Indiana Fairgrounds Meet - 1908

These articles from the Indianapolis Star pertain to the auto race meet on Saturday and Friday September 19-20 1908 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt horsetrack oval. The meet was a star-studded affair with the likes of Barney Oldfield, J. Walter Christie, Johnny Aitken, Herb Lytle, Charles Soules and Charlie Merz - who at the time was an emerging hero of barely 20 years old - all competing. The article in attachment RaceMeet091608 announces the details of the event, the feature getting the most buzz was a stock car match race between the entries of two dealerships: Fisher Automobile Company and another owned by a gentleman by the name of Paul Smith. Carl Fisher, the owner of the Fisher Company, and Smith announced a side bet of $1,000. A reference is made to a dismantled Premier Motor Manufacturing Company "Giant Killer" that A.C. Webb had driven previously. My guess is this is a reference to the car that Carl Fisher had prepared for the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup and currently resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.
The article in attachment Oldfield-Christie091808i contains two images, one I believe is a promotional shot from when Barney Oldfield appeared in the Broadway play, the "Vanderbilt Cup," and the other is a shot of Christie at the wheel of his front-wheel drive creation bearing his name. The article pumps up the excitement of the upcoming race weekend and notes that the three big race cars for Oldfield, Soules and Christie were housed temporarily at the Fisher Automoible Company. Important match races that are explained below are also discussed. Note that the entire event was another product of the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association (IATA) that already produced the May and October sealed bonnet runs. Especially interesting is that Ernie Moross, long-time Oldfield manager and the man who would become the first director of contests at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the chief project manager for the race weekend.
The September 18 Indianapolis Star article in attachment Oldfield-Christie091808 is a good overview of the schedule of events and the preparations. Points I found interesting, in no particular order:

  • 10 policemen were hired to guard the course
  • Ernie Moross would act as starter
  • Most spectators would arrive by trolley, others by automobile and horse-drawn buggy
  • A water wagon was used to dampen the course to tamp down dust

The article in attachment Christie091908 summarizes the events of Friday, the first day of the meet. Christie and Oldfield were the focus of the day along with Charles Soules and this "Red Devil" Stearns race car. Christie set a new state record for the closed circuit mile at just over 53 seconds. In heat races that were planned to culminate the next day with a $2,000 cash prize to the winner Soules defeated Christie, the Oldfield defeated Soules and Christie then prevailed over Oldfield. All of this smacks of theatrics in the days of banstorming but the article never suggests anything but that all the events were on the up-and-up. This article also notes that a small Buick "runabout" won a couple of contests and that there were motorcycle races as well.
A  five-lap "novelty" race was cancelled by local police due to danger deemed unnecessary. The race featured touring cars that stopped every other lap to off-load or take on passengers. The problem was that the drivers, with their competitive spirit to win, were only coming to "rolling" stops, endangering those who volunteers to participate as passengers. One person sprained an ankle and the police pulled the plug. Complete results for the day's races are provided in a summary chart. An image of Soules appears in attachment Soules091908, published on the same day.
In attachment RaceMeet092008 a lengthy article reports on the Saturday events. Oldfield and Christie, aside from Lytle, the best known of the drivers garnered the most attention for their exploits. Christie, in his famous "freak" front wheel driver racer, set a new state record for a closed circuit mile at just over 52 seconds - breaking his record of the previous day. This topped Oldfield's best of 55 seconds in a Stearns. Soules, also in a Stearns, was competitive but third fastest. The trio competed again in a match race with Oldfield winning both heats. In 1908 Oldfield and Christie had teamed up for a number of barnstorming events around the country.
The match race between Fisher's stock entry, a Stoddard-Dayton with Charlie Merz driving and Smith's Haynes automobile with Loring Wagner at the wheel, ended with Merz prevailing in two straight heats. Fisher walked away $1,000 richer and the newspaper heaped praise on young Merz almost as if he was a new discovery despite his success in setting a 24-hour speed record at the same track at only 17 years old in 1905. Merz also shined in a handicap race where different cars are given a head start based on the assessment of the judges. Merz, again in Fisher's Stoddard-Dayton held off a fast-charging Soules in his Stearns and Herb Lytle in the American Motor Company car - an Indianapolis-based manufacturer. Lytle had been in the racing game since even before Oldfield and had competed in the Vanderbilt Cup and the James Gordon Bennett Cup, so his extensive experience made Merz' accomplishment all the more impressive.
There were motorcycle races as well and in particular I want to flag a victory by Officer Gibney who would later become the first person to be injured racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he took a spill while practicing for the ill-fated motorcycle races that opened the track to motorized competition in 1909. A complete (and very useful reference) list of results is provided at the conclusion of this article.
Attachment FisherRaceAd092008 contains a Fisher Automobile Company ad published September 20, 1908 promoting the success of the Stoddard-Dayton during the race meet. Note that the information in the ad seems to contradict the information in the news reports concerning the amount of money that was placed on the outcome of the match race except that if both sides put down $1,000 the total would be $2,000. Another, more detailed ad (attachment FisherWinsAd092708) not only brags about the Indiana Fairgrounds meet but others across the country as well. The ad is actually a good reference for additional research.
A confusing article appeared a few days later concerning an American Automobile Association (AAA) suspension of Christie and Oldfield for running in unsanctioned races. It involved the Indiana State Fairgrounds but apparently was generated by an earlier race that is not named. The AAA final deicison was that the other race was outside their jurisdiction. None of it makes sense given that the AAA claimed the entire country as their jurisdiction. The article is very brief and appears in attachment OldfieldChristie100408. The article names the Automobile Club of America (ACA) in the headline but only mentions AAA in the body of the article - making me think the headline writer did not know the difference.

RaceMeet091608.pdf354.68 KB
Oldfield-Christie091808.pdf922.47 KB
Oldfield-Christie091808i.pdf556.54 KB
Christie091908.pdf859.98 KB
Soules091908.pdf277.37 KB
RaceMeet092008.pdf2.48 MB
FisherRaceAd092008.pdf308.73 KB
FisherWinsAd092708.pdf428.57 KB
OldfieldChristie100408.pdf184.06 KB