May 25 - Ben Hur & Burman

On Sunday, May 25, 1913 the Indianapolis Star provided its biggest day of the month yet for Indianapolis 500 coverage. In addition to an article updating the latest practice action at the track they ran a somewhat strange story drawing analogies to the novel, "Ben-Hur, A Tale of Christ." They also presented what current-day fans would recognize as a 16-page "souvenir section" with a number of human interest stories and photos about the teams, cars and personalities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that year. Given the volume of information I am dividing this into two posts, the second with the content of the souvenir section.
The special feature (attachments IMSFeatureStar052513 and IMSFeatureStar052513i) is large enough I divided it into two attachments. The quality of the microfilm makes it a tough read and I can't say that it is satisfying content. Nonetheless it is an artifact. Its value to me is that it provides a context of the times. The Ben-Hur analogy to the brutal entertainment - and especially chariot racing - of ancient Rome is not unexpected given the public's still-new fascination with "steeds of steel," but also because the book's author was Indiana-born Lew Wallace. The novel was the best seller of its day, so it is a fair bet that it had "mindshare" with many people opening their Sunday morning newspaper.
The feature is written in a flowery style that expects the reader to invest time. Given that there was no TV, Internet or even radio this might have been reasonable. The attraction, too, may have been to women as it appeals to emotion and dresses up the context of the track in a romantic and international struggle with terrible risks. The drivers are cast as courageous figures of glorious purpose. It is a far more interesting than informative piece. Where it informs is the general sense we can get today about how our predecessors saw the world. This was an era when still most of the population could remember a time when there were no automobiles. The leap in technology must have been amazing as by this time they were approaching 100 MPH laps and exceeding that speed on straightaways.
The second and more conventional article of these two (attachment BurmanStar052513) updates practice activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but unabashedly boosts Keeton driver Bob Burman. "Speed King" Burman clearly emerged as the American favorite in this year of heightened international competition. Burman's consistent 90 MPH plus laps over the course of four tours of the Brickyard is hailed as not the fastest individual lap of the month but the longest sustained effort at such speed. Despite continued reports that there was something amiss with the Peugeot cars they were clearly the fastest. There probably was some issue with the Peugeots and the earlier reports that the drivers were pressing too hard in the corners and that the European creations needed shock absorbers more like those used by the 1912 winning National are clues. From these articles and other sources I have encountered over the years National employee Johnny Aitken (who had put his driving career on hold) had been hired by the French delegation to coach them in tackling the Speedway.
Other drivers who practiced the day prior (May 24) included: Case teammates Bill Endicott and Louis Disbrow as well as Robert Pennebaker in his Stearns-Knight racer which was also referred as the Pennebaker Special. While lap times and speeds were not reported in detail by these early journalists (in fairness to them there were no electronic scoreboards or track public relations staffs to issue updates) who relied on handheld wind-up stopwatches sometimes clicked by biased observers, this article does offer meaningful insights. It is noted that while Burman and the Peugeots of Jules Goux and Paul Zuccarelli were regularly busting off laps in the 87 to 91 MPH range at times like 1 minute, 39 seconds many of the field-fillers were struggling at the 1:55 mark. Anybody seriously following the action would have to see the Peugeots as favorites with Burman, the Stutz team and the Mercers as primary challengers.
Another interesting point in this aticle are the capricious practices of Speedway and American Automobile Association (AAA) management. While it had been announced days earlier (and communicated in the Indianapolis News evening paper the previous day) that time trials would be conducted on Sunday fans woke up that morning to read in this article in their newspaper and find out that this program was actually delayed to the following day, Monday, May 26. What was scheduled for Sunday was a kind of dress rehearsal for officials to familiarize them with their roles, especially timing and scoring.

IMSFeatureStar052513.pdf2.78 MB
IMSFeature052513i.pdf5.76 MB
BurmanStar052513.pdf565.76 KB