Venue Competition For Records 1909

The article contained in AutoNotes113009 illustrates how seriously the automotive industry and the motorsports world took the oddball December 1909 time trial event hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As Speedway management prepared for the event, appendage-measuring managers of all venues tried to arrange for record runs. At stake was bragging rights as the fastest venue of the year as 1909 came to a close.
The Speedway's biggest rival was the two-mile oval of crushed stone and red clay established by Coca-Cola Founder Asa Candler and it was understandable that they wanted top speed honors. More curious was the decision of Chicago auto enthusiast Harry T. Clinton who worked to arrange time trials featuring Lewis Strang in his 120-HP "baby" Fiat that had been successful at the November Atlanta race meeting. The venue was to be the Cobe Trophy course near Crown Point, Indiana. This scheme is especially strange given that Chicago Automobile Club officials were in the process of turning away from the Crown Point public roads course as the venue for their feature race.
Plans called for the use of a two-mile stretch of road. The big target was records, Barney Oldfield had established at Lowell, Massachusetts in his Benz racer in September. Both flying and standing start records were coveted. Oldfield held them both at 39:09 and 51:02 respectively. Eddie Hearne was also on hand to pursue stock car records which Buick's Louis Chevrolet had established at 1:01.06.
Clinton had arranged to use the Trego timing device, an electric instrument that had proven itself at the recent Algonquin Hill Climb. This machine had been designed by Frank Trego, who served as a secretary at the Chicago Automobile Club. The American Automobile Association sanctioned the event, relying heavily on the Chicago club's officials. An example was the tech committee headed by the highly regarded David Beecroft whose team included Berne Nadall and F.E. Edwards.
Meanwhile, back in Indianapolis, plans called for the time trials to start December 11 or 12. They eventually took place on December 17. Part of the advance promotion included showcasing J. Walter Christie's front-wheel drive Christie racer on the showroom floor of Fisher Automobile Company in downtown Indianapolis. This was Carl Fisher's auto sales dealership and service garage.
The article notes that Marmon and National expected to field entries to pursue stock car records. They had just returned home from a successful competition in New Orleans. The brick paving project at the Speedway was rapidly approaching its conclusion.
The article wraps up with a discussion of the AAA's annual meeting, which featured the election of a new slate of officials. A reference is made to the cultural divide between forces in the east - predominately New York - and "western" cities like Indianapolis and Chicago. The following excerpt illustrates that point.
"The West never has much to say as to the choice of officers, because of the storm center of the national organization being located in the east. Once in a while, though, the west is thrown a few crumbs to keep it in line, as was the case the year John Farson and Sidney Gorham of Chicago were president and secretary of the big organization."
Lewis R. Speare of New York was announced as president, succeeding W.H. Hotchkiss of Buffalo. Of particular focus was the Contest Board. The chairman at the time, Frank B. Hower, had become unpopular. Rumors that eventually proved valid had it that Sam Butler, who was secretary of the Automobile Club of America (ACA) at the time, would ascend to the exalted office. This was a political calculation as members of both the AAA and the ACA sought to overcome their tense relationship which in 1908 erupted into a civil war.
Attachment IMSNews120409 contains an Indianapolis News article that both previews the upcoming time trials at the Speedway and also summarizes accomplishments by drivers and teams over the first 11 months of the year. The article offers up some data and statistics which are interesting, but I would want corroboration before asserting it as fact. For example, 27 road races are accounted for, with 223 cars starting. Almost incredibly, only 18 cars of European make are noted, with only a Fiat reported as a winner. The car cited reportedly started eight times, producing one victory, two runner-up finishes, and one third. Isotta, Benz, Mercedes, and Renault receive mention.
As for the American manufacturers, many reportedly did not participate, apparently unconvinced auto racing was worth the time and money. Among the several who did, Chalmers-Detroit and Buick were identified as the most active. Twenty-two Chalmers-Detroits were reported as taking part in various events with results of five firsts, three seconds, and two thirds. Buick is credited with 27 starts with five wins, two seconds, and two thirds. The industry trade newspaper Motor Age is cited as the source of this information.
Pope-Hartford was reported as a force on the Pacific coast with four victories. A win in a sensational finish in the 148.2-mile Portola race at San Francisco is called out. The average speed of 65.7 mph was seen as exciting. Louis Chevrolet's Riverhead, Long Island win for Buick at 76.5 mph was cited as the world's fastest speed average. That race was 113.7 miles long.
Apperson is credited with an important long distance win in the 202-mile Ferris Cup in Los Angeles. That race took three hours, eight minutes and 32 seconds (3:08.32) to complete for a speed average of 64.45 mph. Alco's victory in the Vanderbilt Cup by driver Harry Grant is called out. That race was completed with a time of 4:25.42 for an average speed of 62.8 mph.
1909 was a tipping point for racing as big purpose-built speedways at Atlanta and Indianapolis emerged. These venues are credited with making possible new speed achievements from one to 250 miles. At Atlanta Louis Strang, in a 120 hp Fiat (some reports had it at 200 HP, but I am thinking 120 more likely), drove two miles in 1:21.51 at 88.3 mph. All distances up to 200 miles were completed in excess of 69 mph.
Brooklands is credited with being the fastest track on Earth, and its cement paving is cited as the reason. Atlanta was noted for its gravel and clay running surface as was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's macadam and tar coating during the deadly August meet. Hopes were high that results would improve with the Speedway's new brick pavement. Brooklands' much greater banking is not discussed as a factor. 
The article shifts cadence a bit to report that the AAA had agreed to sanction the December time trials at Indianapolis. With that announcement, the dates were fixed at December 17 and 18. The intention was to produce events for Class 1 (450 to 600 cubic inches); Class 2 (301 to 450); Class 3 (231 to 301); Class 4 (161 to 231), and Class 5 (161 and under).
Event distances were announced at the one-quarter mile; one-half mile; one kilometer; one mile; five miles, ten miles; 50 miles, and 100 miles. Friday trials were scheduled to begin at 1 pm while Saturday's show was set for noon. Tickets to the field stand were 25 cents and 50 cents for the main grandstand. Frigid weather forced a re-think on these plans. Most of the events were limited to one mile or less, with the exception of one 20-mile feature. Also, fans were admitted free as hardly anyone wanted to brave the weather.
The article transitions to a brief note that American racing focused on stock cars. Notably, this also applied to the Vanderbilt Cup for the first time. So-called "freak" cars - purpose-built racers - rarely appeared. Manufacturers did not believe anything but stock cars showcased their products to consumers.
Motor Age is again cited as the expert source as driver performance was assessed. There was no AAA points championship, so the trade paper's opinion was examined carefully. The drivers seen as among the most successful were Bert Dingley, George Robertson, Louis Chevrolet, Harris Hanshue, Harry Grant, Joe Matson, Ray Harroun, Johnny Aitken, Billy Knipper, and Bob Burman.
Of those drivers, Dingley and Robertson were called out as the best of the best, in that order. Interestingly, Dingley is reported to have driven in just seven races in 1909 and Robertson only four. This is worth considering as we seek greater understanding into the lives of these men. Most drivers had larger jobs with factories as test drivers, mechanics, and consultants.
Dingley is credited with two victories, three second-place finishes and a third. His fastest race was the Wemme Cup, where he averaged 58.7 mph. His slowest average was 52.06 mph as he secured third place in the Vesper Cup. Robertson won two races - at Lowell and Philadelphia. He was also second in the Indiana Trophy and third in the Cobe Cup. Louis Chevrolet had three wins, but with four DNFs he was quickly developing the reputation as a hard driver who either won or broke.
The third article is actually a table of world speed records in December 1909. Well over 100 records are listed if you open attachment IMSRecords121109. There are records for speedways, mile tracks, straightaway, all the AAA classes, steam cars, and over distances up to miles cover in 24 hours. In November, Atlanta virtually erased all class records established at Indianapolis in August. Clearly, the fastest venues worldwide were England's Brooklands and Ormond Beach in Florida. Some records dated back four years, in particular, some held by Barney Oldfield in the Peerless Green Dragon and Webb Jay in the "Whistling Billy" White Steamer. The attachment is reasonably legible and well worth your time if you are sincerely interested in this stuff.

AutoNotes113009.pdf3.11 MB
IMSNews120409.pdf1.33 MB
IMSRecords121109.pdf1.84 MB