Johnny Aitken at the Harvest Classic

Driver Johnny Aitken is shown cooling his tires with water after one of the Harvest Classic Races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on September 9, 1916. With World War I exploding in Europe Speedway President Carl Fisher sensed that the Speedway may have to be shuttered for the duration. He organized the "one-off" Harvest Classic to generate revenue for the track. In this regard it was disappointing if not a total failure. The race meet came the week after the Indiana State Fair and people in the surrounding area had been spending their discretionary income and time with that entertainment and were probably less inclined to take another trip out to the Speedway. Attendance was estimated at less than 10,000 - small even by the standards of 1916.
For Aitken, the event was a huge success. Three races of 20, 50 and 100 miles were on the card and the man the press called "Happy Johnny" won all three. In the 50-mile contest Aitken edged Hughie Hughes in an incredibly close finish with a margin of just 0.028 seconds.
Aitken is one of the unsung heroes or early auto racing. He led the first lap of the first Indianapolis 500, won the pole for the 1916 race and won more races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than any driver in history (15). His victories came in 1909, 1910 and at the Harvest Classic. Aitken, who finished third in the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup, also shared victory with Howdy Wilcox in the 1916 American Grand Prize. He narrowly lost the first full-fledged national points championship to Dario Resta in 1916.
The talented Aitken won major races on dirt ovals, board tracks and, of course, the bricks of Indy. Beyond his driving career, he managed the National team that won the 1912 Indianapolis 500 with Joe Dawson and the Peugeot team which won the 1913 Indianapolis 500 with the wine-consuming driver Jules Goux. Aitken's life was cut short at age 33 not by a racing accident, but by the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

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