Saturday, June 27, 2015

The history of the
W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Memorial Trophy

This vintage photograph of the Edenburn trophy in the original IMS museum appears courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the IUPUI University Indianapolis Library's Center of Digital Scholoarship 

One of most unique trophies of all the treasures in the Hall of Fame and Museum collection at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the Waldo Dane “Eddie” Edenburn Memorial Trophy, a large wooden electric clock cabinet that stands about five feet tall. This article looks at the man behind the trophy.

After years of working around the “racing game” in various capacities,  which included leading many early automobile tours to promote better roads and prove the durability of automobiles, in May 1919, ‘Eddie’ Edenburn accepted the role for which he became world famous. 

In 1919, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway did not have the position of ‘Chief Steward’ on its organizational chart.  Eddie replaced former Speedway manager Charles W. Sedwick as one of the representatives of the AAA contest board and soon began to expand his role for the betterment of our sport.

Over the next few years, Edenburn created the role of the Indianapolis ‘500’ “Chief Steward,” a term he borrowed from his nautical activities.  Eddie eventually commanded a force of 150 officials who were involved with all the operational aspects of running the world’s greatest single day sporting event. Eddie’s minions governed the technical aspects of the cars, inspections, qualifications of the drivers, the timing and scoring and the actual running and control of the race itself.

This vintage photograph of the Eddie Edenburn in 1927 museum appears courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the IUPUI University Indianapolis Library's Center of Digital Scholoarship 

The short stocky bespectacled Edenburn presented a unique sartorial appearance, often clad in a newsboy cap with a checkered sport coat, tie, and knickers with knee socks wearing his AAA armband. Eddie always seemed to have an unlit cigar clamped in his mouth, and though he did not smoke, Edenburn carried two lighters with him at all times “for the convenience of my friends.” 

A photograph of the image that appeared on a box of Eddie Edenburn cigars. 

Edenburn and his trademark cigar became so famed that the Schwartz Bernard Cigar Company in Eddie’s hometown of Detroit Michigan produced and sold Eddie Edenburn cigars!

Eddie described as a man “too busy to light his own cigar” was almost universally beloved and always willing to help his friends whether it was a car owner, track official, mechanic, or driver. We must say “almost” because a May 12 1932 editorial in the Delphi Indiana Journal with the headline “A little man shall command them” described Edenburn as the “Napoleonic czar” and a “half pint Mussolini of the speedway that smokes cigars almost as large as he is” who “kept the racing giants under his tiny thumb.” The racing community of the era knew better than the miffed editorial writer that Eddie, while firmly charge, was friendly and treated everyone with respect.

In 1921, Edenburn left his long-time position as the automotive editor of the Detroit News and became General Manager of the Michigan Automotive Trade Association and the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, a position he held for the rest of his life. In addition to his “day job” and his role as the official AAA representative to the Indianapolis ‘500,’ Eddie also served as the AAA zone supervisor for Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Edenburn also appeared as an AAA official in many capacities at races across the country.

Curiously, for the man that controlled America’s best-known auto racing event, Edenburn did not drive an automobile, as he stated in an interview he had lost interest in driving during 1922. In early October 1933 while Eddie returned home from an evening business meeting the automobile in which he rode left an icy road near Bay City Michigan and crashed into a tree. 

The impact instantly killed the driver of the car Eddie’s brother-in-law, Earl Jelf, but Eddie himself escaped with cuts, bruises a broken hand and broken ribs. Edenburn was later quoted “I’ve had auto accidents and motor boating accidents, and I may have aviation accidents. One thing's sure - when a man's number is up, he gets it. Not before.”

Edenburn did not die as the result of an accident however. On September 18 1934 Eddie suddenly collapsed was rushed to a Detroit hospital where he was diagnosed with uremic poisoning. Though he was hospitalized, Eddie’s condition quickly worsened and he passed away at age 49 on September 21 1934. As writers across the country wrote lengthy heartfelt tributes to the nation’s best-known automobile and boat racing official, Edenburn was laid to rest in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, the final resting place for many of racing’s greatest names.

Later in 1934, the American Power Boat Association (APBA) for which Edenburn served as secretary announced the creation of the W.D. Edenburn Memorial perpetual trophy for the 225 cubic inch racing class.   On April 1 1937, Indianapolis Motor Speedway vice president Theodore “Pop” Myers  announced that the ‘friends of Edenburn’ had commissioned a trophy to honor Eddie’s tireless efforts on behalf of the sport, to be awarded annually to the person who made the year’s greatest contribution to auto racing.

In the years since its inception, the criteria for the awarding of the W.D. Edenburn Memorial Trophy has changed from an individual’s annual contributions to the sport to one which recognizes a worthy individual’s lifetime achievement to our sport. 

During the 1973 USAC (United States Auto Club) annual awards banquet, Tony Hulman accepted the trophy as a permanent part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection. Eddie Edenburn was inducted as member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1986.

This a partial list of recipients of the W.D. Edenburn Memorial Trophy

Michael J. Boyle 1939
Louis Schwitzer 1940
Earl Gilmore 1941
Not awarded 1942-1945
Anton “Tony” Hulman 1946
Colonel A.W. Harrington 1947
Lee Oldfield 1948
Theodore E. “Pop” Myers 1949
Arthur C Pillsbury 1950
J.C. Agajanian 1951
Tom Marchese 1952
Clarence Beesemyer 1953
Raymond Firestone 1954
Warren “Wilbur” Shaw 1955 (awarded posthumously)
Clarence Cagle 1958
J. Gordon Betz 1959
C. H. Wallbrich 1960
Henry Banks 1962
Harlan Fengler 1969
Russ Clendenen 1982
Ted Halibrand & A. J. Watson 1983
Joe Cloutier 1984
Al Bloemeker 1985
John Cooper 1986
Charles Thompson 1987
Tom Carnegie 1988
Jack Beckley 1989
Roger McCluskey 1990
A.J. Foyt Jr. 1991
Arthur Meyers 1992
Roger Penske 1993
Charlie Brockman 1994
Dan Cotter 1995
Anton George 1996
Keith Ward 1997
Bob Higman 1998
Robert Moorhead (USAC board) 1999
Henry Ryder (USAC board) 2000
Johnny Capels 2001
Mike Devin 2002
Don Smith 2003
Burdette Martin (ACCUS president) 2004
Donald Davidson 2005
Tommy Hunt 2006
Bill France Jr. 2008
Sid Collins – year unknown

With his 16 years of service Eddie Edenburn set the mark for longevity of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chief Stewards. It was not until his final year of service in 1973 that Harlan Fengler, whose erratic personality and management style was the exact opposite of Edenburn’s, tied the 16-race record. 

Fengler’s replacement, Thomas Binford, then broke Edenburn's record as he oversaw twenty-two 500-mile races in a professional business-like manner as had Edenburn,  before he retired.

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