Racing's Safety Issues - 1909

In the early days of racing people struggled with the brutal aspect of the sport. These attached articles probably were largely in response to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's tragic first auto racing event in August 1909. These races were controversial due to the devestating fatal accidents on the first and third days of the meet. In all, five men were killed:

That's not to say that racing had not come under fire previously or that the Speedway was the only dangerous venue. Complaints about the dangers of spectators crowding the course at the Vanderbilt Cup were evident from its inaugural event in 1904 - and the result was the seemingly inevitable spectator death in 1906. In 1905 the auto industry trade media condemned track racing, or events held on dirt horse tracks. Death was a regular feature to auto races and too frequently it involved spectators such as at places like Brighton Beach and at the Portola Road Race in California. Conversely, the media also used the danger of the sport to stir interest in it with sensaltional headlines such as "Pilots Confront Death." As a result of the first and tragic Indianapolis Motor Speedway races there was a call from some leading figures in the state to ban motor racing.
Attachment Safety091509 contains an extremely brief editorial published in the Indianapolis Star on September 15, 1909. It raises the question about whether racing could ever be made safe. The editorial asserts that racing is easily the most dangerous of all sports and declares that unless it could be made safer it would become "a fly-by-night, barnstorming affair that can do credit to no one."
Just below the above article appeared an announcement from the Stoddard-Dayton automobile company that they were withdrawing from racing. This can be found in attachment Stoddard091509. The article contained in this attachment was published in the September 15, 1909 Indianapolis Star. It is essentially a brief statement from Company Founder J.W. Stoddard who said:
"We believe that automobile contests, as now conducted, whether on tracks, roads or hills are extremely hazardous. We further believe that they are a detriment to the industry in that they present, in an exaggerated form, the dangers attending the use of automoiles when operated at more than normal speed. Rather than endanger the lives or our men, therefore, and rather than take the chance of injuring spectators, we have decided, as stated above, to withdraw entirely from all such contests in the future."
The departure of Stoddard-Dayton and the perspective communicated in this announcement are particularly interesting in light of the marques' relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its Founder-President Carl Fisher. Fisher's dealership, the Fisher Automobile Company, was the leading sales channel for Stoddard-Dayton in Indiana. Also, Stoddard-Dayton was destined to become the pace car of the first Indianapolis 500 (Stoddard-Dayton quits racing must have come as a shock to many.).
Attachment RacerWife091909i contains an Indianapolis Star article published September 19, 1909. It provides the perspective of a driver's wife, Mrs. Joe Matson. Her husband was enjoying a great year as winner of the Indiana Trophy and would weeks later win the Massapequa Sweepstakes race on Long Island.
Matson's wife had never attended a race as it simply made her too nervous to watch. The article was written as Matson was preparing to compete in the Lowell Trophy Race with his Chalmers-Detroit.
Matson took a somewhat philosophical view - some might call cavalier. Check out this quote from the article:
"Of course I know I am taking chances. Automobile racing is no game for a man who can't take chances. And it may be true that I will keep on till (sic) it gets me. They say it always will if one keeps at it long enough. But I'm no 'dare devil,' I don't try to throw my life away and I certainly am not anticipating getting killed in a race. But I suppose it is pretty hard on my wife. I often think I will keep my promise to quit it, but - well, those who have been in the game know how I feel."

Safety091509.pdf452.29 KB
Stoddard091509.pdf234.64 KB
RacerWife091909.pdf1.19 MB