May 28, 1910: Intoxicating Speed

This attachment contains an article which orginally appeared in the May 29, 1910 Indianapolis Star. The article reports on the race results for the second day of racing (May 28) for the May 1910 race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. These races were part of the May 1910 weekend that included "national championships," a newly-announced distinction by the American Automobile Association (AAA) for select race meets. Car manufacturers were keen to make a great showing. Check out other articles that provide additional summaries on the results of the races staged the previous day (May 27).
You can also find additional coverage relevant to May 28, the second day of the race meet, elsewhere on First Super Speedway:

The article, written by H.G. Deupree, is attached here. It is a bit deceptive in that it shouts Ray Harroun's name in the headline. Given Harroun won the feature contest, the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, it could be reasonable to assume the report would focus on that race. Actually Deupree, who I believe had an engineering background, focused more on the speeds attained during the competition and consequent records set. 
The emphasis on speed I believe speaks to the public's fascination with the still-new idea of simply covering so much ground in so little time. The phrase "mile a minute" still had a lot of impact in conversations even though Barney Oldfield had just weeks earlier attained more than twice that in a land speed record run at Daytona in the infamous Blitzen Benz. This is different from today's current racing product in that consciously or not the collective auto racing community has more or less settled on speeds just north of 200 MPH as "the limit," at least for closed courses. While techonologically higher speeds could be attained it would be difficult to stage wheel-to-wheel competitions and present the show safely. Even if the driver was elimated from the equation and vehicle was computer programmed the slightest failure could send it flying into the grandstands. That may or may not be catastrophic to human life because it is debatable there would be much of an audience for that kind of exhibition other than engineers. 
Back to 1910...
New speedways were emerging and slowly migrating auto races off public roads to purpose-built facilities to showcase cars attaining amazing speeds. Among the most talked-about tracks in America were the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Atlanta Speedway and the nation's first board track for automobiles, Playa Del Rey. While in subsequent decades the racing community learned to think of records applying to a particular venue at this time every speedway wanted to claim rights to the fastest mile or other measured distances. Not being able to compete with Daytona's hard, flat sands for straight-line speeds the speedways used the phrase, "track mile." Basically this was for a mile covered within the confines of a closed course and obviously tilted the odds in favor of those with longest straightaways, like the five-eighths mile Brickyard.
Promoters of the venues believed that boasting with credibility that their track allowed drivers and cars to attain the greatest speeds would result in greater attendance and, of course, revenue through ticket sales. These tracks had an ongoing rivalry for these claims. This thinking is immediately evident in the opening of Deupree's piece which provides a callout listing records achieved. The records are both overall (referred to as, "Records Regardless of Class," and for classifications of cars.

  • 150 Miles (Overall) - Harroun (Marmon Wasp), 2:02:16, lowering previous mark of 2:05:63 achieved by George Robertson (Fiat) at Atlanta, by 2 minutes 44.63 seconds. Speed average: 73.62 MPH.
  • 200 Miles (Overall) - Harroun (Marmon Wasp), 2:40:36, lowering previous record 2:46:47.47 made by Louis Chevrolet (Buick) at Atlanta by 17.47 seconds. Speed average: 72.10 MPH
  • Ten Miles, 301-450 cubic inch engines - Johnny Aitken (National "40"), 8:3.03, lowering previous mark of 8:8.36 set by Aitken also in National the previous day. Speed average: 73.76.
  • Five Miles, 541-600 cubic inches - Barney Oldfield (Knox), 4:3.44. Speed average: 73.94. This was the first-ever record established for this class car at this distance.

A lot of Deupree's subsequent text is repetitious to the above callout. He refers to Harroun's "free-for-all" class as the most important among the records. This is understandable in that this was done with the most powerful machines allowed by the rulebook. Deupree also suggests that there were "no clear record" of the distances between the 150 and 200 mile marks and, as a result, his times at interim distances could be consider American records. This comes off more as an observation than a serious considersation of the American Automobile Association (AAA).
As noted above, Oldfield's winning effort was considered a new American record because no times had been previously recorded for the class, cars with 451 to 600 cubic inch engines, that he competed in.  Meanwhile, Aitken lowered the 10-mile record he had established in the 301-450 cubic inch class. Check out the 1910 AAA classes.
An interesting point is that despite driving the purpose-built racing car, the Marmon Wasp, Harroun did not measure up to the speed he attained in driving a stock Marmon"32" to victory earlier in the year at Playa Del Rey. This, Deupree suggests, was largely because Harroun was holding to a strategy to preserve his tires across a distance in a race twice as long as the one at the SoCal board track. Between the two tracks Marmon held virtually all the top speed records for tracks from one to 200 miles.
It is important to recognize that Deupree notes that these were American records only - not worldwide - as speeds attained in England at the high-banked, concrete-paved Brooklands track were faster. Interestingly, though, he does not mention the Brooklands track by name.
Deupree also notes that up to that point in the meet the time trial events, which were the first contests each day, had failed to deliver even new American records. He does report that during the first two days of racing 18 new American records had been established. Of those, 16 destroyed established marks while Oldfield created a new one as did Art Griener established a mark for amateur drivers. With the exception of one mark set by Louis Chevrolet (Buick) for the 161 to 230 cubic inch class every record was established by Indianapolis-built Marmons and Nationals. Of course, the controversial (see bottom four paragraphs of the page at this link) AAA tech inspection disqualification of Buick and Jackson for the first day was a factor. 
Deupree notes that the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race was a special contest in that it was open to any type of car - stock or purpose-built racers which were frequently called "freak racers" during this era. There were limitations, however, as engines could not exceed 600 cubic inches and the cars has to weigh at least 2,300 pounds. Such restrictions eliminated the participation of the unlimited machines such as Oldfield's Blitzen Benz that essentially a land speed record machine for the times. The car is referred to as the "Lightning Benz," a name Oldfield pinned on it briefly thinking it would resonate better in American ears. He soon realized that even in the United States the moniker "Blitzen" held an appealing mystique and he switched back to it.
The new running surface is credited with providing a faster track as times are compared with the August 1909 Wheeler-Schebler that was aborted after the fatalities involved with Charlie Merz' accident during the contest. Jackson driver Leigh Lynch was leading the 1909 contest when the race was cancelled well after the halfway point and in a disputed decision the AAA and the Speedway refused to credit him with winning.  Lynch was running almost an hour faster than his time for 200 miles in the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy of 1909. The 1909 race was planned for 250 miles but was cancelled after 235 miles. 
Lynch finished second to Harroun in the 1910 Wheeler-Schebler race but nearly an hour behind. He had been tremendously conservative in finishing second to Harroun, traveling at a pace so reduced he did not require new tires or fuel.   

IMSHarroun052910.pdf1.64 MB