Early Racing in Minnesota


I discovered a Web page presented by auto racing historian Don Stauffer that has some excellent copy and interesting photos of early track racing in Minnesota. Check out the photo of Webb Jay and his racer, Whistling Billy, as well as the J. Walter Christie's massive front wheel drive racer. These cars illustrate the marvelous technological diversity of the early days. The Christie was the first front wheel drive race car and the White steamer was one of several steam engine cars, a viable rival to the gasoline internal combustion engine in the first decade of the 20th century.
J. Walter Christie was a bit of a mad scientist and about 10 years older than other race drivers of his era. His creative mind always strived for innovation even to a fault. In modern business lexicon, Christie lived on the "bleeding edge" of technology. Later in life he focused on military technology, developing tanks that the U.S. military lost interest in after World War I. Britian and Russia were takers, however, but Christie never was paid fairly for his work. He died nearly penniless in 1944.
Whistling Billy was designed and constructed by the White Sewing Machine Company, still producing sewing machines today. The company created an automobile business as did many other manufacturers who believed they could ride the wave of the new, high-growth industry based on their ability to build equipment. The auto business morphed into truck production and survived until the 1980's. The pinnacle of the company's auto racing success came in 1905 with driver Webb Jay who won several sprint races and set speed records. Jay's career came to an end in a pond just outside the Kennilsworth horse track just outside Buffalo, New York.  Jay survived the accident, but a severe concussion convinced him to curtail his driving career.