First Day of Racing, Bourque's Death

The two attachments below offer three articles originally published August 20, 1910, summarizing the first day of auto racing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two articles summarized the day's events, the other focused on the death of driver William Bourque and riding mechanic Harry Holcomb. Also, there is a good summary table of the events/winners is provided - this article is duplicated in the second attachment. The second attachment was digitally scanned directly from library microfilm. The other was printed from microfilm and then scanned by hand weeks later. In this one, I made notes in the margins.
Let's unpack the first attachment, the one with the margin notes. The first article you see is almost a public relations piece for IMS as it extolls the state-of-the-art qualities of the Speedway. It is clear to me Speedway management was looking for any way to squelch their critics and all was going well until the last race, the Prest-O-Lite Trophy 250, were Bourque and Holcomb lost their lives. I suspect the article was largely written before the last race and then amended to include the remorse over the fatalities. Still, it tries to sing the praises of the track's quality and the efforts of the management. It's a bit distasteful, honestly.
Barney Oldfield is quoted as saying the track's speed would improve even before the end of the race meet. He is credited with lowering the American track mile record set by Webb Jay four years earlier from 48.3 seconds to 43.1. Louis Chevrolet is also noted for setting a new 10-mile competition record. Despite Bourque's accident, the article puts forth the position that the track held up well against the pounding wheels of the cars. The article concludes with points about how well spectators were accommodated.
The first attachment's third article focuses on the Bourque accident. Curiously, it leads with a quote from Bourque, "We're gone," as if someone could overhear what he said to Holcomb at the instant he lost control of his Knox racer. That is an example of the sensationalism of the day and raises questions about the general gullibility of readers in the age. It is also a word of caution to researchers using newspaper articles in even reputable publications such as the Indianapolis dailies. It was an era of sensationalism - not to say such tactics aren't employed today to sell media and simply to get people off on whatever they are into.
A soldier, Private Frank H. Brandon, was closest to the accident and the best witness. In what is probably more sensationalist reporting, Brandon reportedly dodged the errant Knox, as well as a second unidentified racer that sped by shortly afterward. Details of the injuries to the two men were provided. The report indicates that Holcomb was killed immediately and Bourque passed in the ambulance before getting to the infield hospital. Bourque was trapped under the Knox and Holcomb was tossed some 20 feet where his head struck a fence post and was described as "completely crushed." Bourque also suffered severe head injuries and, according to the report, had both arms broken.
Bourque was reportedly in second place when the accident occurred on the 58th lap of 100. Bourque was a front-runner and had won a five-mile sprint race earlier in the day using the same car. Bourque was reported as 26 years old, Holcomb was 22. Both were unmarried, but other reports indicate Bourque and his fiance, Alexandria Boivin, were planning to wed on September 14, 1909. Both men were residents of Springfield, Massachusetts, where the Knox Company was based. George Crane, a Knox employee who had raced as a driver in the past, took responsibility for getting the bodies home for funeral plans. Knox withdrew from the remainder of the event's races and announced intentions to cancel all future auto race participation.
The article speculates about the cause of the accidents. It occurred near the head of the front stretch and at that time there was no grandstand seating in the immediate area. Only soldiers stationed there had any real view of what happened. Some said the rear tires or wheels failed. Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman - who later won this race - said the track had deteriorated and was rough.
The article describes a ditch and a fence at the outer edge of the track. This is what the Knox apparently got into and caused the car to tumble over. This was the area on the track where just a week earlier motorcycle rider-racer Jake DeRosier took a spill and was injured. Bourque's driver teammate, Al Dennison, was reported to be in emotional distress. The men were said to be close friends who worked there way up the company ladder together.
The other article in this mix is contained in the first attachment but also duplicated in the second attachment. While this article touches on the accident, it primarily focuses on the overall race, which was won by Bob Burman. One of the interesting points is that there were only nine starters in this substantial race of 250 miles. Four of those did not make it to the end. 
Just two laps after Bourque's demise, Louis Chevrolet experienced damage to his goggles and suffered from debris in his eyes. He retired on lap 60 for a trip to the infield hospital. Chevrolet had surrendered the lead to Burman on lap 52, who held it until surpassed by Jackson Auto Company driver Ellis on lap 83. Burman again surged ahead when Ellis pitted on lap 90. Jap Clemens (Stoddard-Dayton), Charlie Merz (National), and Tom Kincaid (National) followed Burman in order. Bert Miller, in a second Stoddard-Dayton, finished fourth. Burman's teammate, Lewis Strang, had his Buick burst into flames on the first lap. He was able to recover and return to racing only to drop out permanently after reentering the competition.
The paper printed a box with the running order at intervals throughout the Prest-O-Lite Trophy, and they are presented here.

  • 50 miles - Chevrolet (Buick), Burman (Buick), Strang (Buick)
  • 100 miles - Chevrolet, Burman, Merz (National)
  • 150 miles - Burman, Kincaid (National), House (Jackson)
  • 200 miles - Burman, House, Clemens (Stoddard-Dayton)
  • 225 miles - Burman, Clemens, Kincaid
  • 250 miles - Burman, Clemens, Merz
Indianapolis_Speedway_William_Borque.pdf4.42 MB
BurmanNews082009.pdf2.14 MB