National On Stock Cars & Racing

This article shares the views of an unnamed officer of the National Motor Vehicle Company on auto racing, the definition of a competition stock car and racing during the first auto meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The article was originally published in the Indianapolis Star on September 5, 1909.
The article is curious in that it relies on quotes from a National "officer" but the person is never named. Probably Art Newby (the Speedway founder whose position at National is never clear to me but he was certainly one of the most senior executives) or George Dickson who was also a top ranking official of the company.
My guess is that the quotes were without attribution because of the opinions expressed about competitors who were violating the spirit of rules concerning stock cars in racing. The guiding principle of the day was that a manufacturer had to at least produce at least 25 units of the model they were entering for sale.
The unnamed National official leveled a charge that at least one manufacturer was producing 25 purpose-built race cars to circumvent the rules and gain an advantage. The stock car question was as big an issue as the sport faced at the time and was a focus of the governing body, the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The manufacturer in question was not named but was almost certainly Buick. Through the efforts of William Crapo Durant the company had developed a super team with drivers Lewis Strang, Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman. This team had been extremely successful in 1909 touring the country and dominating. Among their most notable victories in 1909 was Burman's triumphs at New Orleans and the Prest-O-Lite Trophy in Indianapolis. Strang took the G&J Trophy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Chevrolet won the Cobe Trophy in June. There had been many other victories as well.
Much of this article highlights the success of National during the year. A victory for six-cylinder cars priced at $4,000 or more at the Ft. George Hill Climb was cited. Other achievements included a track record at Lexington, Kentucky as well as another hill climb victory at "Giant's Despair." The latter was reportedly for a stock car event for $3,000+ stock cars.
A good portion of the article recounts the company's success at the recent Indianapolis Motor Speedway race meet. Among the events discussed:

  • Thursday's 10 mile free-for-all handicap where National's Johnny Aitken finished third despite starting from the last row.
  • Charlie Merz' third place finish in the 250 mile Prest-O-Lite Trophy feature despite tire problems.
  • The article points to Merz' victory in the stripped chassis 10 miler on Friday.
  • Also on Friday, Aitken's 10 miler win in "Event S" is underscored.
  • In the closest finish of the entire three day meet Aitken and Merz finished in a virtual dead heat. This was also a Friday race.
  • A third National driver Thomas Kincaid took the 15 mile free-for-all to kick off Saturday, the final day.
  • While Aitken's National failed him shortly after the 100 mile mark in the ill-fated Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, which was scheduled for 300 miles, the company still had bragging rights for speed records he set while in the hunt. Aitken had dominated those first 100 miles.

The fact that this article was even published was significant at the time. After Merz' National was the missle in the huge accident of the final day at Indianapolis - killing spectators James West and Homer Jolliff along with riding mechanic Claude Kellum - Art Newby had announced the company would withdraw from racing. This article had to indicate that they had reconsidered that position.

National090509.pdf1.94 MB
National090509.pdf1.94 MB