Analysis of Speed - Cheyenne


In the first quarter of the 20th Century elites in the Northeast disparaged upstarts in places like Detroit, Indianapolis, and Louisville as "Westerners." It was a disparaging term. That may sound strange today, given that those cities are described as midwestern locations. They were, in the age, seen as on the fringe of civilization.


Keep in mind that in "remote" states and territories of the country - such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, the American government was still in the process of suppressing Native Americans in the final days of what is still popularly referred as the "Indian Wars." Conflicts such as the Battle of Kelly Creek, the Bluff War, and the Battle of Bear Valley were still taking place. Granted, these might be best described as relatively minor violent protests, but the fact of the matter is the U.S. Military and Native American Warriors were shooting at each other.


This was part of the backdrop as the automotive age and the sport of racing cars took hold. With California as the exception, it is rare to find records of events in what today are called "the flyover states," during the first decade of the 20th Century. Among those exceptions were Denver and San Antonio, and the unlikely venue of Cheyenne, Wyoming.


Cheyenne was well designed. Manufacturers wanted private speedways that minimized spectator intrusion and provided long straightaways for engines to fully unwind and demonstrate impressive horsepower. Cheyenne was a four-mile course and among those taking advantage was Barney Oldfield in 1910 when he took his Daytona Beach land speed record-setting Blitzen Benz on a tour of the country.


During his Cheyenne stop, Oldfield, who loved the West, and moved to California, lowered the American mile track record, pushing the time down to 36 seconds flat. He also covered the half-mile in 17 seconds. The distinction for Cheyenne proved brief as Oldfield lowered it still further just weeks later when he brought the car to the Brickyard in May.


If you click thru you can learn so much more plus find a link to original images of racing action from 1915. Records are not entirely clear, but the best research indicates the Cheyenne track, built in 1909, endured for 10 years until the expanding city created a compelling business case for mowing the facility down and parceling out the land for development.


Thanks to historian James Fuller, there is so much to learn about the Cheyenne track. James is First Super Speedway's guest blogger on the topic. Enjoy.


January 14, 2018

I am updating this blog because James Fuller's submissions inspired a second historian, Robert Rampton, to submit his thoughts, which are captured in the attachment (Cheyenne Motor Club Races) at the bottom of this post. Robert's submission centers on an image elsewhere on First Super Speedway and embedded in the attachment. Robert tells us the photo was taken August 17, 1909, just before the start of the track's first race, a 200-miler. This was not an unheard of distance at the time but was still considered an exceptionally long race. It was organized by the Cheyenne Motor Club (CMC).


Robert reports that the photographer, J.E. Stimson, was also a co-founder of CMC and served as vice president and secretary of the club. This field for this first race largely consisted of "Westerners," many from the Denver area.


Car #1, an Oldsmobile, in the referenced image was driven by Martin Fletcher of Denver. Robert notes that Fletcher had gained some recognition as the driver of an REO "The Rabbit" machine that "piloted" the famous Thomas Flyer across America in the famous 1908 Paris-to-New York. Just in case you don't know how the pilot reference makes sense, understand that in long-distance touring competitions such as The Glidden Trophy machines were recognized as Pathfinders or Pilots and organizers had them start well ahead of the field to reconnoiter the course. Typically they scattered confetti from the back of the car to identify the trail - many times just craggy landscape with no roads.


Another well-known Denver racer was Harold Brinker, who drove a white Moon automobile designated as number five. There is a picture of that car in Robert's attachment. Brinker spotted other drivers in the winning Thomas Flyer during the 1908 New York-to-Paris go.


Starting third in the Cheyenne race was Charles Basle, probably the only nationally recognized driver in the field. He drove a Renault. Born in France, he immigrated to America and reached the pinnacle of his career when he drove in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Robert reports that Basle's participation was part of a push by the French firm to establish the brand in western United States markets.


Starting immediately behind Basle was Harry Ball, also of Denver, in a Marmon 32. Robert tells us the car had impressive speed, making Ball the bookmaker's favorite. Two Colburn cars were next up with drivers Ernest Griffith and Al Ingersoll. Colburn was a Denver company and the cars were designed by two brothers with financing from their father. They licensed many of the parts from other companies and eventually formed a close alliance with Renault. Robert's attachment contains an image of a Colburn on its way to victory in a Denver-Laramie road race.


The last car flagged into the competition was a small Buick with Gaston Morris at the wheel. Morris may have been the only Cheyenne-based driver in the field.


Robert says the best reports indicate that the 200-mile race attracted a sizeable crowd of spectators. Griffith dominated in his Colburn 40 but suffered a horrific crash late in the race and incurred severe injuries that ended his life four days later. His riding mechanic was thrown clear and miraculously escaped uninjured. Martin Fletcher won the race with a time of three hours, 39 minutes, and 47 seconds. Basle and Ball followed in that order.


January 15, 2018
Robert submitted a second attachment (Cheyenne Motor Club Races-Part 2) on January 15, 2018. His content in the attachment includes substantive copy supported by quality images from the Wyoming State Archive. This attachment focuses on the second CMC 200-mile race on August 23, 1910. 
The track had been modified with leveling and most dramatically building up a high banking on the curve leading into the homestretch. This was directly in front of grandstand seating. Another, a slightly less banked curve was developed at the opposite end of the straightaway. These modifications were expected to make the track even faster than when Barney Oldfield and the Blitzen Benz set records there in May.
There were six cars in the race, and each was assigned a number based on their starting position. Linn Mathewson, who owned a Denver Thomas Flyer dealership, was in car #1, had gone to the expense of ordering and shipping the specially-prepared racer. James "Red" McDonald was hired as the driver with Steven Bourne as riding mechanic. Bourne served as riding mechanic aboard the winning entry in the same race the previous year.
Car #2 was a 45-horsepower Apperson Jackrabbit, the first of two entered by W.J. Carter, manager of the Overland Automobile Company in Denver. C.J. Corkhill was the driver with H.C. Faceler as the riding mechanic. Car #3 was a light gray National 40 driven by Eaton McMillan with Grover Young as riding mechanic.
The second Apperson was car #4, more powerful at 55-horsepower. Harry Ball was the driver, and James Allen was riding mechanic. Lisle Brannon was at the wheel of the #5 car, a Buick. J.T. Cain served as riding mechanic.
The local favorite was the final entry, the #6 entry of Harold Brinker, who owned Cheyenne's "The Capitol Garage." This was the city's oldest and best-known auto service business. It also was a dealership for American and Everett (This might have been EMF) automobiles. American was an Indianapolis-based manufacturer famous for their "underslung" design. Brinker was also the driver with Ed Pavelka as his riding mechanic.
The race was competitive, but Matthewson in the Thomas began to pull away. However, AAA officials flagged him off the course and disqualified him for safety considerations due to a damaged wheel. The decision was controversial enough, but rancor erupted when the American entry failed on the backstretch and those AAA officials elected not to inspect the machine. Matthewson was outraged. Apperson driver Harry Ball prevailed at the finish. 
Robert tells us that the Cheyenne track and the CMC did not organize races the following year, 1911. Interest waned, and despite attempts by core supports to revive racing, the track began its decline. 
January 21, 2018
Robert Rampton adds even more insight in this post update. See attachment Cheyenne Frontier Park Track 1915 for full details. He starts the article in that attachment with information about the Wyoming State Archive image found here. The date of the photo is July 21, 1915. It is of the starting lineup of one of the numerous short distance races held that day, which was part of the annual Frontier Days Celebration.
By this time the track's events had evolved into a feature of the annual celebration. The CMC was the organizer of not just the speedway events but also the entire festival. In this case, the racing included both cars and motorcycles. Click through the link in the previous paragraph to see the photo for identification.
Interestingly, the CMC had the track downsized from four miles to one, still an oval. Spectators could now see all around the track. Also, the track became a multi-purpose facility, and, as the home for the Frontier Days celebration, it hosted a rodeo and wild chuckwagon races.
Perhaps the best-known competitor on hand in 1915 was the motorcycle racer, writer, and future race magazine publisher, Floyd Clymer. Riding an Excelsior, Clymer took the lead and pulled away to victory in the first race for the two-wheelers. Harold Brinker was back in another sprint auto race, again in his Cadillac. He won easily with Ed Pavelka, now a driver, scoring a second in a Velie
Clymer returned to race his bike and win again in a 15-miler. There will only three motorcycles, but the competition was reportedly intense.
In a 15-mile auto race, Brinker prevailed once more. This time, however, he faced stiffer competition from Art Wagner in his Amplex. He was on Brinker's tail to the end. Pavelka had his Velie in third.
The motorcycles were in action again in a 20-mile race. Excelsior rider Frank Kuntz won this one, with Clymer in second. W.G. Rychen had his Harley-Davidson third. The only other rider was Art Smith whose Cyclone was a DNF.
Brinker continued his winning ways in a 20-mile auto race but this time was shadowed by Peerless pilot F.G. Foster who gave him everything he could handle. James Nisbet drove a Model T Ford to third. Note that at this point in the article we learn the spectator attendance was estimated at 5,000.
In his attachment, Robert reports the final race of the meet was an Australian Pursuit. I have to wonder if this was really a handicap. In the Australian Pursuit format, cars were started at different spots on the track and the winner was the car that closed the gap the most over the distance. In this case, as with typical handicap races, the cars were started at timed intervals. Essentially the slower cars were given a head start. At this event, the slowest car started 20 seconds before the fastest. Brinker won yet again, to sweep the meet. He was awarded $430 in prize money.

Cheyenne Motor Club Races.pdf393.62 KB
Cheyenne Motor Club Races-Part 2.pdf440.97 KB
Cheyenne Frontier Park Track 1915-Part 3.pdf493.65 KB