Necks, Records Broken

The article in attachment IMSthrong082209 is about the final day of racing during the first auto meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was originally published in the August 22, 1909 Indianapolis Star. These races were conducted on Saturday, August 21, 1909. Attachment IMSsummary082209 is a sidebar chart published the same day that simply lists the results of the events of the third day.
The article is curious as the headline says it all, "Throng Sees Necks and Marks Broken," but its content clearly downplays the tragic deaths that occurred. It does not mention the spectator casualties but glorifies the daring deeds of competitors. Written by the Star's great sports writer Peter Paul "P.P." Willis it provides a good summary of the final day of the race meet.
The reality of loss of life is acknowledged but essentially dismissed as the price of progress. Check out this excerpt:
"The prices were paid for such hazardous sport and the rewards reaped. The track is now baptized with the blood of the heroes who fearlessly faced the speed conflict the world is given cause to open its eyes wider at what steel creations can accomplish when brave men urge them to the limit of their power and manufacturers have learned costly lesson, but precious ones, extracted from the grueling performances of their pilots."
The above quote ignores the loss of spectators' lives and the following notes that risk is part of advancing technology.
"Grief weighs heavily on all concerned, but that is the risk run in all such events. The track time far surpassed all dreams."
The accomplishments of Barney Oldfield are highlighted as a new kilometer track record of 26.2 seconds is praised. This record, which was a speed of 85.5 MPH, ocurred during the opening event which was a time trial. Oldfield's top competitors were Walter Christie at 28.7 seconds and Len Zengle at 29.9 seconds. Christie was in one his own cars that carried his name while Zengle had a Chawick.
The first race was a 15 mile "free-for-all" handicap (handicap races gave cars determined by officials to be slower a head start). Thomas Kincaid (his name is misspelled in the article) in a National Motor Vehicle Company racer won the event. He had been given a one minute head start over Ralph DePalma in his Fiat which started last. The next race was for amateurs and was called the "national championship of America" and won by Eddie Hearne in a Fiat. Art Greiner in a Thomas was second.
Following the amateur contest the battle for one of the more important awards of the entire three day race meet took place: the 25 mile Remy Grand Brassard. This featured a unique silver arm band and a weekly salary of $75 until the next competition for the award could be presented. Barney Oldfield, in his Benz, dominated the event from start to finish.
The Remy Grand Brassard was a battle of titans as Fiat driver Ralph DePalma finished second. Oldfield demolished speed records for distances along way including the 25 mile track record DePalma had set June 17 at a track in Boston. Oldfield's new record time was 21:27.7.  He bested the five, 10 and 20 mile marks that had been set by Johnny Aitken (National); Zengle (Chadwick) and Lewis Strang (Buick) on set earlier during the meet on Friday.
The final race of the day was the grand feature of the entire race meet: the 300 mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race. It proved to be heartbreakingly tragic and hugely controversial. A field of 16 racers stormed into the fray with National's Aitken taking the early lead. He had things his way until shortly after the 100 mile mark when his engine packed it in.
Attrition took its toll as top competitors such as Buick's Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman fell by the wayside. With Burman's demise at 140 miles Jackson driver Leigh Lynch inherited the lead over the Fiat of DePalma. The race was halted at 235 miles due to shocking fatal accidents involving spectators and the subsequent bizarre ruling of the officials robbed Lynch of his just deserts.
Attachment IMSthrong082209 with the results chart is certainly useful in understanding the associated article. Here are highlights as you can read the chart yourself.

  • A very useful characteristic of the chart is that it shows the position of cars (by number) for every lap of the races it reports on.
  • Less useful is the organization of information. While the Star starts the chart with "EVENT NO. 1" in all caps but the rest of the races are not prefaced by such a demarcation making it a little harder to sort out.
  • Interestingly the chart does not contain information about the big race of the day, the deadly Wheeler-Schebler Trophy which is hugely disappointing. This almost certainly was because Speedway and American Automobile Association officials decided that since it did not go the full scheduled 300 miles it was effectively a non-race with no finishers. Another article that provides more sensational coverage of the fatal accidents includes a sidebar that notes the decision of officials to render the race a "non-event."
  • Counting a kilometer time trial won by Barney Oldfield the day had only four events when you discount the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy. On paper Oldfield comes off as the big winner with top honors in two of the four contests. He also won the 25 mile Remy Brassard free-for-all.
IMSthrong082209.pdf1.93 MB
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