Road Racing Detrimental?

On March 21, 1909 the Indianapolis Star ran an article discussing the industry and public debate about the value of road racing. This was a topic of the day as manufacturers, government and the general public held differing views on the merits of racing on public roads. There were always those that saw all the negatives which largely pertained to safety and the inconvenience of having public roads appropriated for the commercial venture of auto racing for a week or more of practice and the actual race events. Obviously race cars sharing the same roads with the public seems a tad crazy and it did happen during practice sessions - especially "unofficial" ones when the drivers and teams arrived in a town.
Even among manufacturers, though, there were divergent views. This was accentuated anytime the subject of stock versus "freak" or purpose built race cars was discussed. Manufacturers by and large had no interest in the additional investment of producing special cars with no commercial value just to see who could go faster. A.E.P. Chalfont, the general manager of the Licensed Automobile Manufacturer's Association offered impressive, even visionary, commentary in the article:
"The public must now realize that automobile contests are in their infancy. However, the most expert men in the business cannot tell what turn the sport is going to take next. The whole manufacturing world is divided on the subject of racing. One maker says the sport is of no benefit to the industry, another says it helps more than anything else. Some favor a speedway, but urge the importance of practical contests."
As a note of historical context the reference to "a speedway" is significant as at the time this article was published the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was under construction. Chalfont and his contemporaries did not have the benefit of seeing their sport's future but road racing on public roads was largely doomed. While endurance runs like the Glidden Trophy continued for some time these were not full-on speed contests. Road racing as it was in the days of the Vanderbilt Cup would perish as the country entered the era of speedway ovals. Private road courses have been built, road rallies continue and off-road racing in largely remote areas such as the Baja 1000 still thrive. With the advent of a revival of American street racing such as the Long Beach Grand Prix even the use of public roads has resurfaced albeit in a much more packaged manner. The early road races, despite their eventually intolerable risks to the public and impractical approach to commandeering public facilities served an important purpose in underscoring the good roads movement of the day.

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