Indiana State Fairgrounds Race Meet - 1905

Now is your chance to read about the November 5, 1905, race meet that was a precursor to the 24-hour record-setting event where the concept of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was first discussed among the track's founders. You will find that information in attachment JapwinsFisherraces, a PDF of an article that originally appeared in the November 6, 1905, Indianapolis Star. The main point here is that the performance of the National Motor Vehicle Company cars was impressive enough that the Speedway's eventual founders got the idea to go for a 24-hour record. That set the stage for a night-long discussion of the future of auto racing and the automobile.
The article begins by reporting that a "fair" size crowd attended the races and while no numbers are shared there is an insinuation that the gathering may have been larger if the event had been held earlier in the year during more moderate weather. For November, though, the day is described as for the most part sunny and pleasant but for a few cloudy stretches that chilled everyone.
The organizing group was the Indianapolis Automobile Racing Association and there is no mention of any affiliation with American Automobile Association (AAA). The men behind the event were the founders of the yet-to-be-constructed Speedway, led by Carl Fisher. The card was typical of the times with a feature race supported by several events of lesser importance. The feature, however, at 100 miles, was longer than most automobile competitions.
The feature was for stripped stock cars and the class of the field was the National Motor Vehicle Company entries for star driver "Jap" Clemens and 17-year-old marvel Charlie Merz. The team's leader was Arthur C. Newby, a top officer at National and another of the future Speedway founders. The two cars dominated from start to finish, their only competition being each other. Merz had the misfortune to suffer tire failure and crash through the wooden railing during the 95th mile. Not only was Merz unhurt but also the car was repaired and competed in other sprint events later in the day.
Clemens' winning time was a new record for the distance during wheel-to-wheel competition. He covered the 100 miles in 1 hour, 53 minutes and 21.8 seconds. His winning margin over second place Ray McNamara in a Premier was a full half hour. The race was the first event of the day, starting at noon and ending at about 3 o'clock. Only two of five starters survived to the end. In addition to the two Nationals and the Premier, there was a Marion driven by Fred Tone and a Maxwell with no driver named. All these brands were manufactured in Indianapolis.
Merz enjoyed a measure of revenge in a five-mile sprint where he narrowly nipped Clemens. He also won a strange race with fully equipped touring cars. This was a three-miler where the driver was required to stop at the quarter-mile poles of the mile-long horse track to let a passenger step out of the vehicle. Noteworthy here is that a third Speedway founder and Fisher's partner at Prest-O-Lite, James Allison, drove a car. He led the three-mile contest briefly in a Pope-Toledo before encountering some kind of difficulty.
The final contest of the day rivals the 100-mile feature in terms of historical significance. This was a five-mile handicap for cars selected by the event judges to compete against the infamous Premier Vanderbilt Cup racer of Carl Fisher. The story of this car - on permanent display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum - has achieved folklore proportions. Incorrectly labeled at the museum as having only raced once (in this event) it was originally developed for the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup race. Its entry was refused there because the car was overweight, the primary technical requirement of the time. Attempts to drill holes in the car's frame and other parts failed to bring the behemoth to within acceptable parameters. Fisher was outraged, filed a protest and even advertised his complaint in publications. It was to no avail.
The Indiana State Fairgrounds event was only weeks after the Vanderbilt Cup. Fisher started the car in his race from scratch, spotting head starts of 55 seconds to the two Nationals and one minute, 15 seconds to McNamara's Premier. Fisher picked them off one-by-one to emerge triumphant in probably the only time he drove the car in competition. Alonzo Webb also drove the car in races and that information can be found elsewhere on First Super Speedway. In addition to the error about the car only having competed once the placard at the museum is also wrong in stating that the car was prepared for the 1903 Vanderbilt Cup. There was no Vanderbilt Cup in 1903. Again, Fisher had it designed and constructed for the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup.
The article provides a statistical breakdown of the day's races:

  • 100-mile stripped stock car race, first - Jap Clemens, National, 1:53.21.8; second - Ray McNamara, Premier, 2:35.31
  • Five-mile handicap, first - Ray McNamara, Premier, a handicap of 1:10, time: 3:03.8; second - Fred Tone, Marion, a handicap of 20 seconds, time: 3:25.6; third - Jap Clemens, National, scratch.
  • Five-mile owners' race (cars fully equipped) - first - Charles Merz, National; second - James Allison, Pope-Toledo. Race time: 6:31.
  • Three-mile touring car race (full equipped and carrying three passengers to dismount at each quarter-mile pole), first - Charlie Merz, National; second - Dan Teetor, Marion; third - Harry Hammond, Premier; fourth - James Allison, Pope-Toledo. Race time:8:44.2.
  • Five-mile stripped middleweight stock car race, first - Ray McNamara, Premier; second - Fred Tone, Marion. Race time: 6:47.00 (Only two entries).
  • Five-mile open, first - Charlie Merz, National; second - Jap Clemens, National, third - Ray McNamara, Premier. Race time: 5:49.40.
  • Special five-mile handicap, first - Carl Fisher, Vanderbilt Cup Premier (scratch start) race time: 5:24.60. Second - Charlie Merz, National (handicap: 55 seconds); Ray McNamara, Premier (handicap: 1:18); fourth - Jap Clemens, National (handicap: 55 seconds).
  • Exhibition five miles - Carl Fisher, Vanderbilt Cup Premier, 5:05.60. Best lap (mile) time: 1:00.60.

Attachment 100MilerNews110405 contains a PDF of an article published in the Indianapolis News evening paper the day of the race meet. Since the paper had to go to bed about noon it could not provide a lot of information about race results. The most important information is that it lists several drivers and cars that are not mentioned in the Sunday Indianapolis Star the following day - the first article discussed here. It makes me wonder about the accuracy of the Indianapolis News item as perhaps several of the drivers and cars mentioned elected not to compete for some reason. Nonetheless, I will note them below because they obviously had some level of interest in the competition. The other point this article documents is that the weather had thwarted this event for weeks. It was originally scheduled for October 21 but apparently, rains had been heavy enough to force postponements.
The drivers - with their cars - listed in this article are:

Check out the ad (attachment FisherNationalad2) Carl Fisher placed in the November 6, 1906, Indianapolis Star promoting the success of National Motor Vehicle Company cars in winning the 100-mile race that was the feature event of the day.

JapwinsFisherraces.pdf6.53 MB
100MilerNews110405.pdf230.02 KB
FisherNationalad2.pdf1.85 MB