Race Morning: May 27, 1910

This attachment contains an article which orginally appeared in the May 27, 1910 Indianapolis Star. The article describes the situation on the morning of the first day of racing at the May 1910 race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The day's card was part of the May 1910 weekend that included "national championships," a newly-announced distinction by the American Automobile Association (AAA) for select race meets. Car manufacturers were keen to make a great showing.
The article sets the context with a reveal of the day's planned events as well as a summary of the practice trials that took place the previous day - May 26, 1910. It kicks off with a simple list of day's event card:

  • Event #1 - Record trials from one-quarter mile to one kilometer.
  • Event #2 - Five-mile race, stock chassis cars, under 160 cubic inches
  • Event #3 - Five-mile race, stock chassis, 161 to 230 cubic inches
  • Event #4 - Ten-mile race, stock chassis cars, 231 to 300 cubic inches
  • Event #5 - Five-mile race, stock chassis cars, 301 to 450 cubic inches
  • Event #6 - Ten-mile race, stock chassis cars, 451 to 600 cubic inches
  • Event #7 - Free-for-all handicap, five miles
  • Event #8 - Five-mile race for amateurs in stock chassis cars
  • Event #9 - Free-for-all open race of five miles for Indianapolis Motor Speedway helmet.
  • Event #10 - One hundred-mile face for Prest-O-Lite Trophy for stock chassis cars, 301 to 450 cubic inches

Check out the American Automobile Association's (AAA) rules and car classifications for more insight to the machines competing in each of the races.
The byline for this article went to C.E. Shuart, another writer with style. He opened his piece in the following manner:
"Speed kings in their modern chariots of steel are waiting only the call of the starter to dash into the big two and a half mile arena at 1 o'clock this afternoon and add another greater chapter to motor history. Pilots whose names appear in the annals of motordom as makers and breakers of records the last half score of years are gathered at the course in one big army, prepared to vie with each other over the greatest race track they ever have seen or driven over."
Never short of hyperbole - but always appropriate to the spirit of things - Shuart called the Brickyard, "the vastest engineering project of its kind on this mundane sphere." He reported that all the cars had been weighed and tech inspected and that the entire grounds was prepared in every detail. He also reported that advance ticket sales indicated the first day's card (Friday, May 27) would be a healthy crowd in excess of 25,000.
Shuart calls out some of the superstar drivers of the day: such as Barney Oldfield, Ben Kerscher (whose name is spelled differently depending on what article you read, alernatively presented as "Kerscher" and "Kirscher") and Caleb Bragg. Oldfield remained the biggest name in the sport as much for his smart personal branding as his exceptional driving skills. Bragg gained fame because he got the better of Oldfield in a match race the previous month in a match race at America's first automobile board track, Playa Del Rey. Kerscher's name was best known because he was an employee of Oldfield and typically willing to play second fiddle to the superstar in his exhibition race traveling show - a practice known as "barnstorming." Interestingly, Kerscher drove the Darracq racer that won the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup in the hands of the temperamental French ace Victor Hemery.
Subsequent paragraphs in the attached article are partially repetitious to the opening list of events but yield additional interesting information I highlight here. For example, the stock chassis cars of 160 cubic inch engine displacement were required to comply with a minimum weight of 1,100 pounds. Those of 161 to 230 cubic inches were to weigh no less than 1,400 pounds.
Next, I believe the article is in error. He reports that the fourth event was for stock chassis cars of 301 to 450 cubic inches. Certainly this was meant to report that it was for 231 to 300 cubic inches. These machines were held to 1,700 pounds and ran in the fourth event for prizes of $100 and $50 for first and second place. It was event five that was set for 301 to 450 cubic inch racers and these had a weight minimum of 2,000 pounds. The sixth event cars of 451 to 600 cubic inches weighed at least 2,300 pounds. I may be stating the obvious but these race meets consisted of time trials, several sprint races and then a feature of day which was a race of greater duration. In this case it was the 100-mile Prest-O-Lite Trophy.
The seventh event was a "handicap" contest for any car of any class. That's why it was called, "a handicap free-for-all." This race awarded six cash prizes ranging from $20 to $100. Long time AAA technical expert David Beecroft was in charge of "handicapping." That meant he issued an opinion about the relative performance capabilities of the various entries and then developed what was a head start for various cars which theoretically evened their chances to win. Smaller, slower cars would be allowed an advantage on the faster machines by being sent into the fray with headstarts of varying duration from minutes to seconds. The fastest entry would start "from scratch."
The eighth event is worth noting because it was for amateurs. As a result there could be no cash awards but trophies with publicized values - in this case, $150 - were put up for grabs. A second free-for-all race, called "open," was the ninth event. This was for the very interesting "Speedway Helmet" Trophy. This not only awarded a "trophy" that the winner could literally wear on his head but also a $50 weekly salary until the Speedway's next contest for the award. In this instance that was the next race meet which was scheduled around the July 4 holiday. Second place received a one-time only $100 cash prize.
The feature of the day, as mentioned earlier, was the 100-mile Prest-O-Lite Trophy. This was valued at $1,000. For whatever reason - it might have had something to do with how many entries they could expect - the contest was reserved for cars of 301 to 450 cubic inches, 2,000 pounds. Note, too, that the Overland Company's "Hazard Race" was postponed from the opening day of the meet (Friday, the day of this article) to the following day.
The attached article also provides an interesting and tidy summary of the previous day's final practice runs. Since lobbying for an appearance fee or at least larger prizes for the time trials in which he entered his world land speed record car, the Blitzen Benz, Oldfield was scrutinized. The Conduitt Automobile Company, a local dealership had come to the rescue to provide the storied driver a Knox stock car. Speedway Contest Director Ernie Moross, who formerly served as Oldfield's manager, very much wanted his ex-partner at the event because he knew he was a bankable name. The article refers to the Knox as a "steel grayhound" and notes that the Conduitt Company was located on North Delaware Street in downtown Indianapolis.
Oldfield was reportedly cutting laps at about two minutes, not particularly fast even in those days as that is not even a mile-a-minute pace. The car's "stiff engine" is offered as an explanation. This meant the machine was new and required a break-in period to get the pistons smoothly conforming to the cylinder walls. This was still a reality of new engines well into the 1970's. By comparison, Herb Lytle in the American reportedly was busting off laps in the one minute, 45 second range.
Practice was described as "a continuous parade of flying machines," with "nearly every team...on the track." Ray Harroun is called out as saying his "Yellow Jacket" (almost certainly the Marmon Wasp) in "perfect shape." Because the races were not scheduled to start until 1 pm writer Shuart notes that a morning practice session was planned.
Other drivers and teams noted include the following:

  • Caleb Bragg, who is described as not satisfied with his Fiat's performance but confident he could get it in shape during morning practice. Curiously, Shuart reports that Bragg had two mechanics, one a "native Italian," the other American. It would be interesting to note if the Italian (no names are provided) was part of some agreement with Fiat or its American import company or if he had some experience working with the marque in his past by virtue of having lived in Italy. Although writers of the day were given to sensationalism it would stretch credulity to suggest that the man would possess some special insight by virtue of simply having been born in the same country where the cars was originally assembled.
  • Amateurs Art Greiner and Bill Tousey are mentioned, both at the wheels of National "40" racers. Tousey is credited with a one minute, 47 second lap.
  • Frank Fox, who years earlier had one leg amputated was fitted with a prosthetic limb and gunning a Pope-Toldeo. A successful businessman, he owned a car dealership in Terre Haute.
  • Buick's big stars Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman were reportedly working their "100" model racers.
  • Jackson, Cutting and EMF teams were apparently performing well but little detail is provided.

This main article was supplemented by a sidebar that is a digest of brief items. These are:

  • A driver named Roy Beall suffered the first accident of race meet the day before the first races commenced. His Knox racer rolled over on him but he endured only relatively minor injuries - a fractured rib.
  • AAA officials commented on the stock car controversy (where cars from American, Buick and Jackson were barred from certain races) was not due to some kind of "trick" parts or tuning but because the models had not been produced in sufficient quantity (typically 25 units) to meet the rulebook stipulation of what qualified as a consumer product.
  • I thought this very interesting...David Beecroft, most notably the senior AAA tech official, was also the editor of Motor Age, one of the top motorsport trade publications back in that day.
  • Apparently drivers were convinced that the Brickyard would produce new American speed records to exceed those on Playa Del Rey's high-banked wood-plank one-mile saucer as established the previous month.
  • In another example of a journalist stepping into a hands-on technical role, Paul Bruske, who had previously served as sporting editor of the Detroit Times, was at the time of the attached article managing the EMF team. Only the last names of the drivers are provided: Cunningham and Skeggs.
  • I want to highlight yet another reference to the important historical point that the Barney Oldfield-owned Darracq "100" that was campaigned by Ben Kerscher at this time was the same machine driven to victor in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup.
  • This observation has a kind of quaintness to it, but the attached article notes that Speedway management was trying to communicate that all event officials were required to report to the downtown Speedway office to obtain credentials. This office was located at the historic intersection of Capitol Avenue and Vermont Street. Understand that there were no offices at Speedway at the time even though there were 41 buildings. Most of those buildings were garages, the aerodrome and aero club shelters and other structures used during events by vendors.
IMSschedule052710.pdf1.69 MB