Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The forgotten ‘500’ winner - L.L. Corum
Part two -  stock car racer

1924 Indianapolis ‘500’ co-winner L.L. “Slim” Corum failed to qualify a Duesenberg for the 1927 ‘500’ starting field, through that year Corum made a name for himself in the world of American Automobile Association (AAA) sanctioned stock car racing.
After he joined the Stutz Motors “experimental department” in 1926 Corum, along with race car drivers Ralph Mulford, Tom Rooney, Bert Dingley, and Gil Andersen competed in races with factory-entered Blackhawk Vertical Eight Speedsters. Frederick E. Moskovics the Stutz president, understood the publicity value of automobile racing, having been involved in the management of the 1910 Los Angeles Motordrome board track in Playa del Rey California.

For the 1927 season the AAA Contest Board, led by Eddie Rickenbacker created a stock car racing renaissance that harkened back to the earliest racing days of the early twentieth century. Unlike the modern-day NASCAR silhouette “stock car” races, the 1927 AAA races were open to strictly stock cars that displaced 300 cubic inches or less, and to ensure the stock nature of the cars, the AAA Contest Board reserved the right to select the cars at random and supervise their preparation.
Cars raced less the windshield, fenders, running boards and tops with the only mechanical adjustments allowed limited to “valve grinding, cylinder honing, relieving bearing clearances, and fine tuning.”  The races were scheduled, often in conjunction with AAA championship races on two East Coast board tracks - the Rockingham Speedway in New Hampshire and Atlantic City Speedway in New Jersey.

The “Eastern Stock Car Championship” for the "Atlantic City Trophy" 75-mile race was held on May 7 1927 at Atlantic City prior to the running of AAA 200-mile championship car race.  The one and half mile long year-old  wooden New Jersey track alternately known as Amotal Raceway due to its location on the site of the World War I ammunition plant, was roughly equidistant from Atlantic City and Philadelphia south of the town Hammonton.

Designed by Art Pillsbury and built by Jack Prince the construction was financed largely by Charles M. Schwab chairman of Bethlehem Steel and also a major investor in Stutz and a member of the Stutz board.   

Tom Rooney in a Stutz Vertical Eight 2-seat roadster won the May race at an average speed of 86.50 MPH in a time of 52 minutes and 10.54 seconds as the top three finishers could have been covered by a blanket. Wade Morton’s Auburn finished just a fender length behind Rooney in second place and Zeke Meyer’s Paige trailed just a few feet back in third place. 

Eddie Miller finished fourth in another Auburn roadster ahead of fellow Indianapolis veteran Fred Winnai who drove a Duesenberg Model A roadster to a fifth place finish. For an appreciation of just how fast the steeply banked board tracks were, Dave Lewis won the featured 200-mile race in a 91 ½ cubic inch supercharged Miller front drive at average speed of 130 MPH.

There were only six entries for the 100-mile preliminary stock car race held on July 4 1927 at the 1-1/4 mile wooden Rockingham Park Speedway, a venue opened in 1925 but which was already in financial trouble, Two days before the race, at the request of a group of investors United States District Court Judge George F. Morris in Concord placed the track in receivership and named Exeter attorney William Sleeper as the receiver.    
Frank Lockhart led the first 65 laps of the race in a Mercedes, but a blown tire forced him into the pits and he lost more than a lap to former AAA championship regular Wade Morton behind the wheel of 8-88 Auburn.  Once underway, Lockhart’s car suffered another blown tire which cost him another five laps to repair. Morton claimed the victory over Lockhart and Ralph Hepburn is a similar Auburn and posted a new United States stock car record as he averaged 89.17 mph over the 100-mile distance.  

Like all the board tracks, weather and the pounding of the cars took their toll on the Rockingham board track. The 1926 AAA champion Harry Hartz was severely injured and burned in a crash at Rockingham in October 1927 which left him in out of hospitals for two years and ended his racing career. 

The scheduled 200-mile International Motor Classic in October 1928 was halted after 50 laps due to the deteriorating track conditions led to the three crashes which included Fred Comer’s fatal crash on lap 25. 
The finish of the race was initially postponed for two weeks to allow time for planned repairs but was eventually cancelled. In the fall of 1929 the Lowell Building Wrecking Company razed the 1-1/4 mile facility and more than 3 million board feet of well-seasoned 2x3, 2x4, 2x6, 2x10, and 2x12 wood planking was salvaged and sold as scrap.

On September 5 1927 the AAA sanctioned a series of stock car races at Atlantic City which included a special preliminary event that offered a purse of $250 for the “oldest car capable of navigating the banked track.” Entries in the special race included an 1897 AutoCar, a 1900 Winton, and 1901 curved dash Oldsmobile.

In the days leading up to the race, there was some controversy as several teams alleged sabotage, and according to the Chester Times in Chester Pennsylvania “officials brought in huge flood lights to illuminate the long rows of garages and guards with bayoneted rifles patrol the section about the garages day and night to prevent anyone from approaching except those with official credentials.”

This AP photo shows Earl Vance with his trophy

The day’s first AAA-sanctioned race was a 25-mile or 20 lap event for 4-cylinder cars, won by Earl Vance of Philadelphia in a Dodge Sport Roadster entered by the Atlantic City Speedway Association. The 1928 Dodge Series 124 ‘Fast Four’ Sports Roadster powered by a  212-cubic inches L-head engine had been purchased by the Association ten days before the race to increase the size of the field,  averaged 67.35 MPH.  

The second race of the day, a 75-mile, 60 lap event for 6-cylinder cars priced below $2000 was won by 1919, 1921 and 1922 national motorcycle champion  and three-time Indianapolis ‘500’ starter Ralph Hepburn behind the wheel of a factory-entered Studebaker Commander Roadster. His Studebaker teammate Eddie Hearne finished second ahead of a Chrysler ‘70’ roadster, one of four entered by the Speedway Association, in third place. A Buick Master Six roadster and a Star Six built by Durant Motors rounded out the top five finishers. 

The third and final stock car race held at Atlantic City on Labor Day, the 120-lap 150-mile “Free-for-All” featured six factory Stutz entries – four roadsters and two sedans all which had been driven to New Jersey from Indianapolis  by the drivers which included Gil Andersen, Bruce Keen. Tom Rooney. and “Slim” Corum to “break them in.” There were a total of 14 cars entered, all either six- or eight-cylinder powered machines, including Hepburn’s, and the race was run at torrid pace with lap speeds that neared 100 MPH.

Early in the race, Keen lost control crashed his Stutz into the outer fence and was injured.  Two laps from the end of the Atlantic City race Hepburn’s second-place 353-cubic inch side-valve 85-horsepower Studebaker blew a tire, and the finish it was a 1-2-3 Stutz sweep. 

Rooney claimed the win and set a new world’s record as he finished in one hour 33 minutes with an average speed of 96.30 MPH. Corum finished second, two minutes and fifteen seconds in arrears with Andersen in third place, four seconds behind Corum while Hepburn recovered to finish fourth.  

In the fall of 1929, the 500-acre Atlantic City Speedway site was sold to the General Aero Corporation which announced plans to level the track and build an international airport, but the venture collapsed and the track remained intact.  At the end of May 1932 the assets of the Atlantic City Speedway Association were auctioned off to satisfy a legal claim.  The following year, the great Atlantic City board track was demolished and the lumber sold for its scrap value  

Stutz wins the Stevens Trophy

The Stevens Cup in 1927




In April 1927 Corum was a member of the Stutz team that set out to win the Stevens Perpetual Challenge Trophy, a traveling award established by Samuel Barron Stevens a wealthy stock broker banker and early automobile racer from Rome New York. Stevens had established a number of speed records on Ormond Beach in Florida in the original AAA stock car racing period from 1903 to 1908.

After his retirement from driving Stevens stayed involved in auto racing as he briefly served on the 10-member AAA Contest Board which developed and printed rules, registered cars drivers and mechanics, licensed tracks, issued sanctions, provided officiating staff and maintained records.  In 1916, Stevens was a member of the team that drove a stock six-cylinder Marmon 34 roadster cross country from New York to San Francisco a distance of 3,390 miles in five days 11 hours and forty minutes which beat Erwin “Cannonball” Baker’s existing record by 41 hours.   

The requirements to win possession of the Stevens Trophy spelled out in the deed of gift were simple - a totally stock closed production car had to average 60 MPH or better for 24 consecutive hours at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway as witnessed by officials of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and AAA. The 100% stock condition of the car had to be attested to by a three-man committee of the SAE and the AAA furnished the supplies of fuel and oil.

Stevens’ challenge required the endurance run be conducted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as opposed to a smooth board track because according to Stevens “it more closely replicates real road conditions to measure what the consumer finds in regards to performance, stamina and durability when he buys an automobile.”

Stutz Motor Company was the first automaker to accept the Stevens challenge in April 1927. The Stutz drivers for the attempt included Corum, Rooney, Andersen, and early Speedway drivers John Jenkins, Charles Merz, and Bruce Keen. There were three cars used, all equipped with the Stutz Vertical Eight overhead camshaft engine - stripped-down Stutz Blackhawk Speedster as the “pacemaker,” and the actual Stevens challenge machines, a five-passenger sedan and a Weymann-bodied five-passenger sedan.

Weymann bodies, made of painted synthetic leather fabric stretched over a wooden frame, were very popular during the latter part of the decade of the nineteen twenties. This patented system was less expensive and lighter in weight than a full custom steel body and its method of construction led to a quieter ride free of the squeaking typical in metal-bodied automobiles.

Invented and patented by Charles Weymann who held dual US-French citizenship but lived in Paris, the company established an American facility in Indianapolis in the old National Automobile plant on East 22nd Street with Stutz as its number one United States client. The Weymann American Body Company’s fortunes rose and fell in concert with those of Stutz, and by the end of the decade of the nineteen thirties, new Weymann bodies had all but disappeared from the American automotive landscape.   

The Stevens Challenge run began at 4 PM on April 21 1927 recorded by the Speedway’s head of timing and scoring Chester S Ricker with his assistant Odis A Porter and observed by officials from the AAA with JT Little of Marmon who represented the SAE.  A few hours after the run started rain, sleet, and snow began to fall but the Stutz team pressed on as the storm continued.

During the driver exchanges scheduled for every two hours, mechanics filled the cars’ gas tanks and radiators, made a safety check of the car and made tire changes or adjustments as needed.  The Stutz’ were equipped with standard Mason ‘Hylastic’ balloon tires and a total of three tires of were replaced during the 24 hours with two tires replaced on the standard sedan during the night as a precaution.    

On April 22 1927 after twenty-four hours, the five-passenger steel-bodied Stutz sedan took possession of the Stevens trophy having covered 1642 miles or 657 laps around the 2-1/2 mile oval at an average speed of 68.44 MPH. The Weyman fabric bodied sedan completed its 24-hour run at an average speed of 67.176 MPH having covered twelve fewer laps or 30 fewer miles. Though not eligible for the record, the Stutz “pacemaker” averaged 71.352 MPH.

The Match Race

After Stutz had won the 1927 AAA stock car championship and the Stevens Trophy, during his October 1927 visit to Paris, Stutz president Moskovics bragged to his friend Charles Weymann that the Stutz was not only the fastest car in America but perhaps in the world. Weymann was a fan of the French/Spanish Hispano-Suiza, considered at the time the fastest car on the European continent and the pair settled on a friendly wager of $25,000 (nearly $350,000 today) about which car was the fastest over 24 hours around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After several days of practice the match race began at 1 PM on April 18 1928 before a crowd of 2,500 interested spectators. The Hispano-Suiza HC6 Boulogne powered by a six-cylinder 488-cubic inch engine rated at 144 horsepower was matched against the 125-horsepower 305-cubic inch straight-eight powered Stutz Blackhawk.  

The Stutz before the match race
the driver is unidentified in the IUPUI University photo part of the
Indidnapolis Motor Speedway Collection in the Center for Digital Studies

The Stutz driver lineup featured Tom Rooney and Gil Anderson with L.L. Corum as the reserve driver, while Weymann himself chose to drive the Hispano-Suiza paired with the 1926 24 hours of LeMans race winner Frenchman Robert Bloch. Both cars equipped with Mason balloon tires had their front fenders removed, and Weymann oddly chose to carry a spare wheel and tire.

As reported in the Indianapolis Star at the end of the first lap the Hispano-Suiza was eight seconds ahead, and over the first ten laps the Hispano-Suiza average 83.4 MPH to the Stutz’ 81.3 MPH. On its 57th lap, the Stutz pitted with a rough running engine diagnosed with the problem traced to a broken retainer on one of the engine’s thirty-two valves.  

By the rules mechanics led by Stutz machine shop foreman Michael Kirk could not use new parts and the Stutz sat motionless for one hour and 11 minutes before repairs were completed. Back underway, the Stutz completed just 11 laps before the problem resurfaced and additional repairs delayed the Blackhawk another 35 minutes.

With 147 laps completed, the Stutz broke a connecting rod in the straight eight engines and three hours were lost over to repairs (how the mechanics replaced a broken connecting rod without a new part in unclear to the author). The only saving grace for the Stutz team was that around ten o’clock a rainstorm moved across Indianapolis and the Hispano-Suiza stopped for 16 minutes. The Stutz returned to the track at 11:27 PM but at midnight stopped again with an oil leak.  At that point the Stutz was more than 300 miles behind the Hispano-Suiza having lost five of the eleven hours of running time.

At 7:56 AM on April 19 another connecting rod broke on the Stutz and 25 minutes later the Stutz camp conceded. The official record showed that the Hispano-Suiza completed 1357.5 miles to the Stutz’ 732.5 miles. Having won his $25,000 bet, Weymann suggested another match race against a similar Stutz. Run from 9:30 AM to 1 PM, the Stutz won with an average speed of 75.71 MPH to the Hispano-Suiza’s 73.57 MPH.

Despite the problems, Charles Weymann was sufficiently impressed by the Stutz Blackhawk’s performance that he bought one to race in the 1928 24 hours of LeMans. Driven by Edward Brisson and Bloch, the Stutz finished second just one lap behind the winning Bentley.

Stevens Trophy later history

a 1933 Marmon 16  "close coupled" sedan

The Stutz Motor Company held the perpetual Stevens Trophy until October 1931 when Marmon Model Sixteen five-passenger standard Sedan powered by an all-aluminum 16-cylinder 200 horsepower engine completed 1834 miles in 24 hours at a speed average of 76.425 MPH.  A second Marmon a LeBaron-bodied five-passenger close-coupled sedan completed its simultaneous run of 1800 miles at an average speed of 75 MPH. The driver’s identities were not revealed in the little-publicized 1931 effort which was a wasted effort as Marmon ceased auto manufacture after its 1933 reorganization.

The Marmon effort did however break the long-standing United States stock car record held by Ralph Mulford since May 1916. Mulford who finished second in the first Indianapolis 500-mile race completed his unassisted 24-hour run of 1819 miles on Harry Harkness’ wooden Sheepshead Bay Speedway in New York. The Hudson Super Six sedan made twelve pit stops during the run none of which took longer than 4-1/2 minutes. 

Samuel Stevens passed away at age 61 from a heart attack in a Greenville Texas hotel room in November 1935 during an auto trip from California to his home in Rome New York. Stevens’ will bequeathed his family home, a massive 4-turret Victorian mansion to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and deeded the future administration of the Stevens Challenge trophy to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation.

In June 1937 Bonneville speed and endurance champion  D. Abbott “Ab” Jenkins  and dirt track racing superstar James ‘Billy’ Winn led a group of drivers that won the Stevens Trophy for the Cord Corporation in a 1937 Cord 812 supercharged Beverley sedan. The wisdom of the entry of two cars was confirmed when during the night with Jenkins at the wheel one of the front wheel drive Cords broke a hub and lost the wheel.  

The run continued with the second Cord sedan which completed the 24 hours with 764 laps or 1910 miles completed at a speed of 79.577 MPH. The significance of the achievement was lost when the Cord Corporation filed for bankruptcy approximately six months later and the trophy was returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for safekeeping. The crème colored Cord 812 Stevens Trophy winner is presently on display in the National Auto Museum in Reno Nevada.

This 1951 photo of the Stevens Trophy Cup is from
 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
 in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

Sixteen years passed before the Chrysler Corporation captured the Stevens Trophy in October 1953 with a superstar driver lineup that included 1951 AAA National champion Tony Bettenhausen, 1953 AAA ‘big car’ champion Pat O’Connor and California ‘big car’ racer and 1949 ‘Rounds Rocket’ pilot Bill Taylor.

This 1949 photo of Bill Taylor is from
 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
 in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

The trio drove a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe Coupe powered by the optional 331-cubic inch 235-horsepower Firepower “Hemi” V-8 with a ‘Powerflite’ fully automatic transmission that completed 2157 ½ miles or 863 laps in 24 hours. Unlike previous record holders, the Chrysler Corporation trumpeted its achievement across the country in ½-page newspaper advertisements which called the Stevens Challenge Trophy “the greatest stock car test in the world.”

On Tuesday December 11 1962, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Anton ‘Tony’ Hulman announced that the Stevens Challenge Trophy would be retired due to safety concerns, as the original rules laid out by Samuel Stevens banned the use of roll bars, heavy duty suspension and racing type tires. On December 17 1962 a luncheon was held and officials of the Chrysler Corporation returned the trophy to the Speedway and it remains on display in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

In our next installment of the Lora L Corum story, we’ll return to complete a look at his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his tragic death.  

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