Harry Grant @ Cyclonic Clip

Originally published in the Sunday, March 20, 1910 Indianapolis Star, this article about racing super star driver Harry Grant was part of  a special supplemental section about the upcoming March 28 Indianapolis Automobile Show presented by the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association (IATA). Key features of the event were the Floral Parade, contests at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and concluding banquet at the Denison Hotel.
This article was just one of many about the auto industry and motorsports in general in the special section of the newspaper. While it profiles Grant the trigger is his victory in America's biggest race at the time, the Vanderbilt Cup, in October 1909. Several quotes attributed to Grant are provided which is always enjoyable as his voice echoes across several decades to worldwide availability through First Super Speedway. Check out the following example.
"Riding in a racing car at a ninety-mile-an-hour rate is the greatest sensation the automobile has to afford. The supreme moment of that sensation comes when you are passing an opponent. All other exciting times in motoring pale before this test of nerve and hand, and when it is all over you marvel how in the world you were ever able to go through the experience so easily."
While the article focuses on his success at the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup it also mentions his disappointment at the Lowell road race in the same year when tire failure dashed his hopes while leading. Grant is credited with calmly bringing his ALCO "Black Beast" racer to a stop without further incident.
That calm, collected demeanor at a hair-raising moment gained Grant the reputation as a "thinker" at the wheel as opposed to the daredevil hanging it all out. Referred to as "a graduate football player" an Ivy League connection is intimated although not clearly stated when he is also described as "a Cambridge born and bred man." All of this folds nicely into the image that is further painted as he is described as a "quiet sort of chap who talks without braggadocio or picturesque language."
Much of the article focuses on Grant's views on race preparation. He was an advocate of getting plenty of sleep, learning the course and tuning the car. Specific to the car his attention to the smooth running of the engine and adjustments to steering gear for precision handling is noted.
Grant's thoroughness is evidenced by his efforts to learn a course. Keep in mind much of the time - as in the case of the Vanderbilt Cup - we are talking about road courses exceeding 20 miles. He not only advocated practice at racing speed but also slow tours to allow careful assessment of the details of the racing surface. He reportedly spent two weeks in daily inspections of the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup course. His early mornings - presumably shortly after daybreak - were spent circulating the course a half dozen times or more. This involved hundred of miles of practice, gaining a feel for the car at top speed over the rough public roads as well as calculating the right approach and exit of each corner and curve. The miles he put in also told him much about the crucial variable of tire wear - especially over the hard concrete surface of the Long Island Motor Parkway. This was the prescription of a winner, a champion.
The article summarizes the closing stages of the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup - a race noted for its attrition. Chalmers-Detroit driver Billy Knipper looked like a sure winner as he extended his lap lead on Grant and his Black Beast. Grant summoned up all his practice experience and pushed his ALCO harder than ever before. Another Grant quote best describes his perspective.
"When I came around again they were hanging out a big 22 (meaning the last lap). I saw that and I made up my mind that the ALCO would have to catch Knipper again or burst. I was now under 10-30 for the lap. I said to myself that I must get down to 10 (minutes) and even lower. I made the corners with a little more speed. I had now got used to all their little troubles. But even then I exercised care, for once you forget you run the needless risk of having something go wrong and then you can't win anyway. Yet I had to catch the other fellow. I went around the course faster than I had gone at any other time in the race. It was my very best lap and I know from the pace that nothing else on the road could hold its own. But Knipper wasn't anywhere to be seen. When I came down the stretch again they were out in front of the grandstand waving the flag and leaping up and down. That was kind of funny, unless, of course, Knipper had dropped out. But it meant the end of the race. I knew that, and that was about all I did know, except that somehow I had won. A long way past the stand the mechanician turned to me and we shook hands."
The article is far from comprehensive as a biography. What it does do is provide insights to Grant's nature as a human being and his first Vanderbilt Cup victory. He was destined to repeat that success later the same year in October 1910, the last of the Long Island races for the original Vanderbilt Cup. The car described here is the driver's most famous racer which he also drove to victory at the Brickyard during two sprint races in July 1910 as well as to 33rd place (out of 40 entries) in the first Indianapolis 500. Sadly, Grant was destined to perish in 1915 as a result of burns suffered in a firey accident during practice for the inaugural Astor Cup at the Sheepshead Bay board track. If you clicked through the links above you already know the Black Beast survives today in the caring hands of Howard Kroplick, an accomplished business leader who among many other distinctions is the world's leading expert on the Vanderbilt Cup races.

HarryGrant032010.pdf2.57 MB