not excepting the famous Brooklands course in England."
The article reports on the first event for cars 160 cubic inches or less. Motsinger was first out in the Empire entry. Although the attached article is of poor quality and difficult to read, his mile time was much longer than a minute, probably in the range of 1:20. I believe he was the only entry for this class.
Next up was Endicott for Cole, in the 161 to 230 class. He, too, was well over a minute in covering a mile. Such times were disappointing to onlookers, track management, and the race teams alike. Apparently, expectations for these cars - both from new companies - had been low. Even factoring that fact into perspective, the mood over the speeds was glum. Some blamed the extreme cold and believed it affected both gas and oil, rendering the liquids more viscous and less "free-flowing."
The next events reported were for Class 2, with cars of 301 to 450 cubic inches. Kincaid is the first driver mentioned, driving his Class 2 National to a 51.1 second time to cover the mile. Teammate Aitken bettered that time with 50.2-seconds. These times were well under the previous record, reported here to be 59.1-seconds.
A man with the last name of Desuden was reported as the driver of a Packard in Class 1, 451 to 600 cubic inches to a mile time of 58.2 seconds in the article. This was a misspelling and an inaccurate report. The man referenced was the car owner and his name was David Besuden. The driver's name was Walter Donnelley. Kincaid was in this class as well and recorded a time of 50 seconds flat. Even more impressive was National's number 1 driver, Johnny Aitken, breaking the 50-second barrier with a time of 49.1 seconds. This was a record-setting performance.

Along with the speed action, there was a rededication ceremony, which consisted of laying the "gold-plated" (that precious metal claim is in dispute) brick at the finish line in front of the judge's stand, near where today's current pagoda is positioned. This was held at 2 o'clock and involved Governor Thomas R. Marshall (future U.S. vice president under Woodrow Wilson) and Secretary Mark Thistlewaite.
Attachment IMSNews121809i contains another Indianapolis News article, this one published December 18 and reviewing the previous day along with setting the stage for the second day. Again, the cold temperatures were one of the themes of the reporting. The weather was described as "the coldest December weather that Indiana has known in many years."
This is followed by colorful prose presented in an excerpt below.
"Daring drivers, their hands benumbed almost beyond the point of feeling, fairly clung to their steering wheels as the grim greyhounds of wood and stell swept over the smooth brick course at a speed greater than that attained by the fastest railroad train. Several records were broken...New records were created in the face of weather that placed the lives of the drivers in jeopardy. The extreme cold also seriously affected the mechanism of the cars, making it impossible for them to show the highest speed of which they are capable. Frozen radiators for the cars and frozen hands for the drivers were common."
The article continues to share that Speedway Management elected to cancel most of the planned time trials of the second day. The impractical circumstances of the weather forced their decision. Fisher and his team focused on only kilometer and mile runs for the free-for-all category with Strang and Christie as well as big stock cars with Aitken.

IMStrials121809.pdf1.07 MB
IMStrials121809i.pdf1.16 MB
IMStrialtimes121809.pdf362.09 KB
IMSweather121809.pdf296.14 KB
IMSdiamond121809.pdf670.19 KB
IMSNews121709.pdf1.63 MB
IMSNews121809i.pdf2.02 MB
IMSsummaryNews121809.pdf1.13 MB