Time Trial Anticipation

The article in attachment IMStrials121209 originally appeared in the December 12, 1909, Indianapolis Star. This article discusses the expectations for world speed records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the planned December 17 and 18, 1909 time trials.
The article touts the power of the speedy drivers involved, in particular, Lewis Strang (Fiat) and Walter Christie (front wheel Christie "freak") Johnny Aitken of the National Motor Vehicle Company and Marmon drivers Ray Harroun and Harry Stillman are called out as well.
Accomplished English driver Hughie Hughes was working with J. Walter Christie on the front wheel drive Christie machine. Note the continued comparisons to the Brooklands track in England. He predicted great results, saying:
"I am going to drive a quarter in seven seconds on that new brick course. There is no reason why I should not be able to do this on that track which beyond all doubt has the Brooklands surface beaten by far. It is more level and that is all that the Christie car needs to be let out and permitted to go the fastest quarter ever traveled in the history of motor car racing."
The article reports that the plan was for Hughes to drive the quarter mile while Christie would take the wheel for the longer trials. Hughes' bold predictions of new records prompted a response from Fiat driver Strang who insisted that he simply would go faster. The Fiat mechanic referred to unfortunately only by his last name, Sandellary, had been working on the car at the garage of the Fisher Automobile Company in downtown Indianapolis. I believe this is Anthony "Tony" Scudellari who was destined to lose his life in practice for the 1912 American Grand Prize on the Milwaukee road course with driver David Bruce-Brown in 1910. The Christie car was also housed at the same garage, owned by Speedway Founder and President Carl Fisher.
The day the article was published the Speedway was opened to the public so anyone could get a look at the reported $700,000 facility. Track management had also announced that there would be no practicing on the track due to cold, icy weather.
The stock chassis events attracted entries from National, Marmon, Cole, Empire, and Maxwell - all seeking class speed records. The article named National's Aitken as a rising star citing his success at the first race meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August. Newell Motsinger was the driver for Empire and this was the company's first competition. Apparently, there was also a Buick on hand for Hughes in the events where he was not driving the Christie.
Marmon cars were entered for Harroun and Stillman, both gunning for long distance records. The marques' success at New Orleans, Atlanta and in the Wheatley Hills Sweepstakes is noted. The well respected Bill Endicott was named the driver of the lightweight Cole "Thirty" entry.
The brief December 13, 1909, Indianapolis News article in attachment IMSNews121309 confirms that the best known American Automobile Association AAA official of the day, Fred J. Wagner, would perform the starter's role during the time trials. Starters of the era served in much the same capacity of chief stewards or race directors of later generations.
This article notes that he was quite experienced, serving as a starter "for a score of years," (meaning 20 years) dating back to the popular velodrome bicycle racing days that were very high profile in the 1890's. Bicycles, particularly in the chains and gears, bore a heavy influence of early automobile and airplane development.
Another Indianapolis News article - this one from December 14 - appears in attachment IMSNews121409. This reports on the first practice for the time trials. The unseasonably cold weather was as much talked about as the new brick running surface. Since this was an evening paper, the news reported took place earlier the same day. No times were recorded as drivers used the day to familiarize themselves with the new Brickyard.
Harry Stillman is cited as the first to take to the track in his Marmon. He did a few laps and returned to the pit area to declare the Brickyard superior to its Atlanta speedway rival. He competed in that track's November meet. Stillman was impressed with the "high" banked turns.
The article reports that all the drivers on hand were pleased with concrete retaining wall. Some apparently said they would be inclined to press harder in the turns since they were confident the new wall would prevent them from flying off the track.
Johnny Aitken was asked about the cold and said that experienced drivers did not mind cold and they were accustomed to all sorts of conditions. He believed drivers did not allow extraneous factors to distract them from their cars and the track.
"It is no colder in Indianapolis today," he said, "than it was when the Vanderbilt Cup race was run on the Long Island course."
Walter Christie and Lewis Strang's entries are discussed. Note that Christie's car is described as the Christie III. It was reportedly the same car he drove at the Speedway in August. Christie had been in Indianapolis for several days but did not take to the track in time for the newspaper's publication deadline.
As for Strang, he was expected to arrive in the city that afternoon. Strang was entered in what is called the 200 HP Fiat. Eddie Hearne's arrival was also anticipated.
Attachment IMSNews121509 contains a brief Indianapolis News article reporting on the last minute preparations for the time trials. Interestingly, Ernie Moross, the track's general manager, announced that even a damp track would not stop the event. They believed that the brick surface made racing on the oval safe. Moross even said he would pour gasoline on the track and set fire to the bricks to clear any snow or ice. 
Empire Driver Newell Motsinger unwittingly helped illustrate the banking of the track. While practicing on the wet bricks he stopped on one of the banked terms to check his engine. The car slid to the bottom of the track.
The article reports that Johnny Aitken, Ray Harroun, Harry Stillman and Motsinger were expected to practice that afternoon. Experts predicted new records, but also believed these would be broken the following spring with better weather conditions. 
Attachment IMSNews121609 contains an Indianapolis News article published December 16, 1909, that reflects the fever pitch of anticipation surrounding the Speedway's pending time trials. The headings call the track's program, "unprecedented," and asserted that "all world's records are expected to fall."
There is a call-out box up front that details events and entries.
Event 1, Free-For-All time trials for distances from one-quarter mile to 10 miles

  • Lewis Strang, Fiat
  • J. Walter Christie, Christie
  • Johnny Aitken, National 6-cylinder & 4-cylinder
  • Thomas Kincaid, National 4-cylinder

Event 2, Cars of 450 to 600 cubic inch displacement - one-quarter mile to 100 miles

  • Johnny Aitken, National 6 & 4
  • Thomas Kincaid, National 4

Event 3, Cars of 301 to 450 cubic inches

  • Johnny Aitken, National 4-cylinder
  • Thomas Kincaid, National 4-cylinder
  • Harry Stillman, Marmon

Event 4, Cars of 231 to 300 cubic inches

  • Ray Harroun, Marmon

Event 5, Cars. of 161 to 230 cubic inches, one-quarter mile to 100 miles.

  • Louis Switzer, Fuller
  • Bill Endicott, Cole
  • Stoddard-Dayton (late entry by Carl Fisher)

Event 6, Cars of 160 cubic inches

  • Newell Motsinger, Empire

Check out this excerpt, a hyperbolic lead paragraph to the story.
"Sporting history that is without precedent is expected to be made at the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway tomorrow and Saturday. If the present dry conditions of the track continues, the spectators who witness the speed trials are expected to see all the present world's records smashed to smithereens. What could be more thrilling than to witness such speed in midwinter?"
The words I put in bold type in the excerpt are clearly hyperbole. Anyone who understood anything about race car performance, running surfaces and track configurations would have no question that the new Brickyard could in no way produce speed like the high-banked Brooklands track in England.
The most anticipated entries were the two with the biggest engines - Strang's Fiat and Christie's Christie. The Fiat is reported to have a horsepower rating of 200. I am incredulous and believe it was more in the range of 120 to 150 horses, based on other sources I have encountered in the past. While those two would produce the top speeds, there was still excitement about the class records pursued by the other entries.
The article notes that Christie and Aitken practiced on the track the previous day. At the very least, the article insinuates that Christie hit 120 mph for a half mile run. Again, this had to be hyperbole. While Aitken endured carburetor trouble, he was effusive with praise for the freshly paved track, saying, "There are no turns to this track, it is all straightaway." For the lower powered cars of the day, this might have seemed feasible, but it was still exaggeration given the thin tires, primitive rubber, springs, and high center of gravity.
It is important to note that this event served as the competition debut from the new Cole "30".  Cole officials were on hand for practice, watching driver Bill Endicott handle the car. The new company's officers were considering more competitive events later in the year.
The Empire, too, was a new company taking its first stab at a competition. It was a stock car, but observers felt it appeared like a racing model. 
Attachment IMSflagsNews121709 contains an extremely brief item that shares the Speedway's methods of signaling both competitors and spectators about actions the event managers were taking. In these days prior to the ability to transmit voices and music over electric wires and speakers, the track employed electric horn sounds. 

  • One long blast with display of car number calls car signaled to stop.
  • Two long blasts calls cars from paddock to tape for next event.
  • Three long blasts before the start of meet signals all gates leading across the track to be closed, after which time all spectators crossing track must use bridges.
  • Three long blasts after meet signals all gates to be opened.

Flag race signals were as follows.

  • Red Flag - Clear course.
  • Yellow Flag - Stop immediately.
  • Green Flag - Starting last lap.
  • White Flag - Stop for consultation.
  • Blue Flag - Accident on the course.
IMStrials121209.pdf806.7 KB
IMSNews121309.pdf823.99 KB
IMSNews121409.pdf707.51 KB
IMSNews121509.pdf1.21 MB
IMSNews121609.pdf1.66 MB