Fisher Testifies Under Oath

The first attachment here is an interesting package of short items from the August 25, 1909, Indianapolis News. All were developments in the aftermath of the deadly events at the first auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway August 19 - 21. Among the topics: Carl Fisher testifying with the state coroner's office about the dangers of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; plans to run a 24-hour race with the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy as its prize in October; plans for Ray Harroun to drive for Buick; Stoddard-Dayton withdrawing from racing, and motorcycle rider Jake DeRosier leaving the hospital for home.
Fisher's testimony is far and away the most interesting topic. Featured here is Indianapolis Coroner Blackwell, apparently a genuine force in Indianapolis during the era. Fisher was interviewed by Blackwell and later signed the documented record to waive any restriction on making it public.
Fisher attributes blame for the Bourque accident (it's curious there is no discussion of the more deadly Merz accident two days later) to mechanical failure. Specifically, two "axle bed plates" were broken, one shattered. He added that one of the plates was "crystallized," which leaves me to speculate that he was insinuating metal fatigue or corrosion.
Blackwell asked Fisher about track conditions and the track founder said it was in good shape when the races started. However, he admitted to a bad spot on the track where the running surface crossed a ditch. I am not sure what is meant by "crossed" as I do not believe this meant to intersect. I believe the admission was that there was a ditch alongside where track ran. This was mentioned in other articles - that there was a ditch just off the course at the spot Bourque had his spill.
The following excerpt leads me to believe that the reporter interpreted Fisher's responses to the coroner's inquiry as an amazing confession of guilt. In reality, I think Fisher was being coy, or maybe just truthful. 
Blackwell: "You were expecting an accident of some kind, were you not?"
Fisher: "Yes, sir."
Blackwell: "And for that reason, you had the hospital built there?"
Fisher: "Yes, sir."
The reporter - and I am reading between the lines, so it is admittedly speculative - seems to be interpreting Fisher's comments as an admission of guilt, not a matter-of-fact precaution. In today's world, no one gives a second thought to track hospitals - it's the responsible, table stakes precaution. In 1909, it was evidence that promoters knew they were putting lives at risk.
When asked how much longer it would take to make the track perfect, Fisher answered that it would never be perfect. Here, he is saying that nothing is perfect and that he and his staff had to be dedicated to continuous improvement. That's his implied meaning, but again, it comes across as the words of an irresponsible man.
Blackwell asserted that the recent motorcycle meet a week before the auto races were problematic because of treacherous track conditions. Fisher countered that the problem was that the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) did not know what they were doing.
George D. Mull, a lawyer, testified that he saw the Bourque and Holcomb accident. He commented that Bourque ignored warnings of danger at the "ditch" spot on the course. Harry D. Weller, a track official, testified that in the Merz accident he saw the car go over an embankment. He ran there to help those injured and directed soldiers to hold the swelling crowd back. He also said there were signs along the fence warning people that it was a restricted and dangerous area.
The second article of substance announces plans for a new, 24-hour contest and, in a doubleheader, a 350-mile race for the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy. This actually was a change to a previous announcement of the 24-hour race taking place in September. The announcement - by Speedway Contest Director Ernie Moross - pushed the 24-hour race back to October and revealed more extensive plans to improve the facility.
An estimated $150,000 had been earmarked for improvements. This included new barriers and sand traps to protect spectators from errant cars. The article also stresses that drivers would undergo medical examinations at the end of 100-mile stints to ensure they were still in condition to forge ahead. If not, a relief driver would be on hand to spot them. The cars would be checked for mechanical flaws due to stress as well.
The next article is important in that it documents Stoddard-Dayton's withdrawal from auto racing. Despite the elimination of their participation in the sport, they announced that drivers Bert Miller, "Jap" Clemens, and Tobin De Hymel would remain employed with the firm. I believe the company continued to participate in endurance tours and the men could still act as test drivers, a viable occupation in the early days of manufacturing when road tests were the primary way to test new design techniques or product features.
Here's a statement attributed to Vice President John Stoddard:
"We have decided to abandon automobile racing entirely for the present, or until such time as the conditions generally governing the contests are so changed and bettered as to remove to the greatest extent possible the present dangers both to spectators and to drivers and mechanicians operating the car."
Another small item makes me wonder if anything came of it. We learn that William H. Pickens, a longtime promotional colleague of Barney Oldfield, was managing the Buick race team and was courting none other than Ray Harroun. The plan was for Harroun, already associated with Marmon, to race for Buick at the Lowell, Massachusetts public roads race in September.
As for Oldfield, he was headed to Toledo to attempt to set a new world's record for a mile distance on a half-mile track. The time trial was to be part of a ten-race card.
Finally, there is an update on Jake DeRosier, the champion motorcycle rider who was the victim of the most serious and spectacular accident in the Speedway's motorcycle meet. DeRosier had left the hospital that day.
A second attachment (IMSNews082409) contains another Indianapolis News article but published August 24. It is very brief. The interesting information is the list of witnesses interviewed by Blackwell. Here goes:

  • Francis E. Haugh, 624 West Tenth Street
  • Frank Brandon, 139 North Delaware Street
  • Reno Harbe, 430 East Michigan Street

The above three men were all soldiers. Other testifying were:

  • Albert Spieger (a Kansas City chauffeur)
  • John P. Weaver (a special policeman) 2506 Walker Street

Attachment IMScornonerNews082609 contains an Indianapolis News article that follows up the first story about Coroner Blackwell's continued inquiry to assess culpability in the loss of five lives at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvey Stout, Jr. was the commander of a group of soldiers stationed in the area where the Merz accident occurred. Stout testified that every effort was made to keep spectators away from the fence and that signs were posted in numerous places to warn spectators of danger. Stout testified further that in his assessment the running surface at the point of the accident was dangerously rough.
Drivers Johnny Aitken and Thomas Kincaid also testified the track condition was hazardous. W.H. Hert, a spectator, told the coroner that spectators were repeatedly warned away from the fence. 

Indianapolis_Speedway_First_Races_4.pdf2.68 MB
IMSNews082409.pdf1.58 MB
IMScornonerNews082609.pdf975.6 KB