Betty Blythe - First Woman to Lap IMS

This article appeared in the August 18, 1909, Indianapolis Star. The piece was written by journalist Betty Blythe, who became the first woman to complete a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when she rode with notorious scorcher "Wild" Bob Burman in his Buick.
 
Blythe opens the article with a discussion of her rationale in accepting the risk of running at speed around the great, rough track. She expresses confidence in her chauffeur, Bob Burman, and not just because of his mastery at the wheel. She reasoned that he had a lot to lose, and not just his life or health but also to his Buick race car and his chances in the upcoming races.
 
She introduces Barney Oldfield, perhaps the most famous of the drivers of the time, into the discussion by suggesting that she would have been equally comfortable with him at the wheel. The article seems to suggest almost a girlish admiration for the daring "gladiators" of the day as she reports that another woman had commented that Barney was particularly handsome and she would have selected him as her pilot.
 
As for Burman, Blythe remarks that his face was so coated with grime and oil that she was not sure what he looked like. Plus, she reported that at the speed they were going she felt she could only catch a blurred glimpse of his face. Perhaps more interesting are her observations of his intense focus. To her, it was as if he was a stone statue, muscles in his arms taut chords.  Despite her shouts to be careful with bumps, he heard only the engine while his eyes fixed only on the crushed stone track ahead.
 
Blythe stresses the bumpy, jarring nature of the course and the ride she endured throughout her laps with Burman. Such shots to her butt and back are easy to imagine given the primitive state of springs and suspension systems. The rough track surface had already wreaked havoc with the first motorcycle races the week prior and would prove to be a deadly battlefield during the first auto races with the death of one driver, two mechanics, and two spectators.
 
Blythe is colorful describing her sensations of riding in the Buick on the Speedway's first track surface. Oil "rained" from the machine, she wrote, and surrounded her in a "cloud." The heat radiating from the engine through the floorboard forced her to shift her feet for fear of burns. During the ride, she glanced at her hand and noted how it was coated with "nasty oil" and imagined what her face looked like. Apparently, she shouted something to Burman but he could not hear her over the engine.
 
"Talk about thunder! You want to try a racer if you have a curiosity about real, live noise," Blythe writes.
 
Another of Blythe's observations was that she did not feel "in" the car but "on" it. She gripped the bodywork with one hand and braced one of her feet on the floorboard to resist the bucking force of the car as it bounded over the bumpy course. In a careless moment, she slackened her hold and immediately panicked at the feel of bouncing out and onto the track. Add to this turmoil what she calls "an awful hail of stones and sand" and you begin to understand the physical world of the race car cockpit circa 1909.

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