May 28, 1910: P.P. Willis on Racing

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 an article published May 28 that set the stage for the day's program elsewhere on First Super Speedway.
Peter Paul Willis, a leading Hoosier automobile writer and promoter, was recognized with the byline of the attached article. The Star ran several articles that day on racing at the new Brickyard the previous day. I suggest you reference them to attain a more complete picture of this incredible day of racing.

I want to note a couple of things about writing style in this age. First the headline may or may not have been crafted by Willis as typically someone on staff developed heads for stories submitted by writers. Nonetheless I think it is magic and captures the awe of the era: "Thousands Wonder as Men Defy Time." Secondly, check out Willis' opening paragraph which I think sets the mood admirably:
"When night gathered around the famous Speedway yesterday and the long file of automobiles nosed their way out through thousands of persons on foot (probably headed to rail service) there was one verdict on the lips of all - wonderful."
Willis paints a picture of complete satisfaction with the event, calling it "continual enjoyment." The novelty of the weekend, the Overland Hazard Race was the kickoff of the day. Here Willis refers to the drivers as "motor rough riders," a term partially borrowed from the legend of the recent and very popular United States President Theodore Roosevlet. Overland saw the event, which employed steep wooden ramps and a trip through the infield creek on the inside of the track's first turn as a chance to demonstrate the dependability and utility of their automobiles.
Willis reports that two plank ramps were placed in front of the main grandstand with an additional pair in front of bleachers which I believe - but am not certain - were at the inside of turn one. Once they scaled the obstacles the drivers gunned their cars and raced around the track to return to the judges' stand at start-finish. Unfortunately, as was the convention of the time, Willis does not report the first names of the drivers and only supplies us with their last names. The results are in the article and you can find them here:

  • Myers, 3 minutes, 28 seconds.
  • McGee, 3:38
  • Gregg, 4:30

Additionally, there were other drivers by the names of Baird, Ricketts and Shessler involved but no information on their results. Apparently this novelty race was interesting but the logistics must have been problematic. The same run on May 27 was canceled and officials made the decision not to stage it again on Monday because moving the ramps on and off the track was too time-consuming. As far as I know  the event or anything similar was never staged again in 1910 or any subsequent year at the Speedway. Legendary Starter Fred Wagner heaped praise on the exhibition, saying:
"In all my experience around races from coast to coast I never witnessed such a perfect exhibition of a car's possibilities. I think it marvelous that the winner was able to take the time required to climb those inclines and then make two and a half miles in a few seconds over three minutes."
Despite Willis' praise at the beginning of the article he comes off as less than enthusiastic about the next event of the day, the time trials. He points out that these mile runs were "devoid of spectacular color" because the cars ran alone. Also, no records were set.
Here are the results:

The first wheel-to-wheel competiton of the day was  for Ten Miles, Stock Chassis, 301 to 450 cubic inches. According to AAA rules this was Class B, Division 4, minimum weight 2,000 pounds. Johnny Aitken (National "40") won; Ray Harroun (Marmon "32") second; Charlie Merz (National "40") third, Tom Kincaid (National) fourth and Leigh Lynch in the Jackson fifth. The winning time: 8:08.9. It is interesting to note that if you take a careful look at the other articles reporting on the May 28 races there are slight discrepancies in the times. Check them out - it's not huge but worth noting for accuracy.
Willis tells the story of the race which turned out to be a battle of Indianapols-built cars from National Motor Vehicle Company and Nordyke & Marmon. Marmon's Joe Dawson led the first lap but his car failed in the second. Kincaid inherited the top spot in lap two but faded. Eventual winner Aitken proved most consistent. He ran in second place the first two laps and then led the last two.
The second race was for Five Miles, Stock Chassis, 451 to 600 cubic inches and was won by the incomparable Barney Oldfield in the Conduitt Automobile Company Knox "six." The order of the next two finishers, Don Herr (National "40") and Johnny Aitken (National "40") are in question. This report has it that Aitken actually finished second which contradicts the C.E. Shart's article published the same day in the same paper and has Herr in the runner-up spot. Winning time: 4:03.24. 
The article calls out the popularity of Oldfield who, despite being only 32 years old, was seen as the "grand old man" of the still young sport. He had been at it eight years and some were questioning whether or not he still had the nerve and/or the abilities to contend at the top. Despite his March land speed record at Daytona his April match race loss to previously unheralded Caleb Bragg at Playa Del Rey renewed speculation about his southward trajectory. Most of the speculation probably came from the always-challenging news media - in this era limited to newspapers and magazines - wanting to juice up their copy. To his legions of supporters Barney, a man today who would have been seen as a kind of red state, rural populist more in the mold of A.J. Foyt, Dale Earnhardt Sr. or Tony Stewart, was still THE Speed King. Read this excerpt from Willis' attached piece:
"This event, won by Oldfield in his Knox, after five miles of spirited racing, was the official debut of this veteran of the speed arena at this meet. Barney received his usual round of cheering from his many admirers, and he, as usual, recognized it by giving one of his characteristic smiles all the while holding on to his cigar. Barney is as famous for carrying a cigar in his mouth in every race as 'Uncle Joe' Cannon is for using one in the halls of Congress. Anyway, cigar or no cigar, Barney is still popular with the fans and those who predict him as a 'has beener' may have occasion soon to retract their words. He will try Monday to break the world's track record for one mile in his big Benz."
One additional thought on Oldfield very relevant to this specific race meet. Oldfield negotiated for more compensation and some believed he was asking for appearance money. The driver responded that he simply wanted a larger purse for his appearance in the time trial events with he land speed record car, the Blitzen Benz. A local automobile dealership, the Conduitt Automobile Company intervened and apparently played a role in resolving the conflict. They provided Oldfield with a stock car - a Knox - for his entry in several of the races including the one discussed in the paragraphs immediately preceding this one. There can be no doubt Oldfield was a favorite with rank-and-file fans. His reputation for flouting authority in the form of the AAA probably endeared him to the little guy.
A big field of cars for the day - 19 - lined up for the next contest, a ten-mile free-for-all handicap. This means AAA officials, in this case led by David Beecroft, made a judgment about head starts smaller and slower cars should be given over faster ones. The final car released to start was called starting "scratch." Howdy Wilcox in a National "40" ended up winning the contest with Leigh Lynch (Jackson); George Clarke (Cutting) following. Wilcox's winning time was 10:55.33. This had to be one of the early noteworthy victories of future Indianapolis 500 Champion Wilcox.
Willis' report on the race makes it sound extremely interesting. The on-track action was apparently intense as the higher horsepower cars came charging up through the field. This is not unlike sports car racing today with the different classes of cars sharing the track in the heat of competition. Wilcox' march to the front is telling. He was thirteenth at the end of lap one, tenth on lap two and fifth on the following tour. He passed for the lead on the fourth and final circuit.
Second-place Lynch had a similar experience going from ninth to third to first but being passed by Wilcox in the last lap. Wilcox also got around Clarke on the final lap, shoving him back to third from the second place position he had earned on lap three. Clarke had climbed from tenth place at the end of lap one to fourth at the end of the following lap.
It was during this contest that Herb Lytle incurred the only injury of the entire weekend. He was thrown from his American racer on the last lap and suffered a broken leg. His riding mechanic William Clifton was also tossed from the car and suffered what was reported as a "sprained" shoulder. I like these lines from Willis' description of the competition as he focused on how the smaller entries went from a headstart to trailing much of the field:
"This race in fact was a 'dandy' when it came to being all mixed up, and in changing positions with lightning speed. Big cars rushed past little ones in an angry fashion, as though they would run over them. Roberts in his little red, white and blue Hereshoff dropped from second place in the first two laps to sixth in the third and ninth in the last. Another big shift in position was that of Edmunds in his Cole, from fifth in the first lap to fourteenth in the last. The remainder of the cars mixed it in confusing fashion."
Two races originally scheduled for the day were called off. One was for amateurs, the other was a Class D "free-for-all." There were not enough amateur entries and the Class D machines were simply not ready. Race officials announced that they would try to organize the latter event on Monday. Other amateur events were expected Monday and one entrant was Caleb Bragg who earlier in the race weekend had been refused entry to an amateur event. There was confusion around this decision as some believe that the denial of his entry was based on a AAA assessment that he was not an amateur.
Sam Butler, AAA Chairman announced that this was not so and that Bragg was an official amateur. He is quoted in the article saying, "Mr. Bragg is an amateur. The reason he did not drive yesterday is because his car had not gone through the red tape of being officially registered."
The fifth, final and feature race of the day was up next: The $10,000 Wheeler-Schebler Trophy. The first three finishers were:  Ray Harroun (Marmon "Wasp"); Leigh Lynch (Jackson); Johnny Aitken (National "60"). Winning time: 2:46.31.00. This was a new American speedway record for the distance. Marmon officers Clarence Stanley, H.H. Rice and the Marmon brothers, Howard and Walter, as well as other company representatives watched from the pits and rushed to congratulate their driver post-race. Willis offers a colorful description of Harroun moments after winning.
"this plucky driver smiled...with lips that bled because of being blistered and cracked. His face was black with oil and dirt, but when asked how he felt he said: 'Oh, I feel fittin." He was the hero of the day."
As with the earlier handicap here were 19 cars in this contest. I want to make special note that Arthur Chevrolet (Buick) finished fourth. Despite being patriarch brother Louis' right hand man throughout much of their careers he seems overshadowed by both Louis and their 1920 Indianapolis 500 winning brother Gaston. Chevrolet was the last of the drivers permitted to complete the full 200 miles. The remaining survivors of the grind were flagged off before they did the distance.
Willis' article is supported by an odd chart that on first glance seems obtuse, at least to me. The left column lists the starters with car number, driver's last name and car manufacturer. Six other columns under the heading, "Miles" are listed beside the first, left to right. Given that the numbers at the top of each column are listed sequentially as 10, 30, 50, 60, 70, 80 I have to believe those numbers are not in reference to distance in miles but in laps. Doing the math, 80 laps x 2.5 miles = 200 miles. The car numbers down each column are listed in order of the driver's position at each of those milestones. Harroun's number, 32, is seen at the top from beginning to end. He was dominant.
Lynch (16), Aitken (7) and Arthur Chevrolet (44) follow Harroun in order. In appears from the numbers listed in the final chart column that only one other driver was running when the winner crossed the finish line. That was George Clarke in the #22 Cutting who was placed sixth, not fifith as he must not have passed fifth-place driver Clemens (this may be "Jap" Clemens but no first name is provided) in the Westcott before being waved off. Lynch made an impressive drive through the field. He was placed thirteenth at 10 laps but up to second by lap 30. 
Aitken is praised for his third-place effort in the National stock car, clearly no match for the purpose-built Marmon. He was well up in the front half of the field throughout the contest, running as low as seventh but never higher than third according to the best information. At one point he blew a tire and had to limp almost the entire length of the course on a rim to get to his pit. Teammate Charlie Merz is also credited with some impressive driving, moving steadily up the field from seventeenth place at ten miles to tenth by lap 70 - but he failed to finish and there was no reason given at to why.
Curiously, Willis makes no mention to noteworthy incidents covered in other reports such as Joe Dawson's accident with the other Marmon and Oldfield's harrowing experience in bursting a tire with the Conduitt Knox.

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