Jap Clemens, Street Racer


We've talked about "Jap" Clemens before. He shared a National stock car with Charlie Merz in 1905 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and pulled off a 24-hour speed-distance record.


Merz was 17 at the time and Clemens, born at the end of the Civil War, was old enough to be his father. Most of the drivers of the era were of a younger generation than Jap, but still, he built a strong reputation as one of the top Hoosier chauffeurs of the earliest days of the automobile.


He raced, he turned wrenches and he explained things. Guys like Stoughton Fletcher Jr., scion of the nationally renowned Indiana banking family, turned to Jap to help them understand the new fangled mechanical beasts of individual transport. As did many gentlemen of the age who hired personal mechanics for their cars, Jap was Stoughton's man to drive and work on his cars. Fletcher, incidentally, had planned to be a fifth founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until his conservative family put a stopper on it.


Automobiles were very much a mark of distinction, of societal status, or, more bluntly, "superiority" in the day. Well, they still are and are marketed that way depending on the brand you choose to own or have it own you. The point is, though, in these early times simply owning just about any automobile set you apart - and not owning one put you back on your heels at places like the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.


The thing about Jap, though, was that he just could not resist stomping on the throttle when he got behind the wheel, be it on the track or just commuting. It appears he also enjoyed consuming alcohol. The two habits have never mixed well.


Check out the articles at the link below and you'll get a sense of not just who old Jap was, but also his relationship with Fletcher and his penchant for treating city streets like race tracks. Jap would blast his horn while storming down Capitol Avenue so people in cars or wagons at intersections would stay the Hell out of the way.


It didn't always work.


In at least a couple of occasions, old Jap slammed into other vehicles and had narrow escapes with street cars. Check out more on this amazing character who did race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but not in the Indianapolis 500. Jap Clemens was a well-known name in Indianapolis during the first decade of the 20th century.


Click thru to the world of First Super Speedway because there you will find a rich, fleshed-out world of early auto racing. The entire cast of characters - people like "Jap" Clemens - were part of the robust network of personalities who shaped the fascinating character of the Heroic Age.