POV at IMS: 1909

I came across a pair of interesting articles from the August 20, 1909 edition of the Indianapolis Sun recently and was struck by how unique they were in terms of perspective. The articles report on events during the first auto races (August 19 - 21) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both articles concern the first day of auto racing at the Speedway, August 19, 1909. Written by George W. Stout, a prominent citizen of Indianapolis who came from a wealthy family and established a building contractor business, the articles report not as much about what happened on the track, but from the point of view (POV) of people in the grandstands.
Because these articles are first hand coverage of the inaugural auto races at the world's most historic speedway they are significant for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was a tragic affair with two men losing their lives. Both were occupants of the same car which apparently suffered a catastrophic chassis failure and barrel-rolled coming off the oval's northwest corner. The men were driver William Bourque and riding mechanic Harry Holcomb.
The article in the attachment titled "BourqueSun082009" provides witness to the reaction of people in the Speedway's grandstand which at the time was along the front stretch. This would be an area just south of where the Bourque-Holcomb accident occurred. There are a couple of ways of looking at this article. One is that Stout takes a pretty cynical view of typical human character as the gist of the article is that people didn't seem to care that the men had lost their lives and even made sport of it. He reports that one spectator said, essentially, that the whole purpose of the contest was to fill up all the beds of the the local hospital. Others laughed to suggest that they keep score with 10 points awarded for drivers killed, 5 points for mechanics. The other way of looking at the article is that Stout simply reported what he saw and that people did exhibit callous behavior.
In the context of the times racing was a dangerous, new game. People still were trying to process the very concept that drivers would hurl cars around tracks as fast they could handle them and that inevitably there would be spills. Safety technology was essentiallty non-existent and speeds exceeding 100 mph on straightaways were astonishing to most adults who had grown up in the 1880's and 1890's when there were no cars in even a city as large as Indianapolis. For thoughtful observers of which there are always many in the media the comparisons to gladiators had to be inevitable.
While Stout's article sounds cynical in may well have some basis in fact. People simply did not know how to process what they were witnessing. It was a different time far more accepting of death in sport than could be tolerated in America today.
The other article in the attachment titled "IMSsociety082009" reports on the perspective of privileged class in the exclusive box seats. Interestingly, Stout describes these seats as providing an inferrior vantage point for the racing action but the opportunity to associate with Hoosier society leadership. Among those listed as present are: J. Wood Wilson, a top Indiana Republican; Thomas Taggart, a former Indianapolis Mayor and National Democratic Committeeman and Crawford Fairbanks a Terre Haute industrialist.

BourqueSun082009.pdf1.82 MB
IMSsociety082009.pdf760.21 KB