Portola Road Race - 1909

The article in attachment Record102409 was originally published in the Indianapolis Star on October 24, 1909. It concerns the running of road races that were part of a celebration called the "Portola Festival" in Oakland, California on October 23. The festival celebrated the discovery of San Francisco Bay by Don Gaspar de Portola, but more importantly the region's recovery from the great earthquake of 1906.
Although the article is unclear, a brief note within it indicates that there were three auto races. There were, and they were for cars of different engine capacities and weights in contests of varying lengths. The feature was an event called the Portola Road Race - called the "Oakland Cup" - won by Jack Fleming in a Pope-Toledo. The course was 21 miles and main event was 250 miles or 12 laps.
Fleming made news not just for winning the race but recording a sustained speed average of 64.51 MPH which, according to the article, broke the world's road race speed record set previously in Santa Monica at 64.44 MPH. That translated to a winning time of three hours, 58 minutes and 15 seconds. The other big news coming out of the races was the number of accidents resulting in severe injuries. Two spectators got the worst of it. The article, in the style of journalism in the day, predicted that the wounded men would die.
The names of the two men were released as O.F. Johnson and someone described as "an aged man" identified only by his last name, "McKittrick." Apparently at least Johnson survived his ordeal although imminent wedding plans had to be delayed. He was struck by the Knox racer driven by Frank Free near Fruitvale.
Other incidents involved sudden mechanical failures. Maxwell riding mechanic A.G. Linz was injured when the fly wheel on the back of his engine broke. Chalmers-Detroit driver Howard Warner and his riding mechanic James McCauley were thrown from their racer when a wheel broke. Both sustained scrapes and bruises but not severely injured.
Fast lap of the day was recorded by Stearns driver D.A. Booney who covered one of the 21 mile laps in 18 minutes, 0.2 seconds. Harris Hanshue finished second overall in his Apperson and also won one of the secondary races. Third went to Harry Michner in a Lozier in a field of 15 cars.
The grandstand contained some some interesting personalities. The article reports that Don Gaspar de Portola was in attendance and this is an apparent case of confusion by the writer. Portola was the first Spanish governor of California who died in 1784. In truth he was being impersonated by an actor by the name of Nicholas Covarrubias. Also listed as in attendance is a Queen Vergilia, who was actually the Portola Festival queen, a ceremonial position. Leaders of state and local government were seated with the queen and the actor. Among them were California Governor James N. Gillette; Oakland Mayor Frank K. Mott and San Francisco Mayor E.R. Taylor.
The article also provides a list of the starting field for the race, complete with car number, make and riding mechanic name - which is rare in race reports. This is recreated below. Note that the driver's name is listed before the mechanic, which is last.

  • #1, Maxwell; C.O. King; A.G. Linz
  • #2, Sunset; Harold Hall; Henry Hachren
  • #3, Autocar; Walter Morris; William Hammerson
  • #4, Pope-Hartford; Jack Fleming; Lester Traver
  • #5 Pope-Hartford; George Potter; Orrin Thrall
  • #6, Comet; E.J. Hall; Sam Smith
  • #7, Chalmers-Detroit; Howard Warren; James McCauley
  • #9, Buick; Frank Murray; Thomas Burns
  • #10, Buick; Carl Christensen; Frank Larcher (Larcher filed a patent for what looks like an adjustable headlight connected to the steering mechanism of a car)
  • #11, Knox; Frank Free; Joe Robinson
  • #12, Lozier; Harry Michner; Lloyd Percival
  • #13, Apperson; Harris Hanshue; Lee Gehrieke
  • #14, Stearns, D.A. Bonney; R.C. Douglass ("D.A.'s" last name spelled differently in the article versus the list - Bonney vs. Booney)
  • #15, Stearns, Charles Soules
  • #16, Stevens-Duryea, Clifford Ontank; Albert Ruddle

An interesting point about these drivers and the fact that few of the big name stars of the day participated in this race speaks to the challenge of distance in the era. I suspect most of the above drivers were West Coast chargers and those east of the Mississippi River probably felt the trip was too time consuming to bother with. Most of the bigger name drives were from eastern states and Google searches of the competitors in Portola races yield very little.
Attachment Brooklyn NY Daily Star 1909 - 0672 contains an article from the Brooklyn Daily Star that provides more information about the Portola Festival.

Record102409.pdf1.1 MB
Brooklyn NY Daily Star 1909 - 0672.pdf809.82 KB