2020/2021: 125 Years of Motor Sport in the United States

On Thanksgiving Day, 28 November 1895, those participating in the event that the Times-Herald newspaper of Chicago lined up at Jackson Park for the start. Unfortunately, over the preceding several days over a foot of snow had fallen on the area, with the weather turning very cold and windy. Of the expected eleven starters for the event, only six actually appeared at the starting point.

1895 Chicago start

Some ten hours later, the motor wagon driven by J. Frank Duryea completed the fifty-four mile run to Evanston and back.

1895 Chicago Duryea motor wagon

Although there was an earlier event on 2 November 1895 — the original date scheduled for the race — between the Duryea motor wagon and the Mueller-Benz that finished second in the Thanksgiving Day event, the Mueller vehicle winning when the Duryea was forced into a ditch to avoid a farm wagon, this is correctly considered to be an exhibition rather than an actual contest.

1895 Chicago Mueller Benz

On Decoration Day, 30 May 1896, a popular magazine, the Cosmopolitan, sponsored a road race from City Hall in Manhattan to the offices of the magazine in Irvington, with lunch at the Ardsley Country Club. There were six starters in the contest, four of them being motor wagons produced by the Duryea brothers, J. Frank (the winner of the event) and Charles. The event was notable for the first traffic accident in New York City, when one of the entries tangled with a bicyclist.

1896 Duryea Barmum & Bailey Poster

In September 1896, the Rhode Island State Fair sponsored a series of automotive races at the Narragansett Park horse track. Originally, there were to be five events run over a distance of five laps or five miles of the track, but severe weather reduced the number of events to only three. A.L. Riker in an electric vehicle won two of the three events held.

1896 Narragansett start SA

The events held at Narragansett Park were the first automotive contests that reflect what was to become the template for races in later years: events on a closed course — an oval-shaped track in this instance — with a massed start.

1896 Narragansett Park 1

In November 2020, motor sport will be 125 years old in the United States. From the events held in Chicago and New York City to the races at Narragansett Park in September, motor sport in the United States has developed and changed in many aspects, in some ways scarcely resembling these original events. It would seem appropriate that we use the occasion of the sport’s 125th anniversary to consider just how it has grown and developed over that span of time.

A series of panels held spanning 2020 and 2021 at various venues to discuss motor sport in the United States from those early years to today would be one way to mark this occasion. Panels composed of motor sport historians and open to the public is one way to do this. The panels on the various forms of the sport could take place at venues lending themselves to those discussion. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, for example, could be the site for an consideration of national championship racing. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum in Charlotte, in conjunction with Appalachian State University and its Stock Car Racing Collection, could be a site for stock car racing. The Wally Parks NHRA Museum in Pomona is an excellent site for panels on speed contests. from drag racing to speed trials on the beaches and salt flats. The Simone Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, and the Benson Ford Research Center at the Henry Ford Museum are other sites where panels could be held.

This would be an opportunity for motor sport historians to discuss the many issues relating to motor sport in the United States from its beginnings to the present day and engage the public in those discussions.


IV Michael Argetsinger Symposium

The IV Michael R. Argetsinger Symposium for International Motor Racing History will be held from the evening of, Thursday, 8 November to the afternoon of Saturday, 10 November 2018 at the International Motor Racing Motor Research Center (IMRRC) and Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York.

The Argetsinger Symposium is sponsored and supported by the IMRRC, the International Motor Sports History Section of the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH), and the Vehicular Culture Area of the Popular Culture Association (PCA)/American Culture Association (ACA).

The Argetsinger Symposium has an enduring theme, The Cultural Turn Meets the First Turn, with this year’s conference featuring a unique roundtable discussion on the issues, challenges, and overlooked aspects relating to the history of stock car racing. The roundtable will be include Dr. Scott Beekman, Dr. Dan Simone, Dr. Pat Yongue, Dr. Mark Howell, and several others including the invited guest of honor and keynote speaker, Buz McKim, the former historian at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum in Charlotte.

There is a Call for Papers that is open until Friday, 10 August 2018. Presentations of papers should be approximately 20 minutes in length. Proposed topics, a 250-300 word abstract, should be sent to the Executive Director of the IMRRC, Tom Weidemann (tom@racingarchives.org) and any questions regarding the symposium directed to H. Donald Capps (cappshd@gmail.com).

1905 Ormond & Daytona Races Scrapbook

1905 Ormond Daytona Meeting

This is a scan of a scrapbook on the 1905 meeting held on Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach. The scrapbook contains material pertaining to the event ranging from the entry listing to the results of the individual events, as well as additional events added to the meeting.

The scrap book is part of the archival material located at the IMS Hall of Fame Museum that was placed on microfilm by Gordon White in the 1980s.

AAA Contest Board Reports on Certification Sanctions, 1911 to 1929

AAA Contest Board Certification Sanctions 1911 1929

In addition to issuing sanctions for various automotive contests, the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA) also issued sanctions for certification tests and trials conducted by automotive industry manufacturers. Here are scans of reports of some of those sanctions issued by the Contest Board from 1911 to 1929. This should help fill in a gap in the activities of the Contest Board.

These scans are from material located in the archives of the IMS Hall of Museum and placed on microfilm by Gordon White in the 1980s.

AAA Contest Board Sanctions, 1 to 3408

AAA Contest Board Sanctions 1 to 700

AAA Contest Board Sanctions 701 to 1403

AAA Contest Board Sanctions 1404 to 2103

AAA Contest Board Sanctions 2104 to 2608

AAA Contest Board Sanctions 2609 to 3408

Here are sanction numbers 1 through 3408 as issued by the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA). They run from the 1909 season (with a few carrying over from 1908 and 1909 prior to the establishment of the Contest Board in March 1909) through to the 1936 season.

They are from scans made from the microfilm commissioned by the historian of the Atlantic Coast Old Timers Auto Racing Club, Gordon White, in the 1980s of the archival material held by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

American Sports Revisionism: Football Champions & CHampion Drivers

In 1905, Caspar Whitney, a co-founder of Outing magazine and one of the creators of collegiate football’s All-American Team, named Yale as the season’s “national champion” in college football. Four years previously, The (New York) Sun had named Harvard as the 1901 collegiate football champions. Although the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established in 1906, it first named national champions only in 1921, starting with track and field. Despite naming national champions in literally dozens of intercollegiate sports since then, the NCAA has not and still does not name a national champion in what is now the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I or Division I-A Football.

This, of course, has not stopped those in the sports world from naming national champions in collegiate football. Beginning with The Sun and Caspar Whitney at the turn of the 20th Century, roughly three dozen systems have endeavored to select the national champion in collegiate football. Several of these have used statistical data to retroactively select national champions all the way back to the very first season for collegiate football in the United States, 1869. In 1926, professor Frank Dickinson, of the economics department at the University of Illinois, created what seems to be the first mathematical system to determine the national championship, with the nod going to Stanford. The system devised by Dickinson attracted the interest of the coach at Notre Dame, Knute Rockne, who persuade the professor to apply the model to several previous seasons, with the result of Notre Dame becoming the retroactive 1924 national champion and Dartmouth the 1925 champion.

According to the listing of national championships provided by the NCAA, there are five colleges with claims to the national title for the 1926 season. The first is Alabama, with nine systems ranking it as the national champion: the Berryman (QPRS) System, which began in 1990; the Billingsley Report, 1970; the College Football Researchers Association, 1982 and 2009; Helms Athletic Foundation, 1941; National Championship Foundation, 1980; and, the Poling System, 1935. The school with the second high number of rankings, four, as the national champion was Stanford: the Dickinson System, 1926; Helms Athletic Foundation, 1941; National Championship Foundation, 1980; and, the Sagarin Ratings, 1978. Navy was selected by two systems as the 1926 national champion: the Houlgate System, 1927; and, the Boand System or Azzi Ratem System, 1930. The other two schools with selections as the national champion for 1926 are: Lafayette, Parke Davis, 1933; Michigan, Sagarin, 1978.

While it quite probably simply a coincidence that after naming Stanford as the 1926 national champion that professor Dickinson then used his formula to create retroactive champions for the 1924 and 1925 systems, that the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA) seems to have done something similar in 1927 is quite striking. One could suggest, however, that it might not be quite as coincidental that several automotive journals and newspapers named champion drivers from 1909 to 1915.

While it is entirely possible that we may never know exactly what prompted members of the AAA Contest Board to create retroactive champion drivers in 1927, nor why they were apparently so readily accepted, the many efforts to create retroactive collegiate football national champions might suggest that this inclination in the sports world is not unheard of. If professor Dickinson’s model of 1926 was used to determine the possible national champions of 1924 and 1925, this was also the case with several of the other systems used to select a national championship team.

A year after the Dickinson System was introduced, 1927, Deke Houlgate, created another mathematical model to determine the national championship team, which was used to determine championship teams beginning with the 1885 season. First used in 1930, the system devised by William Boand, the Boand or Azzi Ratem System, created national champions for the 1919 to 1929 seasons. In 1933, Parke Davis, a former player for Princeton and coach at Wisconsin and several other colleges, created a listing of national champions that began with the 1869 season until the 1933 season. Another former player, Richard Poling, devised yet another rating system based upon a mathematical model beginning with the 1935 season, creating championship teams back to 1924.

I would suggest from this consideration of historical revisionism in American collegiate football that the revisionism undertaken by the AAA Contest Board and its national champions is not necessarily unique in the field of American sports history. It might also help in understanding why the retroactively-created champion drivers seems to have been accepted with few qualms, only the Chevrolet-Milton and Dingley-Robertson issues apparently drawing any attention over the decades.