105 Years Ago - The Vanderbilt Cup


Today marks the 105th anniversary of America's first great auto race: The William K. Vanderbilt Jr. International Cup. Commissioned by "Willie K" in 1904 and sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA), the race included some great brands still in existence today, including Mercedes, Fiat, Renault and Michelin. Seventeen cars from France, Germany, Italy and the United States gathered the morning of October 8, 1904 for not just America's first international motor sport competition, but really the first major auto race held in the country.


Prior to this event American races were conducted on horse tracks and on beaches and rarely more than 10 miles in length. The Vanderbilt Cup course, plotted over 32.5 miles of Long Island, New York country roads, looked more like the great road races of Europe, especially the James Gordon Bennett Cup. The race was won by American ex-patriate George Heath, who drove for the French marque Panhard throughout his racing career. The 42-year-old Heath lived in Paris, but, somewhat ironically, was born in Long Island, New York.


The course of Macadam roads presented rough, even treacherous terrain in spots. It included active railroad crossings and during the race stewards were stationed at these intersections with warning flags. The crowds, too, presented incredible hazards as they stood in the road during the race, many barely stepping aside as the racers past. In a clear sign of a different age, 90,000 gallons of raw petroleum were sprinkled on the dirt and stone roads to tamp down blinding dust. For more interesting insights, read the article I wrote for the 2004 Formula One United States Grand Prix program. And, of course, check out the video below.