Communities Rally Around IMS

These attachments contain articles from the Indianapolis Star in August and September 1909. They illustrate the outstanding level of support for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway among the city's civic and business leaders. The need for these people to pronounce their backing was triggered by the track's tragic first auto racing event. It seems almost a certainty that Carl Fisher,  the other three founders, and Ernie Moross instigated much of this support.
These races were controversial due to the devastating fatal accidents on the first and third days of the meet. In all, five men were killed:

Predictably the Speedway became a target for critics, not the least of which was Indiana Lieutenant Governor Frank J. Hall. He made news with his August 26 statement that the Governor Thomas Marshall should call a special session of the legislature to pass a law prohibiting motor racing. I know of no response from the Governor.
Also, editorials were mailed to the newspapers. Check out two contained in the attachment, EditorialNews082309, that are excellent examples. Interestingly, the author's name in the first one was not published, he signed as "H." He was ostensibly replying to someone who critiqued an earlier commentary he had written.
"H" stresses that no one should assume he does not like cars. The only reason he did not own one, he says, is because he simply could not afford it. He also asserts that he is not a "graybeard," as apparently, just as we see today, older generations are seen as incapable of embracing new technology. He makes the point that he respects sports such as baseball, football, horse racing and even boxing, but does not regard motor racing as a sport. He compares its brutality to bull fighting. Obviously, he never met Ernest Hemingway.
In making his commentary, "H" contrives an analogy to a hypothetical sport promoting life belts to assist men swimming the Atlantic Ocean. Some would drown in the process, but the winner would be heralded by the manufacturer of his belt. In this way, he insists that motor racing existed for the sole purpose of helping manufacturers sell a product. In closing, "H" remarks he was encouraged by the announced withdrawals of Knox and National from auto racing because their drivers and riding mechanics were involved in fatal accidents. 
The second editorial presented the perspective of the trade paper, "The Automobilist." Officials had announced intentions to stop organizing long distance races, although exactly what that meant is unclear. Evidence of the inability of the human body to endure the physical challenges of lengthy contests were sundry injuries, such as hand blisters, bloodshot eyes, "shattered nerves." The editors of the publication took a more familiar stance, suggesting that lessons learned should be applied to make the sport as safe as possible.
Attachment IMSeditorialNews090109 contains an editorial submitted to the Indianapolis News by local resident R.L. Sullivan of 1643 North Capitol Avenue. Sullivan goes off on a previous editorial from another reader, Mrs. Leone Taylor. Taylor apparently suggested that full fights were more humane than auto races. Sullivan protests that the spectators killed or injured at the Speedway brought it on themselves because they ignored police direction and the warning signs posted in the area. Sullivan then continues to say that bullfights are a barbarous, sickening spectacle. So there.
Voices of support were great in number. In addition to the Indianapolis area leaders, members of the motor racing community spoke up in the Speedway's favor. Notably, these included the management of the rival two-mile speedway in Atlanta and the trade newspaper Automobile Topics. In a strange twist promoters of the coastal Texas city of Galveston advocated for the track as well.
Attachment IMSpraise082909 contains a brief article quoting Edward M. Durant, secretary of the American Automobile Association (AAA) and Asa Candler (who founded Coca-Cola) who had developed the new Atlanta Motor Speedway. Both men must have cringed at the carnage at Indianapolis as the new Atlanta track had not yet opened and the ability to recover investments in the southern facility hung in the balance. Durant was quoted in the article:
"The enterprise is a gigantic one and the promoters deserve the greatest praise for their work in building such a complete plant...On every hand is to be seen things that show how carefully the men at the head of the affair planned to care for the public...The report of the deaths and accidents sent out have done the track an injury that should not be. At least two persons were killed during the meeting that were not at the track..."
Durant's argument has obvious flaws. His reference to deaths not at the track almost certainly includes Stoddard-Dayton mechanic Cliff Literall who was struck by a car outside the Fisher Automobile Company.
The most substantive article of this bunch is in attachment testimonials082909. This clearly looks like an orchestrated piece as some 16 Indianapolis civic and business leaders are quoted as supporting the Speedway despite the gruesome accidents. What follows is a summary of some of them, especially those that have some name recognition even today and were among the most influential of their time.
At the head of the list was two-time Indianapolis Mayor Charles Bookwalter.  The Republican made his comments over the magic of long distance telecommunications lines from his summer home at Lake Maxinkuckee in northern Indiana.
Bookwalter predictably expressed sorrow over the loss of life but pointed to the "inestimable value" to Indianapolis. He said the city's citizens owed a debt of gratitude to the Speedway founders. Recognizing their entrepreneurial spirit he said, "I wish there were a hundred Fishers, a hundred Wheelers, a hundred Allisons and a hundred Newbys!"
Bookwalter also stressed how the Speedway provided local automobile manufacturers with a testing facility to wring the flaws out of their products before they were delivered to the customers. Even more directly he stated the case for the Speedway as a force to bring an economic infusion to the city from outside its borders. To this Bookwalter is quoted saying:
"I watched Indianapolis very closely during the race meet, and eliminating the unfortunate accidents and looking at the question from a dollar and cents view, the speed contests brought more money into the city than does the State Fair because it has been my observation that the man with an automobile is of all men, most generous, when it comes to spending money."
Albert "A.N." Collins, general manager of the giant, homegrown department store L.S. Ayres agreed that the Speedway generated an economic influx to the community and his store. He posited an argument that would almost certainly be offensive by today's standards - he blamed the drivers and the spectators who died for taking unnecessary risks. Here is part of the quote you can see in full in the attached article:
"The accidents were deplorable - everyone feels this to be true. However, I wish to state that in my opinion, they were the result of rank carelessness on the part of the men in the ill-fated Knox in the one case and on the part of the spectators, who were where they had no business to be, in the other case. On two occasions I saw Bourque, the Knox driver, take his hand from his wheel to wave at someone in the grandstand without the slightest slackening of his terrific speed. Several times I saw him turn his head to look back. I saw another driver take both of his hands from his steering wheel. It is this kind of daredeviltry that courts death. It is obvious that had the spectators been in the seats provided for them they would now be alive."
A.Q. Jones, president of the Indianapolis Board of Trade, stressed the worldwide promotion of Indianapolis. To this point, he said, "Any enterprise that gives to Indianapolis desirable publicity is good for us - accidents are not peculiar to the Indianapolis Speedway, but we want to minimize them and make the track a safe place from all standpoints."
W.L. Taylor, former Indiana attorney general, saw the Speedway as an essential ingredient to the city's prosperity. He felt the track compensated for geographic limitations of central Indiana and provided the Hoosier capital with an edge on other locations especially auto rival Detroit.
"We have no lakes and no rivers, but we have our railroads and our Speedway, and with them, we can defy even Detroit to take away the prestige of the greatest automobile center of the world from us. It is impossible to estimate the value this wonderful track has been and will be for us. The men that are behind it represent all that is progressive and able in business and citizenship. Encourage them and tell them we appreciate their work."
The most bizarre and least media savvy comment came from Dr. A.O. Caldwell, assistant surgeon of the Big Four Railroad line. He stressed the Speedway's role in promoting the city and discounted the danger by saying it was part of the game. The strange part is that he compared it to his employer's business which cast rail travel in an unappealing light by saying, "Regarding the accidents, we all regret to see them occur, but trains are liable to go into a ditch whether going at the rate of thirty miles or at six. I don't let the accidents argue against the track or the management. I believe the danger element will be eliminated and that they did all in their power to prevent the accidents that did occur."
The comments of two men of lesser historical consequence - M.A. Woollen and George M. Cobb - are worth noting because of their profession as top executives at insurance companies. Perhaps stating the obvious but the nature of those businesses is all about assessing risk and the willingness to protect against it. How much their public comments reflected any negotiations around protection policies they could sell to the Speedway we will never know but can guess their stance in that context would be less generous. Case in point check out a quote from Woollen, president of American Central Life and ex-president of the Indianapolis board of trade:
"...I was within ten feet of the Saturday accident and the horror of it all is still with me. I do not think any blame can be attached to the management because I know that I was warned away from the very spot and I saw the guards and the policemen tell other spectators constantly of the danger and saw them drive people back only to have them flock back to the fence and wire. I do not doubt but that the element of danger will be done away with. The men at the head of the organization could not afford to have another such accident as that of Saturday."
R.G. McClure, Commercial Club secretary took a progressive view, saying, "To have all these thousands of Associated Press dispatches going out and repeating 'Indianapolis' means everything to us. No better advertisement could be had. The Speedway has come to stay - it is a permanent affair. Automobile concerns will make racing cars and will race them and people will pay to see them raced."
Given Lieutenant Governor Hall's comments, any word from the Governor's office was particularly important. While Governor Thomas Marshall did not file a comment his secretary Mark Thistiethwaite released a statement, saying:
"A city could have no better advertisement than the new Speedway. We have been advertised from ocean to ocean. The fatalities are to be deplored, but I do not think that this will mean unfavorable advertising for us because it is not a fault peculiar to Indianapolis or to Indianapolis' Speedway. Wherever there are races there are accidents...The spectators who were injured were where they had no business to be and the management took every precaution in its power to warn them of the danger of too close range..."
Pharmacy magnate Henry Huder added, "The races brought a good crowd of people here - the kind of people we need, the kind of people we want. We felt the effect in our business, because they are a generous, liberal lot..."
The Indianapolis automobile industry was united in their support for the Speedway. Among the leaders was Howard Marmon of Nordyke & Marmon who saw tremendous potential. To that point he said:
"The Speedway has made Indianapolis the center of the automobile world and I believe it stands good chances for making it the aeronautical center of the United States also. There are few towns that can boast of the kind of men at the head of the Speedway Company. They deserve all the credit possible to give them for the nerve and ability that has given us this Speedway. One point that presents itself to me is the improvement it will make in all Indianapolis made cars because it affords every manufacturer the opportunity of making his car to the letter perfect before he allows it to leave his factory. It was this point that first appealed to me when the plans for the Speedway were being discussed. I firmly believe that it will tend toward a betterment of the Indianapolis product until Indianapolis cars will be recognized as the best on earth."
The Premier Motor Manufacturing Company's Roy Jarrett - identified as a manager - who compared Indianapolis to Rheims, France where the nascent aviation had turned its eyes after the world's first air show had taken place. America's Glenn Curtiss emerged as the superstar of the show in winning the J. Gordon Bennett Cup and there was a global buzz. Check out part of his comments:
"Today the eyes of the world are turned on Rheims, where inventors of every kind of aerial machines are demonstrating the possibilities of their particular device. There may be accidents, but every accident will improve the machine, the same with the Motor Speedway. The accidents which have happened there, while, in my opinion, not the fault of the Speedway in any particular, will correct the rules governing the races and grounds."
W.H. Brown, vice president of the Overland Automobile Company, was cognizant of the Speedway as an asset to the Indianapolis-based automobile industry in its competitive battle with Detroit. At this point, Indianapolis was clearly number two but everyone there had ambitions for supplanting Detroit as America's automobile capital. Brown said:
"Although I am not quite ready to assert that the claim to the automobile center of the country can be justly snatched just now from Detroit, where land for automobile manufacturing purposes is selling at $15,000 an acre, still, there is nothing short of the Speedway that will justify the 'snatching.' If anything can do it the Speedway can, and I hope to see Indianapolis the largest automobile center in the world as a result of the advertising and attracting force of the Speedway. You may quote us always as decidedly for Carl Fisher and his Speedway."
The hotel industry was naturally delighted with the Speedway and proved to be great advocates. The iconic Claypool Hotel's Henry Lawrence was effusive with praise for the Speedway's economic impact.
Lawrence said, "I wonder if the people of Indianapolis have any conception of the enormous amount of money that was brought to Indianapolis and left by the crowds. It isn't like a circus that carries all of the money away - the money spent during these meets stays here and is again spent in circulations right in our own community. We had people from all over the United States and from foreign countries registered here. Some of these had nothing more than a geographical knowledge of Indianapolis previous to the press work of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."
The legendary Denison Hotel's W.A. Holt said, "There has never been the business to equal it from any crowd heretofore entertained in Indianapolis. I do not even except the big gold bug convention. The hotel men of the city are of one opinion - it was the most liberal, best-natured, good-hearted crowd of people ever brought together here. We did more business than at any one other time in our history. These Speedway races bring more money into this town that remains here than anything else we have ever had - why one factory alone spent $80,000."
Jay B. Wilbraham, manager of the Hotel English said, "All the hotel men are delighted with the results of the Speedway meet from a commercial standpoint. We have never had as good a crowd here before. More money was spent, and spent generously, less fault found and more praise given than ever given by any other crowd."
Attachment IMSideal090509 contains an article reporting on the editorial stance of the trade publication Automobile Topics concerning the Speedway and their culpability in the fatal accidents. The endorsement of the track management is contradictory at different points in the copy.
For example, part of their explanation for the cause of the accidents was "...impenetrable dust on the first turn, and flying tar, which blinded the drivers..."
This explanation hardly absolves track management but insinuates that these conditions were beyond their control. At the same time another quote flatly states exactly that, "Track racing, we all know, is a dangerous business but the promoters did everything to minimize all risks."
Later in the article, they offer praise for the track by saying, "The Speedway is ideal for speed and the promoters, especially Carl Fisher, deserve great credit for what they have accomplished in a short space of time..."
The article draws two conclusions about safeguarding against future accidents. One is that races should be shorter. The other is that drivers need to undergo medical exams to demonstrate physical fitness to withstand the strain of high-speed racing in heavy cars.
Another interesting point is an observation the paper makes that still rings true for most people visiting the track today. Upon pulling within sight of the Speedway it is awesome to see the giant grandstands towering over the track. The sense of the whole facility being massive is almost overwhelming now, and apparently from the following quote it was in 1909, "The first impression received when approaching the Speedway is imposing - grandstands, judges', timers' and press stands."
Attachment IMSdeaths090509 contains an odd article that discusses the travels of Merle N. A. Walker, an Indiana judge, to Galveston, Texas. There he found Texans with surprising opinions about the Speedway accidents. These posited that the fatalities were actually good for the track because it attracted worldwide attention. After noting in conversation with one such man that the accidents were "terrible," he got the following response quoted in the article:
"Terrible! Great heavens, those accidents have done more to advertise Indianapolis and that Speedway than anything else could have done. Why without those deaths the races up there would have got two lines in the newspapers of others cities. As it was, the papers all over the country carried lots about the races. People saw Indianapolis mentioned and immediately went to the map to see where Indianapolis was."
Galveston residents were well acquainted with disaster as just nine years earlier one of the most powerful hurricanes in history clobbered the coastal town. Ironically the mega storm almost washed the city from the map while simultaneously putting it on it. Everyone knew where Galveston was.
While the judge was visiting a huge tidal wave unexpectedly tested the thick sea wall that had been erected since the hurricane nearly destroyed the town in 1900. The wall withstood the blow and in turn boosted the confidence of civic leaders who claimed property values soared over 20 percent.
This article about Galveston is a convoluted reach to relevance to the Indianapolis-based debate about the merits of the Speedway. Nonetheless, in this context of historical assessment, it demonstrates the support track management had as the newspapers represented their cause instead of attacking them for being irresponsible.

EditorialNews082309.pdf5 MB
IMSeditorialNews090109.pdf583.5 KB
IMSpraise082909.pdf475.27 KB
testimonials082909.pdf2.71 MB
IMSideal090509.pdf428.64 KB
IMSdeaths090509.pdf766.71 KB