Ford Quits Track Racing

One of the great controversies of motorsport during the first decade of the 20th Century was the safety of what the motorsport community called "track racing" or oval horse tracks also used for auto races. The dirt tracks were excessively dusty many times forcing trailing drivers to steer blind. The movement gained a lot of steam in August 1905 when three of the top drivers in the sport (Barney Oldfield, Earl Kiser and Webb Jay) narrowly escaped big accidents with their lives. Oldfield had already endured big wrecks that destroyed his cars and killed spectators - at Grosse Pointe in 1903 and at the Louisiana Purchase Trophy in St. Louis.
 
To simply say that there was a movement against track racing due to safety is simplistic. During this time period reliability runs such as the Glidden Tour were automotive industry favorites because they focused on the chief concern of customers: durability. Many felt runing "freak racers" at the brink of control proved nothing and was a threat to human life. Also there was a sub-plot to this decade's story: an almost unspoken class warfare between the Northeastern elite with a Euro-centric focus on road racing and the "Westerners" in places like Detroit and Indianapolis. The AAA officers of the time were dominated by Northeasterners and while they may have viewed track racing as somewhat vulgar they also did not want to create an opening for a rival sanctioning body to rise up to organize them. The fact of the matter was that road racing proved to be anything but safe and one need look no further than the deaths that occured during the Vanderbilt Cup races of Long Island in 1904, 1906 and 1910.
 
This article (Indianapolis Star, October 19, 1907) is not about the points raised in the previous paragraph as I mention those perspectives for background. This is simply more evidence that track racing was viewed as excessively dangerous even by such hardened industry leaders as Henry Ford who in this article announced his intentions to withdraw from the sport. The trigger to Ford's decision was injuries suffered by his driver Frank Kulick at the Detroit Fairgrounds track. The article provides interesting detail about the impact of the accident, such as hitting and shearing off two metal posts, as well as the damage to the car and how well its structural integrity held up through the carnage. Kulick would recover from his injuries but later reports indicate he walked with a limp the rest of his life. Ford did decide to return to racing - at Kulick's urging - two years later.
 
The reality of the situation is that horse tracks without modifications primarily to retaining walls were not safe. Then again in these primitive days of the sport safety technology was nonexistant.  Some of those tracks, such as the mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, were, eventually, over the ensuing decades, modified to provide viable auto racing venues.

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