Romance & Racing

This article from the Indianapolis Star reports on the races of the first automobile race meet at the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The publication date was August 21, 1909 and the events were conducted the previous day. The story was written by the legendary Peter Paul "P.P" Willis.
The feature race of the day was the G&J Trophy dominated by Buick's star driver Lewis Strang. The press introduced a romantic subplot to his hero's story by highlighting the passionate embrace of his wife, the stunningly gorgeous Kentuckian actress Jeanne L. Spaulding (stage name Louise Alexander) who laid a big kiss on her oil-coated husband's lips. The two were celebrity gossip fodder and for background beyond the scope of this article their marriage was tumultuous and brief as neither cared for their partner's career. His was too dangerous and hers - beautiful as she was - frequently placed her in the arms of other men. They were destined to be finished with one another by 1910, but for this intense moment they produced a delicious image for consumers of newsprint. Note that I have an attachment from a Web authority (TeamDan) to expand on their relationship.
Strang led the entire distance breaking world speed records in the process. As I find so frequently the prose of the day is novel-worthy:
"The sustained race of Lewis Strang (the article misspells his hame as "Louis") was remarkable. Inspired as he was by love, the lure of gold and the raving for supremacy, no wonder he risked life and endangered limb and machinery in his death-inviting, space-annihilating performance. When he stepped from his machine his wife flew to his arms and although he was one solid mass of dirt and oil, and his head was so maked in dest that none other than a wife, would have caressed and blessed the hero of the speed battle."
I also found the physical description of Strang compelling:
"In appearance Strang is a strapping, handsome youngster with a deep chest and limbs like Hercules. His skin is clear and ruddy (except after a race), his hair light brown, tinted with gray, wavy and close cropped; his eyes frank, blue, boyish. Energy and good nature hang about him like an aura. His smile is wonderfully engaging and reveals a row of strong white teeth that any girl might covet."
In all there were seven races and one time trial for the fastest mile. Barney Oldfield and his Benz (note this is not the Blitzen Benz although it is reported as such in D. Bruce Scott's Indy:Racing Before the 500 and other authoritative sources) once again proved an untouchable combination in the time trial as he continued on his way to securing the grand prize for the fastest mile of the season: the gold-plated Overland roadster.
Note that the article reports that Speedway management had a team of labors working through the night to affect repairs to the track from the wear and tear of the first day. They also oiled the running surface to tamp down dust. No doubt they toiled under the illumination of gas fueled Prest-O-Lite headlights from Carl Fisher and Jim Allison's company of the same name.
The Knox Company, the owners of William Bourque and Harry Holcomb's race car, also announced that they had withdrawn from the duration of the meet. This was a huge but understandable loss to the quality of the field of competitors. Also, "Wild" Bob Burman elected to sit out the day after his exhausting effort in winning the Prest-O-Lite Trophy 250 mile race the day prior. Or perhaps he celebrated too much...
Strang also won the first race of the day, a five miler for cars of 231 to 300 cubic inches engine displacement. His only serious threat came from Buick teammate Louis Chevrolet.
The influence of taskmaster starter Fred Wagner was felt in the second race. The demanding official had no tolerance for tardiness and as a result both National Motor Vehicle Company driver Thomas Kincaid and Jackson Automobile Company's Leigh Lynch missed the starter's signal simply because they were late to the line. Indianapolis boy and National driver Charlie Merz led all four laps of the 10 mile affair. Note that there were no riding mechanics in this race.
National continued its winning ways in the third race, another 10 miler. Johnny Aitken prevailed after a very poor start that had him bringing up the rear of an eight car field at the conclusion of the first lap. Eddie Hearne in his personal owned Fiat led a bunched-up, competitive field on lap one.
All the cars diced with each other but noteworthy was the astonishing driving performance of crowd favorite Barney Oldfield. Driving his privately owned National "Old Glory" racer he bravely maintained control when without warning the bonnet of his giant machine flew up and back into his cockpit. Narrowly averting decapitation by flinging his arm into the path of the airborne blade he suffered deep wounds to his limb. The article notes the consternation of wife Bess as she stewed in her emotion until getting word that her husband would recover from his wounds.
Interestingly the cause of Oldfield's accident was trace to a tech committee decision to install "reflectors" on the exhaust ports of engines. Presumably this was a safety feature to prevent painful burns to people near machines when they were started. Ironically the modification triggered a fire underneath at least one engine cover - Oldfield's - which in turn burnt through the leather straps securing the bonnet.
Stoddard-Dayton pulled off a one-two finish in the fourth race of the day. One of the longest at 50 miles it nonetheless offered up one of the shortest fields with only five competitors. Little known Carl Wright led teammate Louis Schwitzer across the line while the other three cars never saw the finish each the victim of various mechanical maladies. Note that the time required to complete the distance was nearly an hour at 59:23.1.
The next race was a 10 mile free-for-all or "open " contest. The winner was Len Zengel (the paper finally managed to spell his name correctly after nearly a week of "Zeingel") in his big Chadwick No. 50. In the process he set a new record time of 8:23.2, annihilating the long-lived 1904 record set for the distance by Barney Oldfield in the Peerless Green Dragon. Oldfield actually led the first lap, bravely attempting competition fresh from stitching up flesh at the infield hospital after his arm-slicing injury in the previous race.
The fifth race became National's third victory of the day and second by their trusted veteran pilot Johnny Aitken. This was a five mile sprint, another free-for-all but this time a handicap (giving smaller cars judged slower by officials a headstart). Aitken was awarded the medal based on judges' discretion as the contest between him and his upstart, hot-shot teammate Charlie Merz was almost too close to call.

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