The Means/Catlin Mythology Strikes Again: 1915 and NSSN

In his 23 March 2015 California Coast column appearing in what is now an online National Speed Sport News, thanks to the demise of the print version several years ago, Tim Kennedy writes about a get-together in Venice on 17 March to commemorate the centennial of the Venice road race won by Barney Oldfield.

While certainly the sort of event that one wishes one could have attended, especially with Harold Osmer as one of the speakers. The Kennedy article has a typo of the sort that can certainly drive writers to distraction: the circuit length is given as 1.3 miles, not the actual 3.1 miles for a lap.He also includes this in the article:

The Venice GP was round six of a 27 race 1915 AAA National Championship Trail. Nine races were on road courses, seven on dirt ovals and Indianapolis Motor Speedway was classified a brick oval. Points were not awarded in 1915. Later points were awarded and Earl Cooper was named 1915 national champion. Ten race distances were 100-miles. Other distances were 300, 350, 400 and 500 miles (Indy 500) on May 31. The season ran from Jan. 9 to Nov. 25.

Race sites prior to Venice were a San Diego road course on Jan. 9, Glendale road course on Feb. 3, Ascot dirt oval on Feb. 7, and two on a road course in San Francisco – American Grand Prize on Feb. 27 and Wm. K. Vanderbilt Cup – March 6. Following Venice, on March 20 teams raced 103.152 miles on the Tucson road course. Subsequent races were in Oklahoma City, Galesburg, Ill., Chicago, Sioux City, Tacoma oval (July 4-5), Omaha, Burlington, Des Moines, Chicago, Elgin, Ill. road course (Aug. 20-21), Kalamazoo, Minneapolis, Providence, Astor Cup-Sheepshead Bay (Oct. 9), Harkness Gold Medal Race at Sheepshead (Nov. 2), Phoenix dirt oval (Nov. 20) and San Francisco dirt oval 100 (the third SF race).

There was, of course, not a AAA national championship contested in 1915. That points were later awarded resulting in Earl Cooper being the champion for that season does not necessarily make Cooper the champion for that season. Indeed, using the Mason Point System that was devised by Harold T. Mason and first used in 1914 in MoToR and whose use was which shifted to The Horseless Age in 1915, Cooper does emerge with the highest points total overall, 51 points. Cooper was the leading road racing driver from Barney Oldfield by the razor-thin margin of 24 points to 23 7/8th points, with Dario Resta right behind at 20 points. On speedways, however, he was second to Eddie Rickenbacher, whose 32 points led Cooper, 27 points, Eddie O’Donnell, 24 points, and Gil Anderson (actually, Andersen), 21 points.

Motor Age selected Cooper as the road racing champion driver, with Anderson as its speedway champion driver and Rickenbacher as the champion driver for the short tracks. MoToR proclaimed Cooper as the road racing champion driver and Resta as the speedway champion driver.

So, while there is little doubt that Earl Cooper was certainly worthy of consideration of consideration as the champion driver for the 1915 season, he was not without competition for the title. That title, of course, being retroactively granted in 1927 by Arthur Means.

The almost Orwellian twist that Russ Catlin presents for justifying the retroactively-created national champions is really rather fascinating, stating that those who claim that there were no contemporary AAA champions for 1909-1915 and 1917-1919, suggesting that while this might be “technically” correct, “historically” they are wrong.

Oh, my…..

Review of the Year in Racing: 1908

I had long assumed, in the absence of any evidence to  the contrary, that “Road Racing at Home and Abroad in 1908” by C.G. “Chris” Sinsabaugh was the first of its type. Appearing in the 7 January 1909 issue of Motor Age (Volume 15, No. 1), the article covered American and European road racing for the 1908 season (28-33). It also covered the following American contests of 1908: reliability runs (34-36); hill climbs (37); “Other branches of motoring sport” — with track racing being notably absent, (38-40); and, “Support given competitions by makers” (40-41).

However, a week prior to the Sinsabaugh review it seems that The Motor World published its “Review of the Year in Racing” for the 1908 season. Appearing in the 31 December 1908 (Volume 19, No. 14) issue of the automotive journal, unlike the review in Motor Age, this review does not carry a byline. Also, as with Sinsabaugh, Its coverage tends to focus on road racing, although The Motor World review devotes some attention to the war between  the A.A.A. and the A.C.A., a topic that Sinsabaugh generally omits from his survey of the 1908 season.

Searches of earlier volumes of The Motor World as well as other contemporary American automotive journals have failed to discover an earlier review devoted exclusively to motor sport. There might be an earlier seasonal review of automotive contests lurking somewhere out there, but thanks to gaps in the archival material or simply overlooking it, I have yet to find it.