H.H. Rice: The Value of Racing, 1910

The attached article originally appeared in the May 8, 1910 Indianapolis Star.
This is a great period piece that helps construct the historical context of the times. As you might expect leaders in the automotive industry debated the value of the new pastime of motorsports. There were several issues. Among them:

  1. Was there any value to competitive events at all?
  2. Were they worth the risk?
  3. What kind of events, especially high-speed, wheel-to-wheel racing as opposed to reliability runs such as the Glidden Tour, were most useful to developing products?
  4. What kind of venue, speedway (in particular the emerging tracks such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Atlanta speedway and Playa Del Rey) or road race was most useful?
  5. Was there a role for "freak" (purpose-built) race cars in product development or did it make most sense to race stock cars so consumers could assess them and engineers more practically develop them?

This article reports on what must have been an incredible dinner to participate in at the University Club of Indianapolis that was staged by Howard Marmon in honor of his star driver, Ray Harroun, who had recently dominated the inaugural race meet at America's first board speedway, Playa Del Rey. A key guest at the dinner was Alfred Reeves, general manager of the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALMA) a powerful force in the industry at the time as was Reeves himself.
Reeves commented during the dinner that he had recently met with an executive from an unnamed manufacturer - I have to wonder if it was Stoddard-Dayton - that had withdrawn from racing but an executive at the company had found value in the investment. I only guess Stoddard-Dayton because they had recently left the sport largely in the wake of the tragic accidents of the first auto race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Reeves is quoted:
"He made the statement that it was a well-placed investment, one-third of which could be properly charged to the advertising account and two-thirds to the development and engineering account. This manufacturer managed his racing team with system, making it a point to know the cost and to know the results. It is no reflection on the cars he makes that the major portion of the expense should be charged to experimental work, but rather a credit to the man and the car. He is striving to build a better car and he considers that the experience and knowledge gained from developments in racing his cars of greater value to him and to the public than the direct results from an advertising standpoint."
Howard Marmon had already been on record as an advocate for the value of auto racing in consumer product development. Interestingly, H.H. Rice, whose role at Marmon the article describes as "to do with advertising," is quoted heavily. From other sources I have seen Rice's title as, "sales manager." Read what Rice had to say:
"Racing has put the Marmon car on the map. It is not altogether the winning of events, the remarkable speed shown and the world's records made that have attracted attention, but rather the consistent work of the car - its ability as demonstrated to win the long distance, hard grueling contests, one after another, in competition with Europe and America's best cars and to run those long races without stopping, with apparent mechanical distress and with wonderful freedom from tire troubles. The results from an advertising standpoint are accordingly very satisfactory, the best dealers from every section having been attracted by the consistent performance of the cars and the public, too, has been quick to recognize quality as evidenced by heavy demand the country over."
Rice also commented on the Marmon efforts in reliability runs, especially the Glidden Tour. From his comments it is not entirely clear that he or his employer had a preference except that given he stresses the increasing interest of the public in racing he may have seen more value in that pursuit.
"Our company has also had much experience in Glidden tours and in many road reliability contests and is able, therefore, to judge from a practical standpoint of the merits and value of racing stock cars on track and road as against touring - endurance contests. In the days gone by racing did not mean much to the public, but it did mean a great deal to the manufacturer, because in the effort to be supreme in racing rapid strides were made possible to all motor car manufacturers whether they did or did not build racing cars. Today racing means everything to the public because stock cars - the kind that are sold to the public - meet in competition for honors."
Rice's following comment about tech inspection of stock cars for racing is also somewhat curious in light of Howard Marmon's recent call for "selling races" (known as claiming races in some circles)  as a preventative measure against cheating in stock car racing.
"The interest of the public is safeguarded by a national organization known as the contest board of the AAA, which has laid down rules and regulations that are rigidly enforced. Stock cars which compete in races undergo careful inspection by duly accredited officials to make sure that they are truly stock cars. Ordinarily a speedy stock car use in races, however, would not be fit for orindary use. It is loosely fitted, is noisily geared up and tuned up for speed."
Rice curiously believed that the speed on the race track carried little weight with the consumer. Also his comments about stock car racing igniting the interest of the public seems to run counter to the views of his boss, Howard Marmon, who was making public statements at the time boosting the merits of a purpose-built race car. What's more, the company was testing their just-completed special race car, the Marmon Wasp.
"The demonstration of high speed is not calculated to make the public believe that a car of the same model in daily use will attain the same speed for such is not the case, i.e., without tuning it up the same as the racer. The faster a stock model can be made to run without any way deviating from standard stock construction, i.e., in design, size of parts, in material and workmanship, and the farther it can be made to go at top speed, the better the showing of the qualities of the car which go toward making it durable. Proving the stability of a stock car in this way is proving the qualities one may rightfully expect in a car of the same make sold regularly to the public. The value of racing, when this is well understood, is apparent to all and as a result of racing stock cars the interest of the public is greater than ever in motor car speed contests."
The final paragraph of the article quotes Rice making the observation that a surge in public interest in auto racing was behind the development of the new generation of speedways mentioned above. Keep in mind that these tracks were among the first built specifically to support auto racing. Prior to that public roads were used for classic road races such as the Vanderbilt Cup as well as dirt horse tracks where promoters tried to catch the emerging wave of interest in auto racing by adding motorsports to their standard fare of horse racing.
"This new interest of the public in racing is directly responsible for the many expensive specially built speedways which are prepared and are being prepared in all parts of this country. If it were not for stock car racing the sport would have died a natural death, as the people had practically lost interest in contests between specially built speed cars."
For additional commentary from other luminaries of the auto industry about these issues of the day check out what Hugh Chalmers of the Chalmers Company and National Motor Vehicle Company executive George Dickson had to say.

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