Ira Cobe's Vision - Indianapolis News

The pace of change in automotive technology between the turn of the 20th Century and 1908 was pronounced and developments within motorsports reflected it. There were a handful of auto races in the United States in 1900 - inevitably involving at most a total of three or four cars of one or two cylinders. By 1908 major events were popping up across the country in places like Savannah, Georgia; Briarcliff, New York; Fairmount Park (Philadelphia) and Lowell, Massachsetts to go along with race meets at places like the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Brighton Beach, New York. For these events a couple of dozen four and six cylinder cars may show up in the hands of drivers with serious credentials in high speed, wheel-to-wheel competition. Much had changed in just a few years. Still, all the classic road races were east coast affairs and yet the two largest automobile production cities were Detroit and Indianapolis. In 1908 forces were at work to change that situation.
The challenge of these giant events - that could draw well over 100,000 people - was always making enough money to cover costs. Since the courses were typically longer than 20 miles and utilized public roads it was impossbile to charge for tickets except for special grandstands. Still, the races were an economic boon to the communities that hosted them and they were a matter of prestige for those who organized them. Attached is a pretty extensive collection of articles from the Indianapolis News that run up to June 18, 1909 - the morning of the first significant road race (the Indiana Trophy) ever staged in Indiana. This was the preliminary race to that weekend's main event - the June 19 Cobe Trophy. These articles document the progression of events that led to this historic milestone. For coverage from their rival publication, the Indianapolis Star, see information elsewhere on First Super Speedway. If you have arrived at this page first my suggestion is to read the Indianapolis Star articles first as a prerequisite to getting the most out of this collection.
On May 25,1909 The Indianapolis News published an article (StrangCobeNews052509) that interviewed driver Lewis Strang after he took a brisk drive around the 23.6 mile Crown Point - Lowell course. Strang was widely respected as one of the top drivers of the day and had scored impressive victories at Savannah, Lowell (Massachusetts) and Briarcliff in 1908. Strang sung the praises of the course, declaring it to be "much easier to travel than any I have encountered in this country." This held implications for speed which everyone was interested in. Strang acknowledged that the lap speeds for the northwest Indiana course would be lower than those achieved in the Thanksgiving Day 1908 American Grand Prize, insisting this was true because the cars at that event were purpose-built race cars with larger engines than the stock cars that would be used for the Cobe Trophy.
Strang spoke of a challenging course with lots of "zigs and zags" including two "S" curves, one passing a cemetery. He pronounced a straight stretch of road between Cedar Lake and Lowell the equal of any stretch on the Dieppe, France course of the famous French Grand Prix. Still, Strang predicted a physically taxing race for drivers due to 11 particularly tough, sharp turns per lap. He believed those that finished the complete distance would find themselves resting in bed the following day.
Attachment StutzCobeNews052709 published in the May 27, 1909 Indianapolis News contains an image of Harry Stutz and his cousin Charles Stutz in one of the two Indianapolis-built Marions for the Indiana Trophy. The other Marion was entered for amateur Adolph Monson. Harry Stutz was Marion's chief engineer at the time and designed the two identical cars. The cars were equiped with special detachable rims, one of the non-stock modifications allowed for the race by the rules established by the sanction of the American Automobile Association (AAA) and supported by the advisory Manufacturers' Contest Association (MCA) as well as the organizing body the Chicago Automobile Club. This type of rim, introduced at the first French Grand Prix in 1906, allowed the teams to have pre-mounted tires that could be unbolted and replaced within 30 seconds.
The entry of a Renault car by amateur racer Art Greiner (who would later compete in the Indianapolis 500) is the subject of an Indianapolis News article published May 28, 1909 (attachment CobeNews52809). The entrant was Paul Lacroix, the North American importer for Renault based in New York. The report indicates that Lacroix was considering a second entry for driver Charles Basle. The organizers and the media were apparently eager for international entries as were all these early road races such as those mentioned above. In the end this entry failed to materialize and the only European manufactured car that would compete in the Cobe Trophy was the privately owned Fiat of driver Eddie Hearne. This article mentions Frank Trego, who was the general manager of the event weekend. It also uses the nickname the media gave the event, "The Western Vanderbilt." This was a referene to the Vanderbilt Cup race which was America's first international road race established in 1904.
The June 4, 1909 Indianapolis News article in attachment CobeNews060409 is interesting as it mentions some personalities obscured by the passage of time but were participants in historic events. The article reports on the early arrivals at the track and activities teams were doing to set up shop. The two Chalmers-Detroit cars for the Indiana Trophy had established their headquarters for the event in Lowell where they secured the use of a blacksmith shop and a barn. The team manager was George Bill and among the five men he brought with him was driver L.R. Lorimer and speculation was that he would be one of the drivers. This proved false as Al Poole and eventual winner Joe Matson were given the assignments. Buick drivers Lewis Stang and George DeWitt had arrived in town and were looking to set up shop. DeWitt was mentioned as one of their Indiana Trophy drivers but that did not happen as Louis Chevrolet drove the car in the race. The Knox team with William "Billy" Bourque and Al Denison were expected in Crown Point within the next two days and their cars were scheduled to arrive by train. The Renault mentioned earlier was reportedly on its way with driver Art Greiner. One of the more interesting personalities mentioned is French mechanic Louis Larseneur whose claim to fame was riding with Ferenc Szisz when he won the first French Grand Prix in 1906. Fiat owner and driver Hearne was already on site with his car.
Chalmers-Detroit and Billy Knipper were the subjects of an article published June 7, 1909 in the Indianapolis News (attachment IndianaTrophyNews060709) as the company announced the driver as its third entry for the Indiana Tophy. The article summarizes other entries as well, including the previously mentioned Marions, Buicks, Knox, Renault and Fiat. Buick had entries in both races while the Marions were for the Indiana Trophy with Renault (which did not materialize), Fiat and Knox just the Cobe race. Other entries reported were Moon (Indiana), Stoddard-Dayton (both), Locomobile (both), Ford (Indiana), Fal-car (Indiana), Apperson (Cobe) and Corbin (Indiana).
Attachment CobeNews060909 contains an article that updates the entries most likely to compete in either the Indiana Trophy or the Cobe Trophy. Among those mentioned are Herb Lytle (whose name is misspelled) and Joe Seymour for Apperson; Alvin Maisonville with mechanic John R. Aude for Corbin; Billy Pearce and ex-bicycle racer and motorcycle racer John Ruehl in a pair of Fal-cars; Dunnell for Ford; Fred Wiseman (a future aviator) and Carl Wright for Stoddard-Dayton; William "Billy" Bourque and Al Denison for Knox and George Robertson and Jim Florida for Locomobile. As is typical of articles from this era many of the first names of people are not provided in many instances and I have supplemented this information from other sources as best I can. Also note that the spelling of names is inconsistent and I also try to use my best judgment in using what I believe to be the correct name in the summaries I write.
In attachment CobeNews061209 there is an Indianapolis News feature article published June 12 by Indiana Hall of Fame Journalist William Miller Herschell (author of the poem, "Ain't God Good to Indiana?") that describes the course in colorful detail. Lewis Strang's tours of the course are referenced and from the story it is clear several of the racers were already on hand speeding the course with or without "official" sanctioned practice. This Herschell notes in saying that cars, engines roaring, were turning the citizens of Lowell into "early risers" with morning practice. For historical context Herschell, who, if the dateline means anything was staying in Lowell, makes note that it had only been a week since the National Balloon Championship at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but another region of Indiana had earned national attention.
The article discusses how the course was "discovered" as the Chicago Automobile Club, its collective enthusiasm for a "Western Vanderbilt" race swelling, had been frustrated by the realization that there was no public roads path devoid of multiple railroad crossings. On a Sunday drive one of their members visited his old home in Crown Point and upon meeting friends took them for a recreational drive. Meandering the roads he found inspiration in the lack of rail intersections and the ample sections of road on which he felt comfortable at speed. Reporting his findings back home an energized Chicago Club Automobile racing received it with an enthusiasm that ignited action. The first order of business was to negotiate the use of the roads with Lake County government which boiled down to what makes the world revolve - money, $30,000 the report said. This and the agreement to condition roads and repair them as well as any damage to abutting property. In return they not only received permission for exclusive rights to use of the roads to conduct their races but the same consideration for the requisite practice for race teams.
In quick succession annoucements of trophies followed. One for a light car preliminary event known as the Indiana Trophy as well as the big bore prize of the impending weekend, the Cobe Trophy - named after its donor Club President Ira M. Cobe. Months of planning were required but during that time AAA sanction was secured and rules established for what was asserted to be two stock chassis races. While the light cars were held to weight regulation their engine size could be no more than 300 cubic inches. For the big cars they could be no lighter than 2,250 pounds with engines no larger than 525 cubic inches. Some non-stock modifications were allowed - limited to steering gear, wheels and body modifications such as stripping fenders.
To Herschell's description of the course he does a masterful job of recounting its twists and turns. This is especially true of the stretch between Crown Point and Cedar Lake which included a series of undulating hills and demanding turns, most notably a sharp turn bordered by a lake close enough Herschell surmised an errant car could land there. Leaving the lake was a six-mile stretch smooth enough for drivers to "burn the air." The story of "Death's Curve" is amusing in that while  treacherous in that it sliced through the town not the countryside the reason behind its name was that a hardware store owned by George McKinley Death was located there.
On June 15 the News published a brief article (attachment Cobe4News061509) focused on the plans of several Indianapolis-area auto industry leaders including Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Carl Fisher who also owned Fisher Automobile Company. Art Newby, with Fisher co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a chief executive at National Motor Vehicle Company almost undoubtedly traveled with Fisher. Other Indianapolis auto industry leaders with plans to attend Premier Motor Company's H.O. Smith who was president of the Indiana Auto Club at the time and Studebaker's Frank Willis. For more information on these two men check out the leadership they provided the Indianapolis Auto Show in articles elsewhere on First Super Speedway. Another person mentioned as attending was Pop Washburn but his role in the automobile industry or the community of Indianapolis is unclear. As an aside the aritcle also includes a mention of the concern race organizers had about the region's capacity to accommodate out-of-town guests and how the homes of local farmers were being made available at the price of $5.00 for a bed and two meals daily.
Also on June 15 the News reported (attachment Cobe3061509) that official practice had commenced the previous day. Among those most active were Al Denison and his Knox and some exceptionally fine prose paints the picture of his work..."the big Knox jumped and quivered as it gathered momentum for the big dash past the stand. The exhaust popped like a big gallery of Gatling guns and the powerful racer kicked up a slight trail of dust hurtling on to the turn at the northeast corner."
Indeed most of the drivers and teams were at work: Adolph Monson and Harry Stutz in the Marions, Jim Florida in the Locomobile, Joe Matson, Al Poole and Billy Knipper in the Chalmers-Detroit "Bluebirds." All four Stoddard-Daytons practiced, two for the Cobe Trophy with C.A. Engelbeck and Bert Miller driving and two for the Indiana Trophy with Fred Wiseman and Carl Wright at the wheels. Eddie Hearne was circulating in his Fiat which had just returned from a cracked cylinder repair. Note that the parts were provided by Harry Clinton, manager of the Chicago Fiat agency. Billy Bourque and George Robertson were on the track but only using their touring cars. The speedsters were inhibited by service crews still at work conditioning the course. I also want to note that this article mentions the first name of Ford driver Dunnell as "George." Again, this car never materialized as an entry.
Still another Indianapolis News article published June 15 (Cobe2News061509) was brief but contained solid information on the last minute race preparations underway. An eleaborate system of wires were being strewn around the 23.6 mile course to connect telegraph operators to the judges' stand in Crown Point. The plan was to feed into the central officiating location information about accidents, changes for position or other relevant developments. This information would be relayed to those in the grandstands though two giant scoreboards updated manually. A particularly rough two-mile stretch of road along the east leg was being address by 100 men supported by two steam rollers. Plans called for cement, tar and oil to be applied to the roads the following day. The cement was probably used in particularly rough spots as the course was not paved in a manner we would recognize today. Temporary hospitals dedicated to servicing the racing events were set up with one each in Crown Point and Lowell.
On June 16 the News ran an article (attachment Cobe1News061609) that reported on the second official day of practice, this time with fewer issues slowing for work crews. The article begins with a good speed chart recording the top times of the day with Lewis Strang leading all competitors. His time, recorded by officials as 21 minutes, was in dispute. Several observers asserted that it was more accuratedly 24 minutes which sounds more plausible as the next fastest driver was his Buick teammate Bob Burman at 25 minutes. The article also reports on the impending arrival of the First Regiment of the Illinois National Guard under the command of Colonel Joseph B. Sanborn, their involvement one of the major coup for the organizers so worried about policing unruly spectators seen at other events like the Vanderbilt Cup. Despite the fact the race was held on Indiana soil all stakeholders were comfortable with the arrangement. According to the report the regiment numbered 1,000 soldiers. Also, the article reports that some teams were using "20 foot billboards" stationed in slow turns to communicate with their drivers, a system developed by the French - the article indicates.
The day before the Indiana Trophy race, June 17, the Indianapolis News ran an article on late practice for the races. Fans and newspaper men were buzzing over George Robertson's fast lap in the Cobe Locomobile at 22.4 mintues. Again, though, the times were recorded with hand held watches so there were discrepancies with some claiming Robertson's best lap was only 24 minutes. Meanwhile Colonel Sanborn led a group of 50 of his Illinois militia who began settin up tents for the remaing 950 soldiers  when they arrived. Farmers complained that the racers were disregarding the time reserved for their practice runs and using the course for speed runs whenever the felt like it. In fact, on Robertson's fast lap he reportedly dodged "truck wagons" using the roads. George Fisher, deputy clerk of the Lake County circuit court and Justice of the Peace H.B. Nicholson were going about their everyday duties and making no special effort to observe the racers.
Decorations reportly sprung up in Lowell and Crown Point as "country folk" drove their horse drawn wagons from miles out into the cities or found spots along the course. The Marions contributed excitement as they diced through one of the "S" curves with Adloph Monson leading. Blinded by dust, the driver of the trailing Marion missed one of the curves and tipped so violently it threw riding mechanic Ray Tinkler onto sode at the side of the road. Tinkler was unhurt but the car's asle was bent. The driver was reportedly Charles Stutz which is interesting because it conflicts with the Indianapolis Star account which had the car's designer Harry Stutz at the wheel. The final two paragraphs of this article summarizes the practice of Indiana Trophy competitors and notes that corner workers armed with red and white flags directed public traffic off the course at 2 p.m. so the racers could have full reign over the public roads.
Attachment Cobe1News061709 contains an Indianapolis News article that was published the night before the Indiana Trophy on June 17, 1909. It provides useful reference data with listings of both the Indiana Trophy and Cobe Trophy field of competitors. Note that again Charles Stutz is listed as one of the Marion drivers, not cousin Harry as the Indianapolis Star had been reporting. Included in the Indiana Trophy field are Art Greiner (Renault) and George Dunnell (Ford), two cars that failed to take part. Also, the Renault car had earlier been listed as a Cobe Trophy entrant. The article names the officials of the race: Referee - Asa Paine; Starter - Fred Wagner; Clerk of the Course - Charles Root; Chief Timer - Harry Knights; Judge - John Farson; Judge - John C. Eastman; Judge - Fred D. Countiss; Judge - H.O. Smith; Judge - W.C. MacMahon; Judge - V.S. Reiter; Chief Flagman - Frank Wood; Chief of Electric Timing - B. Edwards and Commissary General - O.C. Temme. Note that MacMahon and Reiter not only were named judges for the race but held the title of "Judge" in their careers.
The article underscores the shared anticipation of a gathering of over 200,000 people "pouring in from all points of the compass." Officials announced that they would allow the public access to the public roads until 7 a.m., or an hour before the scheduled start. The big official grandstand was reportedly a mile and a half outside of Crown Point. Many spectators were expected to view the race from city or farmhouse porches as well from their cars parked in fields local famers were charging visitors for access. Farmers also assembled viewing stands that were part of their five dollar packages for lodging, two meals and a chance to see the "Western Vanderbilt."

StrangCobeNews052509.pdf2.97 MB
StutzCobeNews052709.pdf2.74 MB
CobeNews52809.pdf2.6 MB
CobeNews060409.pdf2.78 MB
IndianaTrophyNews060709.pdf564.22 KB
CobeNews060909.pdf864.27 KB
CobeNews061209.pdf3.4 MB
Cobe4News061509.pdf740.75 KB
Cobe3News061509.pdf1.09 MB
Cobe2News061509.pdf265.27 KB
Cobe1News061609.pdf882.72 KB
Cobe2News061709.pdf1.66 MB
Cobe1News061709.pdf1.28 MB