Harvest Classic Ad

This is an ad that ran in the Indianapolis Star the week of the September 9, 1916 Harvest Classic Races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 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.
Note that this ad reflects the wrong starting time for the race meet. It was not that it was printed by mistake, but that because the advanced sales were so poor, Speedway General Manager T.E. "Pop" Meyers decided to push the start time back to 2 p.m. (not the advertised 1:30). This was done to help factory workers with half-day Saturday schedules get to the track before the show started. The decision proved to have little affect as noted above. I also want to note that this image - which I cleaned up in an image editor was used by a Wikipedia author, which I think is terrific. I love the community of historians for early auto racing and how the Web is empowering all of us to share and create historically accurate information.
Driver Johnny Aitken proved to be the hero of the day. 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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