Wheeler-Schebler Start - 1909

This image is of the start of the Wheeler Schebler Trophy race on August 21, 1909 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This was on  the final day of racing during the first auto meet at the now historic track. The image shows National Motor Vehicle Company driver Johnny Aitken (#8) at his inside front row starting position with Bert Miller of Stoddard-Dayton (#17) beside him. This image was originally published in the August 22, 1909 Indianapolis Star.
Aitken dominated the first 100 miles of a brutal race held in treacherous conditions of dust and a rutted, deterriorating running surface. To make matters worse the dust carried chemicals from the taroid or "asphaltum oils" material used to try to hold crushed stones in place. Several drivers including Bert Miller and Marmon's legendary Ray Harroun stopped in the pits for doctors to wash their eyes.
The race proved not only a miserable but a tragic affair with several accidents, the first to the steady veteran Herb Lytle who spun his Apperson Jack Rabbitt in turn one early in the race. The last was to Harroun's Marmon teammate driver Bruce Keene and his riding mechanic James Schiller. While both men survived but Schiller was thrown from the car to incur a scalp wound and what might have been a concussion.
Those incidents paled in comparison to the devestating accident involing driver Charlie Merz and riding mechanic Claude Kellum. Their National racer, a team car to Aitken's, blew a tire and catapulted through a fence and into a cluster of spectators lining the track. Two spectators were killed: James West and Homer Jolliff. A third man, Henry Tapking, was among other spectators who were injured.
In twist of fate Kellum had started the race with Aitken but switched to the Merz car mid-race when his riding mechanic, Herbert Lyne, fainted in the pits. Another image of Aitken leading the field through turn one can be found elsewhere on First Super Speedway.

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