A HISTORY OF AUTO RACING

A HISTORY OF AUTO RACING

Chapter One

Automobile Racing


          They didn't bother to write down when the world's first automobile race was run.  After all, who cared?  The race was probably between two teen-agers who borrowed their dad's "horseless carriages" and took them into a field.  Or maybe along a country road.  It happened in the late 1800's, when motor-driven vehicles were brand new. 
          That is all we know about the beginning of a sport that is now one of the world's most popular.  Chances are, the daring young drivers in the first race were curious about which carriage would go fastest.  It was just for fun.  The race probably looked a little foolish with all the chugging and sputtering and smoking going on.
           There is one hard fact.  The first race between carriages had only a slight resemblance to a modern, high speed, very dangerous and very expensive automobile race.  The unofficial race didn't even look much like the first recorded auto race, between Paris and Rouen in France in 1894.
           A huge DeDion Steam Tractor grabbed the lead in that early day race.  For whatever reason, the DeDion towed an empty farm wagon the entire distance.  Spectators strolled along behind some of the cars in the first recorded race, cheering them on.  More about this famous race, covered by Monsieur Pierre Giffard in the newspaper Le Petit Journal, in Chapter Two.
           Long before the Paris race, in 1770, Frenchman Nicolas Joseph Cugnot successfully operated a three-wheeled steam-powered vehicle.  There was only one such vehicle, so there was no chance for a race.  In 1860, Frenchman Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir invented a way to use street light gas to power an engine.  Lenoir's invention was the first "internal combustion" engine.  This engine didn't use power from an external source, such as steam from a boiler, to move its pistons.  Instead, the pistons were moved by burning fuel that expanded inside the cylinders of the engine.  This is like the engines of today.  But Lenoir didn't build any cars for his engine, so there was no race.
           Not that many people cared who won the first  automobile races.  About all these boxy, unreliable, smoke-belching machines did was frighten horses.  They were only a current fad, anyhow.  They amused a few, but they were certainly little more than an expensive toy.
           And one thing was absolutely certain.  Whether you liked them or not, automobiles could never replace the faithful horse for transportation.  Not in a million years. There were a few people who insisted the new invention could become important, but not many believed that prediction.  The big machines were noisy, and dangerous, too.  The rumor was, they could go more than twenty-five miles per hour on a good day on a smooth road.  That is, if you kept horses out of the way.  Everybody knew that such a speed was terribly risky.
           People didn't think much about automobile accidents in those days, but everybody knew that the human body simply wasn't made to go that fast. Most doctors of the late 1800's insisted that if you went too fast, your insides would get all mixed up.  If you went over sixty miles per hour, for example, you would almost certainly die.
           People didn't worry.  That incredible speed was, of course, quite impossible.
            Still, the men in the first recorded race in France and the brave racers who faded into history before and after them, had a strong effect on every one of us today.  For motor racing then and now has a direct effect on modern passenger cars, machines which have become very important to our lives.  Many things we use on our cars today were first developed on race tracks.  More about this in Chapter Six, including the rear view mirror developed by racer Ray Harroun for the first Indy 500.
           Early-day racing cars were really passenger cars, unless the driver built the car himself.  Many race drivers simply picked out a passenger car they thought would make the distance, and entered the race.  They didn't do much to "soup up" the car.  They just painted a number on the side, and away they went without seat belts, roll bars or any other safety feature. 
           Motor racing has changed drastically.  Today race cars are built from the ground up to be race cars.  Back in J. Frank Duryea's day, they used everyday road cars for races.  Duryea, a pioneer American car builder, entered one of his own cars in the first motor race recorded in the United States.  The race was run on Thanksgiving Day in 1895, between Chicago and Evanston, Illinois.  Duryea, as designer, builder, owner and driver, won the race and went down in auto racing history.
           Motor races in those days were always held on open roads.  There were no tracks like the Indianapolis Speedway or Daytona International.  If a cow wandered out of the pasture and onto the "track," it was very dangerous for both animal and driver.  People were even allowed to run across the road or track in those days, ducking between the plodding, fuming race cars.
           If a crash occurred in early races, the cars often skidded and bounced directly into the people standing along the road.  One of the most famous annual early-day American road races was finally canceled because of the danger to spectators.  This was the Vanderbilt Cup Race, held on Long Island in New York between 1904 and 1910.  Spectators insisted on watching the race from very dangerous places, so the officials finally just gave up on the event.
           Now, modern auto racing is much safer for spectators and drivers.  Promoters finally began holding motor races on tracks especially built for the purpose.  The first such track in the United States was built in 1896 at Providence, Rhode Island.
           Carl G. Fisher, an American businessman and promoter of auto racing, began to dream of a grand closed circuit race track as 1900 drew near.  He imagined the track in the city that had become the auto capital of the world.
           Detroit?
           No, Indianapolis, Indiana. That's where all the important American motor cars were being built in the early 1900's.  More about Fisher's famous speedway later.  By 1899, people were beginning to realize that the new-fangled horseless carriage was more than a fad.  The crazy, noisy machines could even have a future beyond racing them against each other. Although their friends thought they were crazy, a few people actually sold their horses.  They began using automobiles as regular transportation, to get to the store and back, or for a drive in the country.  Cars were becoming more reliable.
           Meanwhile, automobile manufacturers began to build special cars just for racing.  In racing you don't need extra seats for passengers.  You also don't really need soft cushions, or headlights, or other comfort features.  You only need a strong car that will go as fast as possible, for as long as the race lasts. 
           European car builders were first to see racing as a way to help sales of their passenger cars.  Italy's Fiat and France's Renault became famous for racing cars.  In the United States, the Peerless Auto Company started to build race cars along with their passenger cars.  The Peerless Green Dragon was driven to many checkered flags by famous driver Barney Oldfield, a dead cigar clenched between his teeth during each race.  The Marmon Company sold hundreds of passenger cars because of the success of the racing Marmon Yellow Jacket, shortened by newspaper           reporters to "Wasp."  This is even more important today.  Automobile manufacturers now spend billions of dollars on motor racing to promote their passenger cars.
           Drag racing, two racers on a short straightaway, became popular.  It sounds impossible, but drag racing champion Kenny Bernstein recently went over 315 miles per hour from a standing start at the end of only one quarter mile.  A happy Bernstein survived in good health, his insides no more mixed up than the spectators who watched his amazing run.
           Auto racing became very specialized.  There were road courses and oval courses, paved and dirt, large and small.  There were open cockpit, open-wheel cars large and small.  There were "stock cars," which looked like passenger cars but were not.
           More and more racing fans attended races for the sheer excitement of the competition.  For the almost unbelievable fury of a pack of powerful racing cars battling for the checkered flag and million dollar prizes.  Fans attend because racing has a spotless record of honest competition and unpredictable action.  Scandal rarely touches auto racing.
           Sometimes fans will see something beyond the usual exciting competition.  Nobody knows when these high moments in racing will occur.  They may see a driver accomplish an "impossible" win, or a certain winner go down in defeat. They may see a beloved competitor crash, or a raw rookie beat the driving stars.  They may see a competition so fierce that even they, themselves, shout for a halt.
           That's modern auto racing.  Racing has moved back onto city streets, with high speed race cars streaking past houses and buildings.  
             Automobile racing has grown far beyond the two teen-agers in the French countryside, or the Paris road race.  It continues to grow today.


Chapter Two 

Motor Racing Before 1900

           The word automobile was first used in France, home of early-day engines.  The word comes from the Greek word "auto," meaning self, and the French word "mobile," meaning moving.  "Self-moving," which is what cars are built to do.
           Even at the first recorded race, there was little doubt that the funny-looking motorized carriages would never amount to much.  They were always breaking down.  The world's first auto repair shop was opened in Boston on May 24, 1899.  That mechanic knew that cars were unreliable, and that his services would be needed. 
           Horses were still very important.  Motor cars were not.  Still, the idea of a car race was exciting.
           There were no car races in England during the late 1800's.  The unpopular "Red Flag Law" was in effect.  This law ordered every driver of a motor vehicle to hire a man to walk ahead down the road waving a red warning flag.  The law was hated by "automobilists" of the world.  It held back racing and car building in England until it was repealed.
           In some countries drivers of automobiles had a tough job at every intersection.  First, they had to stop and sound their horn.  Next they had to get out, walk to the center of the crossroad, and shout as loudly as possible.  Then they had to ring the bell they were required to carry.
Finally, they had to shoot a gun into the air, or fire an explosive.  Only then, with everybody in the entire county suitably warned, could they proceed across the intersection.  That is, if they did so with extreme caution, insisted the law.
           The unhappy idea that you would die if you went too fast didn't stop Emile Levassor from entering the first recorded automobile race.  Levassor's car was a big, square machine he built himself, with help from co-driver Rene' Panhard.  Levassor felt his was the best motorized carriage of the day.  After all, he and Panhard had installed a Daimler/Benz engine.  The powerplant was built by German engine genius Gottlieb Daimler, working with Karl Benz.
            Automobilist Victor Popp also thought he could win.  He entered a racer he planned to power with compressed air.  M. Loubiere hoped to propel his racing machine with a complicated series of levers.  Entrant Fays-Poisson went a step further and designed his racer to run like a clock, with levers, gears, and a mainspring.  G. Peraire's machine might well have won, but he still hadn't decided whether to use gas or compressed air when the green flag dropped.
           The field in that early French race also left without Monsieur Leval's entry.  His racer was to be powered by the weight of passengers moving back and forth.  Also not at the line were entries to be driven by hydraulic power and by mineral oil, gravity, perpetual motion and magnetism.
           Who says auto racing isn't a proving ground for new ideas?
           Perhaps the racers who didn't make it are responsible for a racing slogan still heard today at most racetracks.  The saying is meant to stop drivers from boasting about how well their car will do in the race.
The slogan says, "When the green flag drops, the baloney stops."
           Of course it is possible that if one of those non-entries had won the race, today's cars might be very different.
           During the grueling 1894 French race a huge steam powered delivery van was thundering along at a breakneck 11.6 miles per hour.  The driver worked for a famous Paris department store.  His boss had given him permission to enter the store's truck in the race with the name prominently      painted on the sides. Advertising on racecars has since become a multi-billion dollar industry.
           The delivery truck driver had no racing experience.  He hit a patch of stones and skidded into a roadside ditch.  Lucky for him, he was also a good neighbor.  Along the way, he had picked up more than three dozen spectators and a few drivers whose machines had broken down.  With ropes and levers, the passengers managed to get the big truck back on the road.  Everybody crawled aboard and the truck chugged back into the race.
           Automobile racing was pretty simple in those days.  You lined up a group of cars, waved a flag, and the field lurched away in a great cloud of smoke and dust and burning oil and rubber.  Rules were simple.  The firs one to arrive at the finish line was the winner.  It took Levassor and Panhard 48 hours and 47 minutes to cover the 300-mile distance in the first race.  Their average speed was only 15.01 miles per hour.  It is a speed that would seem foolish today at Pocono Raceway or Talladega.  The Levassor-Panhard car was also one of the few to finish the punishing race.  Most of the others dropped out with mechanical problems. 
           Levassor and Panhard won.  Like Kenny Bernstein years later, their insides didn't get mixed up, either.
           Perhaps this race seems a little amusing.  But soon racing between automobiles became popular around the world.  Racing was fun.  It also seemed perfectly safe.  Nobody thought a race could be dangerous.
Tragedy finally struck at a French race a few years later.  This turn-of-the-century Paris to Madrid competition became known as "The Race to Death."
           A modern motor race is almost always managed with precision and control.  Thousands of fans at hundreds of tracks are smoothly directed to parking places and grandstands.  The pomp and circumstance before the race is colorful and exciting.  At major races like Indy or Daytona, you can set your watch by how the pre-race program is going.  When the time comes to race, the track is ready, the officials are ready, the drivers are ready, and the race usually begins on time.
           Although drivers are still hurt, or worse, modern motor racing is as safe as can be.
           The automobile was coming of age in France.  Speeds were increasing.  Some cars could manage sixty miles per hour.  Higher speeds were predicted if conditions were perfect.  Still, road racing was considered a happy activity for sportsmen, without real danger.  A good auto race was great fun for everybody.  Strict rules and controls were not considered necessary.  Nothing really bad ever happened.
       Under these loose conditions, the Paris to Madrid event was held.  The race shocked the entire world, and nearly stopped motor racing before it began.
           At the starting line at Versailles, thousands of racing fans jammed the area.  They crowded around the cars as race time neared.  Worried officials lost control.  The time for the start of the race passed.  Finally, in desperation, the starter waved his flag at Englishman Charles Jarrott.  Clenching the steering wheel, Jarrott released the clutch.  His car bounced forward into the crowd.
           Incredibly, nobody was hit.  As Jarrott picked up speed, the crowd melted away in front of him and closed in behind him.  Can you imagine this happening at LeMans or Silverstone?  Jarrott's racer was soon running in a "moving bubble" of massed spectators.  His bulky De Dietrich racer reached nearly sixty miles per hour.  Still the crowd opened before him and closed behind him.  The second racer left the starting line, then the third.  Each sped away in its own spectator bubble.  The people opened a lane, then closed it.
           Amazingly, nobody was killed.  Some of the drivers later remembered that slowing down seemed more dangerous than keeping up with the crowd's "rhythm."  One car did slow.  So spectators then refused to move out of the way.
           Along the route, race fans wandered out on the pavement to try to see the coming cars.  As each car roared by, a great cloud of dust and smoke blocked the view of the next driver.  Oncoming drivers couldn't see the road ahead, or the spectators.  A tragic situation was developing.
Then it happened.  A woman tried to run across the road as a racer approached.  She was struck and instantly killed.  Meanwhile, with the road cloaked by dust and smoke, cars began to run into each other.  Soon the race route was dotted with wrecked racers.  One De Dietrich racer skidded, flipped over, and crashed into a pile of rocks.  The driver was seriously injured.  At Champniers another car flipped and injured the driver and the mechanic.  Guy Porter's Wolseley skidded through the closed gates of a crossing.  It overturned, and burst into flames.  Porter's mechanic was burned to death.
           Near Angouleme another woman was killed as she tried to run across the track.  The racer that hit the woman then skidded out of control and swerved off the road.  It hit two soldiers.  Both were killed.  Finally the car crashed into a wall, injuring the driver and the mechanic.
            The happy race for "sportsmen" thundered on.
            The cars of Stead and Salleron touched, and Stead's lighter car was flipped into the air.  It flew end over end and landed in a ditch.  Stead and his mechanic were seriously injured.  Two of the famous drivers of the day, Renault and Thery, were dueling side by side.  Thery managed to get around a bend in the road, but Renault couldn't make it.  He hit a tree at full speed and was instantly killed.  Lorraine Barrow, another famous driver, struck a dog, skidded, and slammed into a tree.  He died soon after from his injuries.  His mechanic was killed instantly.
           The race roared on.  Cars were scattered.  Officials had no accurate record of what was happening.
           Other racers skidded and crashed, and the injury list grew.  One racer smashed into a tree so hard the pistons were torn from his engine.  At Bordeaux, the first stopping point in the road race, stories of death and destruction began to collect.  With the arrival of each driver, more facts became known.  A few shaken drivers said they would not, or could not, go on.  Yet no official was present to make a decision on what to do.
           Finally the French government stepped in and seized each racer as it arrived in Bordeaux.  The race was officially ended.  No race of this type has ever been held in France since.
           Modern winning racers earn a lot of money.  It was said that a victory at the Indianapolis 500, at least until the most recent changes at the famous old Speedway, was worth far more than the one million dollars the driver won.  A victory is still worth a great deal, even with the changes.  Drivers who win modern, major races in all classes, especially in Formula One and NASCAR, earn many millions more in advertising, promotion, speaking engagements and endorsements.  A driver’s success usually generates more success.  He gets even better cars and better deals.  He wins more and more if nothing bad happens and he is able to continue racing.
               But drivers in the early days raced for the joy of racing.  The loved to build a car, or modify an existing car, then race against each other.  Occasionally a car owner who didn't want to race might pay a driver's expenses, but that was about all.  On Monday, everybody went back to regular jobs.
           Some fans wish motor racing had remained a sport for pure fun.  They feel the big money now involved has hurt racing.  These fans know that modern young drivers of talent must also bring expensive sponsorship to a professional team in order to get a driving job.  Many fans feel the only requirement should be driver talent.
           Some fans don't care about all the expensive organizations that came into being to help manage automobile racing as it grew.  If these fans come to a race, they want to see speed and color and action and excitement.  If they must worry about something other than driver safety, they worry about ticket prices and mud in the infield and whether or not the concession food is good and the rest rooms clean.
           Organizations in auto racing, formed over the years as the sport grew, now exist in an almost embarrassing number.  Some racing clubs attempt to run certain parts of the sport.  Some succeed.  A few clubs raid one another for drivers.  They quibble and bicker with one another over who is in charge.  It is a sadly amusing sight to see them sniping away at each other.  Fans are usually the last people they consider.  They feel the fans will pay whatever the ticket price is to see the top driving stars, and the cost of tickets has skyrocketed.
           Each association and club jealously guards its own position in the sport, from amateur to the top professionals.  Each makes rules that serve only to strengthen its own position.  Some do not make racing better or help your car or mine.
         Big time Indy-type racing is a good example.  The United States Auto Club took over from the American Automobile Association in 1955.  Later USAC had to face and fight Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) for drivers and race dates. CART had broken away from USAC and taken some top drivers with them.. Eventally, USAC became IRL, the Indy Racing League, and CART became "Champ Car." and the two sanctioning organizations fought on in spite of diminishing crowds. Each had famous drivers, but the fans wanted all the drivers in one series of Indy-type racing, not IRL on oval tracks and Champ Cars on road courses. To make the Indy-car matter more confusing, the IRL had one major race as each sanctioning body conducted their own series of races. IRL retained that one big race.  No big deal?  Everybody could ignore that one IRL race, right?
           The race IRL held in their control was the Indy 500, the richest race of all.  IRL drivers had the advantage there, because they were seeded near the front in the field of thirty-three cars. Champ Car drivers had to start further back, and they had to run according to IRL rules, which meant a different type of very expensive race car.
           Finally, in early 2008, the two organizations could see what was happening and negotiated a closure. The Indy 500 was not drawing the massive crowds it once enjoyed, and Champ Cars often ran before nearly empty grandstands. So the two groups agreed to merge. They would still be called IRL, but there would be no more Champ Cars, and the races would be blended into one series, ovals and road courses. They would all run the same type of car. Evereybody would be on an equal footing at  the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the biggest and most rewarding race of all..
           Racing fans knew it would happen, and they also knew that nothing the racing organizations could do with their bitter in-fighting would in the long run really hurt the basic action and excitement of motor racing.

Chapter Three    

The Early Days, 1900-1930

          The fastest early-day cars had electric motors, or steam engines.  For a brief time in 1907, a steam-powered car called "Wogglebug" was the worlds fastest.  It reached the incredible speed of 150 miles per hour.  There was only one Wogglebug, so it didn't race.
           Automobiles for street use and for racing improved every year.  By the early 1900's, you could almost plan on making it all the way when you started a journey in a car.  Service stations were springing up along roads, so fuel and mechanical help was available.  More and more automobile parking spaces appeared at racetracks.  Hitching posts faded into the past.  Racing was growing up.  The sport was out of kindergarten, and by then in elementary school.
           One of the most famous racecars of the day was the big, square Locomobile Old 16.  It had a gasoline-powered engine, and was the first American car good enough to challenge and beat European racers.  The Old 16 could reach a speed of 110 miles per hour. 
           Auto racing was very entertaining.  During the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup Race, the most famous feud in motor racing reached a bitter climax.  The Vanderbilt Race had been moved to Santa Monica, California.  The quarrel was between two of the best known racers in the sport.  Each disliked the other.  Each was an excellent driver.  Archrivals at every race, each had his own group of fans.
           Ralph DePalma, a polished man, was very skilled in a racecar.  He was famous for having pushed has disabled racer over the finish line at Indianapolis in 1912.  Joe Dawson won, but everybody knew how hard DePalma tried.
           Very angry, DePalma had moved to the Mercedes team.  He did so because the other top driving star of the day, Barney Oldfield, took DePalma's seat in the Mercer Motors car.  Oldfield did not have DePalma's driving skill, but his willingness to take any risk on a racetrack balanced things out.  Oldfield would race any class of car, even animals and airplanes, during his amazing career.
           In 1914, motor racing was still fast and loose.  Regulations were lax, but the sport had improved since the "Race to Death."  Computers and radios had not yet arrived.  The drivers controlled racing on the track.  Drivers communicated with pits by signs and hand signals.
           The famous feud between DePalma and Oldfield continued into the 1920's, but it reached a high point at the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup Race.  Spectators jammed the area and each driver was desperate to beat the other, a fact that was headlined by all the newspapers.
           "I'll run him right off the track!" bragged Oldfield, grinning across at his seething but soft-spoken rival.  Yet, as the race progressed, DePalma held a slight lead over Oldfield.  Try as he might, Oldfield couldn't pass.  Fans were on their feet cheering as the two cars thundered on, roaring into turns, boiling smoke out behind.  Everybody knew that Oldfield would take any risk to gain the lead.  He had little respect for what a crashing racecar could do to him.  It was racing at its best, depending upon your point of view.
           The problem was, the tires on both cars were shredding.  Especially on Oldfield's careening Mercer.  They were very unsafe.  Oldfield knew that a tire could blow out at any instant.  He could be thrown end-over-end.
Such racing would not happen today.  In 1914, racing decisions about tires were made by the driver, not the pit crew.  Oldfield knew that if he stopped for tires, he would lose the race.  Clenching his dead cigar in his teeth, his cap backward on his head, muttering to himself under his breath, he roared on.
           DePalma, his own tires worn but slightly better, knew of Oldfield's problem.  He saw the worn tires when Oldfield, in a daring and dangerous move, finally slipped into the lead.
           The two cars battled on, with Barney Oldfield ahead.  Oldfield's fans chanted his name while the fans of DePalma shouted at their favorite driver to go faster.
      Every attempt to pass by DePalma was blocked by Oldfield.  Both drivers knew the continuing duel was wearing already ruined tires.  It was possible that a crash by one would take out the other, they were so close to each other.  Something had to be done!
           With chunks of rubber flying off the tires of both cars, the fans fell almost silent.  They were aware of the drama of the battle on the track.  Other cars in the race were far behind.  They moved aside when the two leaders roared by.  DePalma knew that Oldfield would crash into the wall before he would give up and take on new tires.  Barney Oldfield was a daring, devil-may-care driver.  He did not carefully plan races or race strategy.
           DePalma was known to be a careful planner.  Thundering down the straightaway behind Barney but still in full view, Ralph waved wildly at his pit crew.  "I'm in trouble!" his gestures seemed to say.  He indicated he was coming in on the next lap for tires, and also for oil (allowed in those days, but not today).
            Oil?
           That surprised Barney Oldfield, who was watching to the rear.  It delighted him, too.  That would give him time to come in, change his own badly mangled tires, and get back in the race well ahead of DePalma.  He could ignore his own tires and drive on to a certain win.  But that might mean a crash.
           Oldfield watched carefully as DePalma dropped back.  Oldfield also slowed, but DePalma slowed even more. Apparently Ralph was in desperate need of oil, and was going into his pit. With that decision in mind, Barney Oldfield slammed on his brakes.  Although ahead by several hundred feet, he skidded into his pit, waving at his worn tires.
           Instantly, Ralph DePalma pushed his gas pedal to the floor.  The Mercedes, belching smoke and fumes, jumped ahead.  DePalma roared past.  Angry, Barney Oldfield sat helplessly in his pit and chewed his dead cigar to bits.
           Soon Oldfield roared back into the race, but he was much too late.  Even with his new tires, and faster speed, he was unable to catch DePalma.  Bellowing insults that could be heard by the fans in the grandstands, he was two hundred yards behind when the checkered flag waved over the struggling Mercedes of Ralph DePalma.
           These grand old days have faded.  Modern racing is dramatic, but none of this high drama would be possible today.  Imagine Al Unser Jr. waving at Roger Penske that he was coming in for tires, but only to fool Michael Andretti.  Or Jeff Gordon signaling his pit that he was going to attempt a zany, strategic move at Daytona Speedway?  The driver no longer makes these decisions.  Today, a team manager using a computer orders tire and fuel stops, or even when to attempt to pass.
           Gradually Ralph DePalma, Barney Oldfield, and all the other early-day daredevils faded into history.  They are gone, but certainly not forgotten.  As they battled each other in their dangerous cars, they helped automobile racing become one of the most popular sports in the world.
Meanwhile, early in the 1900's, race promoter Carl Fisher picked a spot well outside Indianapolis, Indiana.  There he built a 2 1/2 mile squared oval with a stone surface.  He called his new racetrack the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  They would test cars there, and they would race. Fisher would be shocked to see how famous and even controversial his racetrack became.
           Across the ocean, at Le Mans in France in 1906, the first "Grand Prix" race was held on a small, closed road course.  The Formula One racer that resulted from this type of racing appears similar to an Indy type car.  It is not.  The modern F/1 racer is smaller, lighter, and designed to handle the different speeds of road racing.
           Fisher continued to build his track in the early 1900's.  He "paved" the track with crushed stones and declared it ready.  The initial race in 1909 was a motorcycle event, but in 1911 the first five hundred-mile automobile race was held on the new speedway.  The race took more than eight hours to run.  It was a financial success even though cars crashed and competitors were hurt and killed.  The race was the first of one of the most important motor races of all, the world famous Indy 500.
           Horses were still important. Race officials provided thousands of hitching posts for fan's horses at the first Indy race.  They also provided dozens of parking places for fans who drove cars to the track.
           Today there are more than one hundred thousand parking places at Indy, but not a single hitching post.  Nobody has ridden a horse to the Indy 500 for years.
           Joe Jagersberger's experience in the first Indy 500 is a good example of early-day racing.  Forty cars were in the race.  There were no qualification runs.  Positions in the starting field were determined by the date on the entry form.   Ralph DePalma was in the race.  So was Joe Dawson.  Other famous racers of the day like Ralph Mulford, David Bruce-Brown, Spencer Wishart, Howdy Wilcox, Teddy Tetzlaff and Louis Disbrow were entered.  So was Arthur Chevrolet, whose last name is still very famous in the automobile business.  Nobody tried to predict who might win, but everybody was looking forward to the long race.  Cars were still under development.  A few fans said nobody could go 500 miles.  But they agreed that while it lasted, it would be a very exciting race.
           Driver Joe Jagersberger was happy to be in the field with his brightly shining Case racer.  Speeding down the brand new straightaway on the 87th lap before several thousand cheering race fans, Joe felt his car lurch.  He looked down and was horrified to see that one of his tie rods had broken.
           Oh, no!
           The front wheels of his speeding racer were aimed outward from each other.  One was trying to go right and the other was trying to go left.  Chunks of rubber flew from the tires as they skidded along.  A crash seemed certain.
           Jagersberger's mechanic, C.L. Anderson, saw his duty.  It was Anderson's job to straighten the right wheel so the car could go left, into the pits.  C.L. could accomplish this by giving the right front wheel a hard kick, knocking it over the other way.  But he would have to be on the ground alongside the racer to do this.
           Anderson waited...and waited...and waited, until the car slowed to what he considered a safe speed.  If you look into the race records and newspaper accounts of the day, you will still see "On the front straightaway, Jagersberger's mechanic, C.L. Anderson, fell from the car."
           This is not true.  C.L. didn't fall from the racer, he heroically jumped.                  The problem was, a car that has slowed from 75 mph to 35 mph seems almost stopped.  Anderson tumbled alongside the still moving racer. 
           With the code of racing men and women then and now firmly in mind, Harry Knight roared his Westcott onto the scene from the rear.  "Never hit another competitor, even if it means you must crash alone," insists the code.  Knight swerved to miss the tumbling Anderson.  He slammed into Herbert Lytle's Apperson, at that moment being serviced in the pits.  Knight's car then bounced into Caleb Bragg's Fiat, also in the pits.  Fast approaching cars dodged and skidded to miss Jagersberger and the other crashing racers.  They also skidded to miss C.L. Anderson, who was by then up and staggering about on the track in a daze.
           Marmon Corporation Engineer Ray Harroun missed them all.  He was the eventual winner of the wild first Indianapolis Speedway Race in his Marmon Wasp.  His racer was equipped with the world's first rear-view mirror.  The tradition then was to carry a riding mechanic.  But Harroun wanted to race alone.  He designed the crude, prism type mirror so he could see cars coming up from the rear.
           Until recently, the Indy 500, held at the end of May, was the single most attended one-day sporting event in the world.  Oddly, the first day of qualifications for the Indy race was the second most attended one-day sporting event in the world.  Racing fans and executives hope the venerable old Speedway will regain its prominence as the most important of all motor racing events, but there are problems between sanctioning bodies that must first be corrected.  These problems have cut down on the number of fans who attend the famous race, and its preliminary events.
           World War One was a terrible event, but it did help auto racing.  Until then, racecars were big and bulky.  The engines developed for war machines were lighter, faster, and more reliable.  After the war, automobile builders used the new designs to make their racecars lower and faster.
           Hydraulic brakes were submitted to rigorous tests in automobile racing as they were being perfected.  No longer did drivers press a pedal that pressed directly against linkage that applied the brakes.  Mechanical brake cables and linkages were replaced with fluid filled tubes.  The tubes connected a "master cylinder" to individual "wheel cylinders."
When the driver stepped on the brakes, it moved a piston in the master cylinder.  The non-compressible fluid was pushed along inside the tube to move pistons in each wheel’s slave cylinders.  This action shoved the brake shoes against the brake drums, and slowed the car.  Hydraulic brakes allowed a driver to apply less pressure with his foot to get greater pressure on the brake shoes.  The scientific law is known as Bernoulli's Principle. The same law is used in industry to move heavy loads and for other tasks.  Power-assisted hydraulic brakes are now used on most cars.
           Racecars "drafting" each other became a reality.  Drivers found that if they tucked in behind the car in front, they could go just as fast with less power.  They could also save fuel.  Drivers knew that the car in front was helping to pull them along.  According to early day drivers, the car in front was "boring a hole in the air," leaving a "vacuum" for the next car to get through.  Few understood the principle, but drivers knew that two or more cars could line up in a "train" and assist each other.
           Some "experts" said drafting was as much a superstition as the fear of the color green.  Or of peanuts in the cockpit, another superstition in early day auto racing certain to bring "bad luck" to that car.  Drivers knew different.  They were used to action on the track.  They may not have understood it, but they knew "getting on tow" was real.  After the amazing race between Ray Keech and Leon Duray at the Rockingham Speedway in 1927, everybody believed in drafting.  The Rockingham race proved to be one of the most spectacular and hilarious examples of "tow" in automobile racing history.
           Racing tactician Leon Duray and speed king Ray Keech were two of the best-known race drivers of the day.  Rockingham was a high-banked, wood-surfaced raceway, popular at that time.  Identical 91.5 cubic inch engines powered each car.  The race was to prove which of the two drivers was best and everyone knew that driver skill would make all the difference.  There were to be three four lap heat races.  Duray won the first heat.  Keech came back to win the second.  Everything was on the line for the final four-lap heat on the 45-degree “high-banked” wooden track.
           For the first lap and a half of the final heat, the two cars ran wheel to wheel in a battle for the lead.  Fans held their breath as each speedster fought for an advantage.  Keech was driving down low near the inside of the saucer-shaped track.  Duray was up higher on the steep banking.
           Finally, smoke began to puff from Duray's huge exhaust pipe.  Plainly, Leon was in trouble.  Then the smoke stopped completely, and the race seemed over.  Duray's engine had quit.  All Ray Keech had to do was cruise around for two more laps, and take the checkered flag.
           The amazing race was far from over, thanks to drafting.  In a masterstroke of strategy, Duray steered his car down and directly behind the speeding Keech.  Duray was "on the tow" of a frustrated Keech.  It seemed impossible, but the two cars sped around the track at the same speed.  Keech tried to pull away from his determined adversary, but Duray was firmly behind in the partial vacuum created by Keech's car.  Keech swerved back and forth, but Duray matched every move. Finally the cars were only two hundred feet from the finish line.  Still, Keech still seemed to have the matter well in hand.
           But the "impossible" happened.  Later, Duray explained that he was going for a close second.  Instead, at the very last moment, he took advantage of the sharp slope of the track.  Keech insisted that he did not slow, but still Duray swung down and around Keech.  At the finish line, to the astonishment of everybody including the two drivers, the car of Duray was a full six feet ahead of the car of Keech.  With a dead engine!
           Leon Duray had won one of the strangest auto races in history.
           Such a miracle finish has never happened again, but drafting is an accepted technique in modern racing.  Fans of NASCAR are familiar with "sling-shots."  These are last instant wins of drivers who draft and draft then, at the last second, swing out and around in a final dash for the checkered flag.
           One example of modern drafting occurred in a wild NASCAR race at Daytona in 1976.  The battle narrowed down to a duel between Richard Petty and David Pearson.  The lead had shifted back and forth, and on the last lap, roaring into the fourth turn at more than 180 miles per hour, Pearson was ahead.  Drafting close behind, Petty was where he wanted to be.  He knew he would slingshot past Pearson at the finish line.
           Excited fans thought they were going to see the fastest, closest finish in Daytona's history.  What they saw was the slowest finish in history.
As Petty made his move to slingshot around the leader, the cars touched.  Both skidded into four wheel drifts, out of control.  With stunning ferocity, Pearson's Mercury slammed into the wall.  Petty's racer followed.  Parts flew as both cars slid down into the infield.  Each came to a smoking, steaming halt.
           Neither had reached the finish line, so near each driver could see it.                Stunned fans watched as safety vehicles rushed toward the wrecked cars.  The race seemed over for Petty and Pearson.
           But it wasn't.
           Pearson lurched his wrecked car forward, parts dragging, struggling to reach the finish line.  Petty desperately tried to start his own dead engine.  With fluids draining out, Pearson struggled past Petty.  Then Petty's car belched smoke and began to labor forward, wheels askew.  The checkered flag was hanging limply in the starter's hand.
           Pearson managed to reach the finish line first.  Just behind struggled the smoking, bleeding car of Petty.  It was the slowest finish in Dayton's history.  Drafting had not worked out so well that day.

More to follow

If you are interested in this manuscript, with exclusive illustrations, contact the author  The manuscripty and photos will be updated before   publication.


THE STORY OF AUTO RACING

Suggested photo captions

Possible Author Photo

AAA   Author Ross R. Olney (center) conducts an Indianapolis press conference with his friends Michael (left) and Mario Andretti.
      (photo by Mickey Schaffer)

CHAPTER ONE

1.  A modern, high performance passenger car owes auto racing a thank you for much of its appearance and technical perfection.
    (Photo courtesy Chrysler Corporation)

2.  They are a direct descendant of this Marmon Wasp, driven to victory in the first Indy 500 in 1911.
    (photo by author)

3.  Racing cars went from the open, box-like Bugatti (next to Kevin Cogan's 1983 Indy car) which competed in the 1914 race
    (photo by author)

4.  To this sleek Chevrolet-powered Lola driven to victory by Arie Luyendyk at the 1990 Indy 500.
    (photo by author)

5.  Auto racing branched out into many different types.  Off-road racing became very popular, as here at Riverside Raceway in California.
    (photo by author)

6.  Formula One Grand Prix type racing occurs around the world.  This is champion Gilles Villaneuve, father of current champion Jacques, in a 1982 Ferrari at the Long Beach Grand Grip.
    (photo by author)

7.  Drag racing is popular around the world.  This is Shirley Muldowny, the first woman to win a major drag racing championship.
    (photo by author)

8 A,B,&C.   Winston stock car racing is one of the top auto racing series of all.  Here is the top racer of all, "King" Richard Petty, during a pit stop at Charlotte Raceway in 1985.
     (photos by author)

9.  Amateur racers by the tens of thousands wanted to race cars such as this Formula Vee, one of the most popular of all.
    (photo by author)

10.  Or these Sports 2000's, racing side by side at Willow Springs Raceway.
    (photo by author)

11.  Or even racing karts such as this, with the driver getting last minute instructions before his 150 mph run.
     (photo by author)

12.  Or this American Indycar Series racer, an older Indy car for up-and-coming younger drivers, or older drivers near retirement.  This car earlier raced in the 1987 Indy 500.
     (photo by author)

CHAPTER TWO

13.  Celebrities like actor Paul Newman became excellent race car drivers.  Newman is here racing at the 1983 Ceaser's Palace Grand Prix in Las Vegas.
     (photo by author)

13A. Paul Newman at speed during the SCCA Trans Am race at Las Vegas.
     (photo by author)

14.  Ayrton Senna, here at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix, eventually became one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula One, and finally died in a 1994 F/1 crash.
     (photo by author)  

15.  Three Indy winners kid around.  Johnny Rutherford (left) watches as Mario Andretti (center) upstages Bobby Unser.
     (photo by author)

16.  Roger Penske (left) discusses racing strategy with brothers Roger (center) and Rick Mears.
     (photo by author)

17.  More kidding around between world famous drivers.  Richard Petty (left) laughs as South African Champion Jody Scheckter (center) "interviews" World Champion Jackie Stewart.
     (photo by author)

18.  Racing brothers Bobby (left) and Al Unser at the 1977 Indy 500.
     (photo by author)

19.  The great A.J. Foyt gets a "traffic ticket" for speeding to a new track record at Ontario Motor Speedway.
     (photo by author)

20.  Janet Guthrie became the first woman to break the all-male barrier by driving at the Indy 500.  She did very well, too.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

21.  Sometimes it doesn't work as planned.  The start of the Long Beach Grand Prix for Formula One cars turned into a disaster, with cars leaping over other cars.
     (photo by author)

22.  Drag racing champion Kenny Bernstein, the fastest man of all in a quarter mile, blows an engine and crashes during the 1993 Winston Finals in Los Angeles.
     (photo courtesy Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

23.  Crashing isn't a modern hobby.  Here, three time Indy winner Wilbur Shaw leaves the 500 via the wall in his big Duesenberg racer.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

24.  Even a gentle nudge can break a wheel.  So what?  This is Mario Andretti (right) taking his son Michael out of the 1988 Long Beach Grand Prix for Indy cars. (photo by author)

CHAPTER THREE

25.  Auto racing had become a very entertaining event, enjoyed by fans and drivers.  Here Gary Gabelich (in car), land speed record holder, grins at record holder Mickey Thompson (center) and Indy winner Parnelli Jones.
     (photo courtesy of Rocketman)

26.  But in the earlier days it was still boxy racers and daredevil drivers.  Joe Dawson, who has just passed a struggling Ralph DePalma, wins the 1912 Indy 500 in his National.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

27.  Auto racing was fast and loose, but highly skilled drivers like Ralph DePalma, here in his famous Mercedes with mechanic L. Fontaine, were fan favorites.
     (photo courtesy Marion DePalma)

28.  Carl Fisher built the Indy Speedway and the first race was won by this Marmon Wasp of Ray Harroun (with the first rear view mirror).
(photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

28A  (inset) The world's first rear view mirror, used on Harroun's car at the 1911 Indy 500.
     (photo by author)

29.  All passenger and race cars now have rear view mirrors, such as this Formula Vee with driver getting last minute advice.
     (photo by author)

30.  But victory is always sweet, as shown here with Darrel Waltrip, his wife (left) and the trophy girl at the 1984 Goody's NASCAR 300.
     (photo by author)

31.  Victory can also be hard-earned.  The result of a last second draft at Daytona between Richard Petty (left in top photo) and David Pearson, was disaster.  Pearson finally struggled across the line to win.
     (photo courtesy Daytona Speedway)

32.  A.J. Foyt is another of the world's greatest racing drivers.  Foyt drove in all types of cars, and won in most of them, before he retired.
     (photo by author)

33.  Don Garlits, the famous "Swamp Rat" from Florida, was the greatest of all the drag racers, constantly setting new records.  Here he blast off at the 1979 Pomona finals in California.
     (photo by author)

CHAPTER FOUR

34.  Auto racing was becoming modern.  Drivers were enemies on the track, but pals in the pits.  Bobby Unser tapes a pad to A.J.Foyt's foot as famous mechanic A.J. Watson looks on.
     (photo by author)

35.  Wilbur Shaw became President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
     (photo by author)

36.  Bill France created NASCAR, and Cale Yarbrough became a top star stock car driver, and eventually a noted politician in the South.
     (photo by author)

37.  Famous on TV, the Goodyear Blimp began to hang around races of all types, all over the country.
     (photo by author)

38.  And pre-race pagentry became common, with parachute jumpers, celebrities, and all the trimmings.
     (photo by author)

39.  Bobby Allison became another top NASCAR driver, as did his son, Davey.
     (photo by author)

40.  Actor/driver Paul Newman discusses race strategy with well known black driver Willy T. Ribbs.
     (photo by author)

41.  Neil Bonnet and Darrell Waltrip were two more drivers who became stars, and very rich, in Bill France's NASCAR.
     (photo by author)

42.  Ace driver Tim Richmond's death was mysterious at first, then found to be due to AIDS.  Richmond won the pole at Indy, then turned to NASCAR where he was a winner.
     (photo by author)

43.  Amateur racing roared back with the formation of the Sports Car Club of America, with Sports 2000 eventually becoming a popular class.
     (photo by author)

44.  Formula Vee continued its domination of SCCA amateur classes of auto racing, with drivers from all walks of life enjoying the thrill of close competition.
     (photo by author)

45.  Rex Mays, a champion race car driver, would never wear seat belts.  He died when he was thrown from his car and hit by another racer.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

CHAPTER FIVE

46.  George Salih built this sleek car in his garage, and it was driven to victory by Sam Hanks, in the cockpit.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

46A  Vintage type racing swept the country.  Older cars worth a great deal of money "raced" at major tracks.  Here, the 1963 Cooper Monaco of John "Bat" Masterson pursues the 1963 Lotus of Gil Nickel.
     (photo courtesy John Masterson)

47.  Midget race cars became very popular.  Famed midget car driver Allen Heath is in car #97.
     (photo courtesy Dwight Vaccaro)

48.  Allen Heath always had a silver dollar glued to the visor of his helmet, for good look.  In spite of crashes and the loss of an arm, he lived a long life.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

49.  A modern, safety equipped midget racer, with roll cage, is still very dangerous.  But this car is a fan favorite.
     (photo by author)

50.  As Rick Howdy crawls from his winning midget racer after a race at Ascot Speedway, famous promoter J.C. Agajanian (left) celebrates.
     (photo by author)

51.  1960's sprint cars were larger, and even more dangerous.  Here, Mario Andretti slides around a turn at Langhorne Raceway.
     (photo courtesy Jim Chini)

52.  Off road racing was wild and woolly, with long jumps and hard crashes. This race is at Riverside in California.
     (photo by author)

53.  Eddie Sachs was the "Clown Prince" of racing, and one of the most popular drivers of all.  He was happiest in a race car.
     (photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

54.  Sachs died an instant after Dave MacDonald smashed into the inside wall and spun back to the center of the track.  Sachs (upper left, just leaving picture) smashed into the burning MacDonald car.
     (photo courtesy Wide World Photos)

55.  Dressed and undressed, the famous turbine car of Parnelli Jones and Andy Granatelli.
 (photo courtesy STP)

56.  This turbine passenger car was tested for awhile, but when the turbine was banned at Indy, research ended.
      (photo courtesy Pit Stop Service)

57.  Ken Miles leads the other two Ford GT-40's across the finish line at LeMans, but he lost the race.
     (photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)

58.  Land speed record holder Mickey Thompson, and his "home built" Challenger with four engines.
     (photo courtesy Mickey Thompson)

CHAPTER SIX

59.  A young Mario Andretti crawls from his winning Ferrari after the Questor Grand Prix.  His twin brother Aldo watches, right.
     (photo by author)

60.  Multiple world champion Jackie Stewart rests before the Questor Grand Prix.
     (photo by author)

67.  Jim Hall II opened a Racing Kart school in California and young Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi rushed to enroll.  And so do many of today's top Indy and NASCAR drivers.
     (photo by author)

68.  Lynn Haddock wins the 1984 Pro/Kart Invitational from pole to flag in his high speed racing kart.
     (photo courtesy Bridgestone)

69 A & B.  A.J. Foyt enters Victory Circle at Ontario in his NASCAR stock car (A), and his Indy car (B) after the Twin 200's.
      (photos by author)

70.  An Indy car pop-off valve, a device to regulate the amount of air rammed into the engine, and a controversial device as well.
      (photo by author)

71A-L  Indy cars are meant to break up.  This is the terrifying crash of Tom Sneva at the 1975 Indy 500.  Sneva walked away after he woke up.
      (photos by author and Mike Brumbrack)

72.  The infield of the beautiful track at Ontario, California, was built in a hole so the fans in the stands could see all the way around.
     (photo courtesy Ontario Motor Speedway)

73.  An inside look at a modern Indy car.
     (photo courtesy Pennzoil)

74.  An outside look at the same type car.
     (photo courtesy Pennzoil)

CHAPTER SEVEN

75.  An inside look at a modern Chevrolet racing engine, similar to those used in Indy and NASCAR racing.
     (courtesy Chevrolet)

76.  Super Vees get tangled up at Phoenix Raceway, but nobody was hurt.
     (photo by author)

77A & B.  A brand new "Autostick" transmission shift lever and transmission, similar to a trannie used in Formula One and now available on passenger cars from Chrysler.
     (photo courtesy Chrysler)

78.  A racing helmet equipped with EyeQue, a heads-up display from Delco.
     (photo courtesy Delco Electronics

79.  They don't race them anymore, but most fans wish they did.  This is the bellowing CanAm car of Mark Donohue.
      (photo courtesy Penske Communications)

80.  Excitement on the drag strip.  This looks like a top fuel dragster until you see the body high in the air.
      (photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

81A & B.  Most modern big time races have cars with cameras mounted on them, bringing the fans into the race from the driver's point of view.
      (photo by author)

82.  A modern pit stop, such as this one with Rick Mears, is a beautiful ballet of experts.
       (photo by author)

83.  An external view of a modern Chevrolet racing engine used at Indy, in NASCAR, and other major races.
     (photo by author)

84.  Just like the early days, when Mercedes Benz was the big name in racing, but this is a modern racing engine.
      (photo by author)

85.  Even jet-powered cars race each other now.
      (photo by author)

86.  The media goes to almost any length to cover a modern automobile race, or at least the cameramen do.
      (photo by author)

87.  Formula Vees with "sticker" tires, ready to roll into an amateur, but very important, race at Riverside.
       (photo by author)

88.  The front row at the 1992 Indy 500. The #36 pole position car of Roberto Guerrero crashed before the race started.
       (photo by author)

89.  Indy and stock car drivers Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan enjoy a light moment before a race.
        (photo by author)

90.  With terribly injured feet, Rick Mears must use a motorized chair to get to his car, but he gets there.
       (photo by author)

91.  Until he retired, A.J. Foyt was always ready to race.  He may come back.
       (photo by author)

92.  Modern racing is tough.  A Daytona driver bites the dust, but he was soon back racing.
        (photo by author)

93.  Racing pomp and circumstance.  Race queen Joan Rivers arrives at the race in style.
        (photo by author)

94.  The author, with Rick Mears, during a press conference.
       (photo by Mickey Schaffer)

95.  Racing fans in the infield at Daytona.
       (photo by author)

96.  Yes, modern passenger cars owe much to automobile racing.
      (photo courtesy Chrysler)