Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The early history of lap prizes for the Indianapolis 500-mile race Part Three


The early history of lap prizes for the Indianapolis 500-mile race

Part three 


Solicitation for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway International 500-mile race lap prize fund in 1931 must have been daunting, given the deepening economic depression that gripped the United States. Bowman Elder, son-in-law of multi-millionaire entrepreneur William Fortune took over as committee chairman. The committee met on May 1 and announced that they expected to close the books on the fund on May 20.

The fund fell well short with a total of $11,150 collected. The distribution as described in the Indianapolis Star, included payment from lap one to 17 inclusive. Thereafter every odd numbered lap paid through lap 81, then laps 82, 84 and 85 each paid $100, while lap 83 only paid $50. The fund paid $100 for every odd numbered lap from 87 to lap 200.  

Rookie Paul Bost started from the outside of the front row in the Empire State Special and led the first two laps and banked $200. Bill Cummings took the point for four laps, then Richard “Billy” Arnold and his riding mechanic William “Spider” Matlock took the point until they crashed out and were injured on lap 162, and Arnold collected $8,550 in lap money. 

After Arnold’s crash, Indianapolis native Louis Schneider in the hometown sponsored ‘Bowes Seal Fast Special’ inherited the lead, led the rest of the way and won.  Although Schneider led 39 laps, because of the odd distribution of the fund, he only added $2,000 in lap money to his $27,500 in prize and accessory winnings.  


Bowman Elder served as the lap prize fund committee chairman for the second consecutive year, but due to the economic depression, the lap prize fund again did not reach its goal despite Henry and Edsel Ford each giving $2500.  The final fund distribution was very confusing, with no lap prizes were earned until lap four then the even-numbered laps paid out until the fund total was exhausted.  It is unclear who was behind the new provision which stated that the prize money for laps run under the yellow flag had to be reallocated to “competitive laps.”    

The fund presented $10,700 to the drivers at the victory dinner held at the Indianapolis Athletic Club which Elder chaired with toastmaster Paul Richey. Six drivers shared in lap prizes. Winner Fred Frame in the Harry Hartz-owned car won $3,800, while his teammates Arnold and Matlock injured in a crash for the second consecutive year won $2,800 for leading 59 laps.

Hoosier rookie driver Bob Carey took home $1,800 in lap money while fellow Legion Ascot Speedway star Ernie Triplett earned $700 for leading 14 laps.  Ira Hall, the former prizefighter from Terre Haute Indiana who claimed to have survived 43 accidents, led six laps and received $200, while Wilbur Shaw collected $1400 after he led 27 laps, the first laps led in his august career at Indianapolis.  


With the nation in a terrible economic depression with nearly 25% unemployment, there was no mention in the press about the make-up of the committee or details of the solicitation for the lap prize fund. The race itself became a very low-key event – instead of a dinner, prizes for the 21st annual International 500-mile Sweepstakes were handed out the afternoon following the race by “Pop” Myer on the sidewalk in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway office at 444 North Capitol Avenue. ‘500’ winner Louis Meyer collected just $18,000 and the keys to a new Ford sedan for his second 500-mile race victory

The lap prize fund totaled just $3,150, with Meyer the big lap prize winner with $850 for leading 71 laps. “Babe” Stapp who led 60 laps before his Boyle Special ran out of fuel on lap 156 earned $800, while Bill Cummings got the same amount for leading 32 laps. Even more confusing is the case of defending champion Fred Frame who received $700 for leading 37 laps. 


The economic situation of the nation continued to serious affected automobile racing as the American Automobile Association (AAA) National Championship included just four races in 1934 – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the mile dirt track at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, the dirt ‘Moody Mile’ in Syracuse New York and the December road course race at Mines Field in Los Angeles.

On May 23rd, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that all the lap prize money would be paid after the halfway point of the race “as a means of preventing the drivers of fast cars from burning up their mounts in the early stages.”  This made some sense, since $100 in 1934 is equivalent to nearly $2000 today, but pushing it past the half-way mark also meant the lap prize fund need not be as well-funded.

The 1934 lap prize fund totaled $4,225, and only four drivers led during the 1934 International 500-mile Sweepstakes – Cavino “Kelly” Petillo, the pole position winner, led the first six laps which paid him nothing. The race then settled into a three-way battle between Mauri Rose, Frank Brisko in the Miller-built Four Wheel Drive Special and Bill Cummings in the Boyle Miller.

The manner of the distribution of the 1934 fund remains unknown, but Brisko, who led four laps after the halfway point, banked a reported $1,300, while runner-up Rose who led 46 laps after the 250-mile mark received a check for $1,300, while the race winner Cummings who led 50 laps late in the race, including the final 26 laps, got a check for $1,625.


Automotive industry pioneer Joseph McDuffee, the President of the Prest-O-Lite Storage Battery Company, served as the chairman of the 1935 “Appreciation Lap Prize Fund” committee. A report from an Indianapolis Real Estate Board luncheon published in the May 24 1935 edition of the Indianapolis Star shows how badly the Lap Prize Fund suffered during the great Depression.

In his address to the realtors gathered at the Hotel Washington, Indianapolis Motor Speedway General Manager Ted “Pop” Myers reported that of the 40-1/2 laps funded, only 8-1/2 laps came from Indianapolis contributors. Myers suggested that “a local live committee of representatives” be formed to create city support. 

The eight local supporters include the Wheeler’s Lunch restaurant chain (their donation in the form of 1,095 meals), the L. Strauss and L. S. Ayres department store chains, Indiana Bell Telephone, the Prest-O-Lite company, the Claypool Hotel, the Allen A.  Wilkinson Lumber Company, and the Vonnegut Hardware Company founded by the great-grandfather of the author.     

In his speech to the Realtors luncheon, the 1925 500-mile race winner, Peter DePaolo, predicted that within two or three years “stock cars” (meaning semi-stock entries) would dominate the race. DePaolo’s crystal ball proved bit hazy, as the “Junk Formula” ear ended after the 1937 race.  

Donors included Bendix Aviation for three laps, while the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation and the Champion Spark Plug Company paid for two laps each. The Norge Appliance Company of Detroit posted $200 for the leader of lap ten plus the race winner received a Norge Refrigerator.  While this might seem like an odd sponsorship, in 1915 as a young man, Norge’s President Howard Blood worked with Louis Chevrolet on the ground-breaking Cornelian racing car that featured monocoque construction and 4-wheel independent suspension

The 1935 ‘500’ lap prizes were assigned randomly throughout the race. In addition to Norge’s sponsorship of the tenth lap, the American Automobile Association (AAA) sponsored lap 12, while the Ford Motor Company sponsored five laps – laps 40, 60, 105, 100 and 180.

“Pop’s” advice to the Realtors went unheeded and the 1935 Appreciation lap prize fund topped out at $4,250 with the proceeds divided among four drivers at the Indianapolis Citizen’s Committee Appreciation Dinner held at the Indianapolis Athletic Club. In addition to the drivers, the dinner featured among its honored guests, aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who served as the race referee, movie stars Monroe Owsley and James Dunn, boat racer Gar Wood, and Elmer Baumgarten, secretary of the American Bowling Congress.   

Race winner Kelly Petillo in his own ‘Gilmore Speedway Special’ won $2,050 in lap prizes, while Rex Mays led 89 laps in the first half of the race before a steering knuckle broke on the ‘Gilmore Special’ on lap 123, earned $2,000 in lap prizes. “Babe” Stapp raced the Marks-Miller entry out front on lap 140 and collected $100 from the Plymouth Motor Company, while Wilbur Shaw, runner-up race finisher for the second time in three years, led lap 65 and collected the $100 posted by the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation.


On May 12th 1936 the officials of the Chamber of Commerce announced the new high-powered members of the Appreciation Lap Prize Fund committee, led by A. L. Block of the L. Strauss Company, Fred Ayres represented his family’s department store chain, along with P. R Mallory, of the eponymous battery and switch company, Roy Adams of the J. D. Adams Road Grader manufacturing company, and A. E Sinclair of the Kingan meat-packing company.  

Automotive industry members included McDuffee of Prest-O-Lite repeating as the committee chairman, joined by Jesse Vincent of Packard,  Jeffery DeWiitt of Champion Spark Plug and Louis Schwitzer. 

According the Indianapolis Star, expectations were high for larger fund than previous years.  Herman Deupree, a local public relations representative and secretary for the committee, reported that the fund already contained $2,000, according to an article published in the following day’s Star newspaper.  Alas, the May 29th Indianapolis Star carried the news that the fund topped out at $5,500.

The AAA sponsored lap five, the first paid lap.  Locally, the downtown seven-story Marott Shoe store on Massachusetts Avenue donated $100 for lap 110, while the medical supply firm, the Akron Surgical Supply House, sponsored lap 185. The automotive industry strongly supported the appreciation fund as the Ford Motor Company paid for five laps, while Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto and Plymouth each bought a single lap sponsorship, as did Charles “Boss” Kettering.  

The fund distribution spread out over the race with $1400 paid over the first hundred miles, followed by another $1400 in the second hundred miles, while the laps during the third hundred mile segment paid $1200. The leaders of laps during the fourth hundred miles collected prizes that totaled $800, with $500 paid out over the last hundred miles. While there was no prize posted for leading the race’s final lap, this race began the tradition of the race winner being presented the Pace Car, in this case the 1936 Packard 120.

The 500-mile race’s first three-time winner, Louis Meyer, won $1,900 in lap prizes with Wilbur Shaw close behind with $1,800. “Babe” Stapp collected $1,100 in lap money before his entry retired on lap 89, while second place finisher Ted Horn banked $400 and Rex Mays whose car ran out of fuel with less than ten laps to go, earned $300 in lap prizes.     

In our next installment of the early lap prize story we will examine the final years under the Speedway ownership of Eddie Rickenbacker.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The early history of lap prizes for the Indianapolis 500-mile race part two


The early history of lap prizes for the Indianapolis 500-mile race

Part two  


On April 23 1925, former General Motors executive and Nordyke & Marmon president George W. “Monty” Williams took control of the Citizen’s Committee of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the group tasked with soliciting funds for lap prizes for the 1925 International 500-mile Sweepstakes.

Mr. Williams brought a different style and outlook than previous chairmen – he set a goal of funding every one of the 200 laps, and rather than a focus on raising money from Indianapolis businesses, he immediately opened the campaign with an appeal to out-of-town automotive related businesses. William’s approach seemed to work at least initially, as at the end of the first day, 24 firms, none of them based in Indiana, sent wires that pledged sponsorship.  

The first contributor, the Smith Wheel Corporation of Syracuse New York, which manufactured truck wheels, pledged $500, and the second donor, the Lovejoy Shock Absorber Company from Boston (which held the US patent for hydraulic shock absorbers), pledged $300. 

Commenting on the fine start, Williams told the Indianapolis News that “the first 100 are always the easiest,” but added that he had “no doubt that we’ll find enough Indianapolis boosters to get the total of 200 laps in short order.”    

Williams’ prediction about “the first 100” proved correct. On May 2, 1925 the Indianapolis News reported the fund stood at $6,500, and by May 13th the Indianapolis Star reported 104 laps were subscribed with 118 laps by the 16th according to the Indianapolis News.  On Sunday the 24th the Indianapolis Star reported that the fund total stood at $14,400.

However, ‘Monty’s’ other prediction of reaching the full fund amount of $20,000 “in short order” proved wrong. When the Chamber of Commerce held the draw luncheon at the Indianapolis Athletic Club on Tuesday May 26, there were 146 laps assigned. After the luncheon, three more contributors came on board so on Memorial Day 1925 the leader of every lap received $100 through lap 149.

Cartoon and caricature artist Homer McKee emceed the 1925 ‘500’ victory banquet held at the Indianapolis Athletic Club roof garden to honor race winner Peter DePaolo.  The nephew of the 1915 ‘500’ winner Ralph DePalma, DePaolo carried away $8,800 in lap money, $2,200 of which his relief driver Norm Batten earned for driving the supercharged Duesenberg from lap 106 to lap 127.

Second place finisher Dave Lewis earned $2,600 in lap prizes, and third place finisher Phil Shafer took home $1300. Fourth place finisher Harry Hartz led two laps while Earl Cooper led three laps before he crashed out on lap 127.  Motorcycle racing champion Ralph Hepburn, whose Miller retired before the hallway point with a leaking gas tank, earned $1,300 for leading from lap 108 to lap 120.   


Marmon president George W. “Monty” Williams retained his chairmanship of the Citizen’s Lap Prize Committee for 1926, and directed that telegrams be sent to out-of-town firms the first week of May. 

On May 13, the Indianapolis Star reported that twelve laps were subscribed to by ten donors, which included the Packard Motor Company, the Hupp Motor Corporation and the Stewart-Warner Speedometer Company for $100 each, while the C.G. Spring and Company of Detroit and the Kissel Motor Company each subscribed for two laps.   The article also related that very day, solicitations began in the city of Indianapolis.

The following day, May 14th, the Indianapolis Star printed Williams’ announcement of thirteen more donated lap prizes, all from out of town firms, which brought the total of subscribed laps to twenty-five. The new donors included the American Automobile Association for two laps, the Lovejoy Manufacturing Company (a bearing manufacturer) for three laps, and the United States Gauge Company and the Strohm Ball Bearing Company for a lap apiece.

On Tuesday May 18 newspapers reported that 100 laps were subscribed – The hometown Prest-O-Lite Company took two laps, as did Lycoming, while the Dayton Steel Foundry Company and Studebaker each paid for three laps while the Continental Motor Corporation pledged $500. 

The following day, the Indianapolis News reported that according to Committee vie-chairman Dan V. Goodman of the Marmon Motor Car Company, 137 lap sponsorships were pledged.  The latest local sponsors included the D.A. Lubricant Company and the Indiana Bell Telephone Company, while nationally the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company sponsored one lap, and race car builder Harry A. Miller two laps.

The luncheon for the annual drawing for the lap assignments occurred on May 25 1926 with 177 of the 200 laps reportedly subscribed. Seth Klein and William McCollough conducted the drawing as Klein drew lap numbers, McCollough simultaneously drew the donor names. The article in the May 26th edition of the Indianapolis Star revealed that 22 donors had come through on the final day.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and track founders James Allison and Arthur Newby each bought a lap.

An editorial in the May 26th Indianapolis Star stated that “the committee was within seventeen of the desired goal of 200 last night,” but also noted that “62% of the prize money has come from contributors outside of Indianapolis.”  

In the May 27th edition of the Indianapolis News (the city’s evening newspaper) Committee chairman Williams reported the fund as “completed for just the second time in the fund’s seven-year history.”

The citizens’ lap prize fund paid out just 160 laps in the 1926 International 500-mile Sweepstakes, due to the early stoppage of the race due to rain.  Rookie winner Frank Lockhart at the wheel of “Pete” Kreis’ #15 Miller earned the lion’s share of the lap money, $9,500. 

Second place finisher Harry Hartz, scored two laps behind the winner at the finish, claimed $600 as he had led laps 100 to 106. Phil “Red” Shafer who led the early laps, banked $1,600 in lap prizes, and Dave Lewis, who led from lap 16 until lap 59 when Lockhart took over the lead, won $4,300.

At the Victory Banquet held at the Indianapolis Athletic Club roof garden hosted by Ernest Smith, General Manager of the AAA (the American Automobile Association), Lockhart received the $20,000 top prize from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On top of the $29,500 in prize money, Lockhart received $6,100 in accessory prizes.

Firestone Tire & Rubber Company presented Lockhart with $4,000, the Ethyl Corporation $1,500, while Champion Spark Plug chipped in $500 and the Prest-O-Lite Company $100 “for talking over the radio.” The Perfect Circle Piston Ring Company gifted Lockhart with a new gold watch, and he also received the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy and the cast silver Prest-O-Lite “brick” trophy for leading at 400 miles, and the L. Strauss & Company trophy.  

The Speedway paid the first ten cars that finished behind Lockhart; Phil Shafer in tenth place who finished 14 laps behind the winner won $1,400. The remaining 18 cars, three of which were flagged off, divided up the $10,000 “consolation prize fund.”  Tony Gullotta in eleventh place won $614.85 while 28th place finisher Albert Guyot earned $500. The June 2 1926 edition of the Indianapolis Star, reported that the “$4,000 remaining in the lap prize fund….would be prorated and returned to donors. For each lap subscribed, $20 will be returned.” 


In its May 12 1927 edition, the Indianapolis Star reported on a meeting held on Tuesday May 10th at the Chamber of Commerce office to start the annual fundraising campaign.  “Monty” Williams of Marmon served as the Committee chairman for the third consecutive year, assisted by Marmon’s Dan Goodman for the second year in a row as vice-chairman.

The committee consisted of seven other members chief among them Henley Hottel of the Washington Bank and Trust Company, Paul Q. Richey and Morris G. Young of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Wallace O. Lee Vice-President of the Indianapolis Power & Light Company.

In William Sturm’s “Speedway Appetizers” column in the next day’s Indianapolis News, Williams stated “I think the money collected for the lap prize is something more than a sort of carrot to be hung on the tip of a pole just ahead of the steel horses to make them move faster,” and revealed that 49 laps were already subscribed, mostly by out-of-town companies.

Lovejoy Manufacturing, Hydraulic Brake, Champion Spark Plug and Eclipse Machine all purchased two laps, while Continental Motors bought three laps. Among local companies, the Perfect Circle Piston Ring Company and the Stutz Motor Car Company each paid for two laps.

On Saturday May 28th, the Indianapolis Star reported that at the previous afternoon’s luncheon, Williams reported that the $20,000 fund was actually oversubscribed. For the second year in a row and the third time in its history, a $100 prize would be awarded for every scheduled lap. The complete list of contributors appeared in the May 30 edition of the Indianapolis Star.

The largest 1927 lap prize donors were Carl Fisher and the Ford Motor Company both of whom contributed $500, while four local firms – The H. Lieber Company art supply store, Julius Walk & Son silversmiths, The George J Mayer Company printers and the Diamond Chain Company – each donated $50.

400 attendees saw four drivers split the $20,000 proceeds of the fund awarded during the May 31 banquet held at Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Frank Lockhart the 1926 winner, led 109 laps until a connecting rod broke in his Miller engine on lap 119. Indianapolis native Charles “Dutch” Baumann who took the took the lead during the first pit stops exchange collected $1,000, while the winner of the 1927 500-mile race George Souders collected $5,100 as he led the race’s final 51 laps.

The #14 Cooper Engineering front-drive Miller copy claimed the prize for leading 30 laps from lap 120 to lap 149.   Bob McDonogh started the car in the race, but when it led, Peter DePaolo, the 1925 Indianapolis 500-mile race winner, was behind the wheel.  

The Indianapolis Real Estate Board presented a gold watch as its sportsmanship award to Norman Batten for heroically steering his burning car out of traffic during the race, but Batten, like fellow drivers Jules Ellingboe and Henry Kohlert, remained hospitalized and could not attend the banquet.


Once again, Monty Williams and Dan Goodman, now the automotive editor at the Indianapolis Star spearheaded the lap prize committee. The fundraising was largely uneventful, with 143 laps subscribed reported on May 24th although in the end the fund fell short with a total of $15,000.

The Star’s “Speedway Gossip” column on Sunday May 6th 1928 contained a short story that a group of Purdue University students met with the 1927 500-mile race winner, former Purdue student George Souders, and afterwards pooled their money to subscribe for one $100 lap.  The Boilermakers attached a note to their check which read “Please make our lap number 200 and here’s hoping George Souders wins it.”

The prizes were awarded at the “Drivers’ Dinner” held the night after the race at Chamber of Commerce headquarters with Dick Miller President of the Chamber as the emcee and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President  Eddie Rickenbacker the featured speaker.  For the third year is a row, women were invited to attend the dinner which was capped at 300 attendees.

With lap prizes only awarded through lap 150, race winner Louis Meyer who took the lead for good on lap 182 received no lap money, Tony Gullota led 35 laps but only received $200 as he led lap 149 and 150.  Early race leader Leon Duray won $5,900, and mid-race leader Jimmy Gleason won $5,600.  Elbert ‘Babe’ Stapp, with the assistance of relief driver Russell Snowberger, won $1,700 and defending champion George Souders won $1,600, but to the disappointment of the Purdue students, George finished the race in third place.


The 1929 International 500-mile Sweepstakes would be the final race under the 91-1/2 cubic inch rules, as the rules package for the 1930 race with semi-stock cars and riding mechanics had already been published. Twenty-nine of the cars in the 33-car starting field were powered by 91-1/2 cubic inch supercharged Miller engines or copies which would be obsolete for the next ‘500.’       

The 1929 Chamber of Commerce Citizen’s Prize Fund committee was co-chaired by local relator Emerson Chaille and Edgar S Gorrell, the new president of the Stutz Motor Car Company. In a surprising change from previous years, the Committee held no meetings and the two committee co-chairman never met. 

Chaille changed the fund’s direction, returning to the original concept of money being “obtained entirely within Indianapolis” with “no prizes offered by foreign individuals or firms.” Chaille also changed the name of the fund now known as the “Appreciation Lap Prize Fund,” because of “the appreciation of Indianapolis citizens for the efforts of Eddie Rickenbacker and his associates in continuing the races here.”  

An article in the April 26 1929 edition of the Indianapolis News (a similar story appeared in the same day’s Indianapolis Star) related that “plans for the campaign have not been completed, but the work will be started within a comparatively short time. An effort will be made to complete the campaign within two or three days.” The article continued that “nearly fifty men representing every character of business in the city make up the committee.”     

Despite the original rosy forecast, the front page of the May 24th issue of the Indianapolis Star carried an advertisement entitled “Come on Indianapolis!” that revealed the appreciation lap prize fund was 27 laps short of the goal.

On May 29, 1929 The Indianapolis News published a list of the committee members and the list of contributors closely divided among Indianapolis and “out of town” contributors that fully funded the lap prizes. Clearly, Chaille’s vision to exclude “foreign individuals or firms” failed.  

At the Chamber of Commerce dinner, emcee Paul Richey asked for a moment of silence in honor of Bill Spence who perished in a crash on lap 14.  Eddie Rickenbacker told the gathering that he “had been assured that a number of manufacturers of passenger automobiles would enter cars in the 1930 race,” with the new rules package he had pushed the American Automobile Association (AAA) to adopt.  Theodore Myer, the Speedway general manager distributed the prizes.

Race winner Ray Keech earned $4,600 in lap prizes to supplement the $27,350 in prize and accessory money.   Second place finishers Louis Meyer banked $6,500 in appreciation money and tenth place Fred Frame received a check for $1100. Artha ‘Deacon” Litz led the non-finishers with $4,900 in lap prizes followed by Lou Moore with $2,200 and Leon Duray, who led the race’s opening lap for the second consecutive year, received $700. 


R. C. Rottger, vice-president of the Indiana Bell telephone Company and the son of the company’s former president, served as the 1930 appreciation lap prize fund committee chairman. In an interview published in the Star on April 28, Rottger declared that “changing specifications for the race May 30 the Speedway has again demonstrated its value to the industry and to the progress of transportation.”

Rottger added that “the Speedway means more than that to Indianapolis.  It is to the Speedway management and to the brave drivers of the contest that Indianapolis wishes to shows its mark of appreciation.” Rotttger announced that the committee would meet the following day to select more members to assist in soliciting for the fund. 

The Committee members included A L Block of the department store chain, former chairman   Emerson Chaille, Frank Manly, founder of the Indianapolis Life Insurance Company, and Harper J. Ransburg of the eponymous pottery firm, with Fred Duesenberg in the newly-created role of “chairman of the automotive division.” 

The Indianapolis News reported on May 6 that Duesenberg was “preparing to contact representatives of the automotive industry throughout the country inviting them to join Indianapolis in subscribing to the appreciation fund.”  

On May 8 the Indianapolis News reported 20 subscribers, all local firms, with ten more added the following day with a total of forty by May 11th.  On May 15th, the Committee received a telegram form the Ford Motor Company that advised ”Edsel Ford has authorized a contribution of $500,” which brought the total  to 70 laps funded. As of Monday May 26, 169 of the 200 laps were subscribed, and at race time 170 laps were funded.

Rickenbacker’s bold statement at the 1929 banquet that “a number of manufacturers of passenger automobiles would enter cars in the 1930 race,” proved incorrect as only two cars entered by manufacturers appeared - the DuPont and the Maserati. Though both cars made the starting field with neither car a factor in the race, and certainly didn't represent the leading manufacturers of automobiles in the United States.

Distribution of the lap prizes at the Victory banquet, held in the Riley Room of the Claypool Hotel, proved straightforward. Louis Meyer led the first two laps, for which he earned $200 before Richard “Billy” Arnold took command and dominated the race. Arnold won by four laps over William “Shorty” Cantlon and Billy and car owner Harry Hartz banked over $50,000, which included $16,800 in lap prize money.

Rickenbacker, in his speech, claimed that in his opinion “the results of the race vindicated the judgement used in the changes made including the enlarging of the motors and providing for the riding mechanic.” This came despite the fact that riding mechanic Paul Marshall died on lap 29 when his brother, Cyrus, crashed their Duesenberg.

In our next installment of the early lap prize story we will examine the rest of the “Junk Formula” years under the Speedway ownership of Eddie Rickenbacker.







Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The early history of lap prizes for the Indianapolis 500-mile race Part One


The early history of lap prizes for the Indianapolis 500-mile race

Most television viewers of the 2020 Indianapolis 500-mile race were probably unaware that 2020 marked an important anniversary at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the 1920 race introduced the award of $100 per lap to the leader. 

The 2020 Indianapolis 500 Official Program included a brief article that touched on the history of the lap prize fund, but the author felt that racing historians might appreciate a more detailed history of the fund’s early struggles. 

1920 - The beginning


The 28-man Citizens of Indianapolis Lap Prize Committee, its membership equally divided among active and honorary members, began the first fund-raising effort in late March 1920. George M. Dickson, the President of the National Motor Vehicle Company, chaired the Citizen’s Lap Prize Committee, created by “Indianapolis Businessmen and Manufacturers to express appreciation of the value to Indianapolis of the annual International Sweepstakes, the world’s greatest race.”

Dickson started with National as its sales manager in 1907, rose to become the General Manager then became the company's President 1917.  George’s history with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and racing in general dated back to 1910, when as a member of the Manufacturers Contest Association, he wrote an article entitled “Speedways Develop Automobiles” which was published in newspapers across the nation.

Dickson later helped author the brochure that celebrated the victory by the National driven by Joe Dawson and Don Herr in the 1912 Indianapolis 500-mile race. In 1916, Dickson served as the starter of the International 300-mile Sweepstakes, the last race before the two-year Indianapolis race suspension due to America’s involvement in World War One.   

The first fund-raising effort was not without controversy. In early April 1920, committee member and local automobile dealer R. V. Law suggested in a meeting that in addition to the $100 lap prizes, certificates be awarded.

A debate broke out over how the committee could pay for the certificates until Theodore Myers, the General Manager of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, volunteered the Speedway to furnish the certificates,  so that all the money collected by the fund could be awarded to the competitors. The Speedway also provided the score card insert for the race day program which listed the names of the Citizen’s Lap Prize Committee members and the fund donors.

Initially, Dickson envisioned that donors would be assigned individual laps in the order that their donations were received, but eventually, the committee agreed that a drawing should be held to more fairly determine the order. 

On April 24 1920 A. H. Adams, the field manager for the committee, reported that with $7,000 already collected, the Indianapolis Merchants’ Association had officially endorsed the lap prize fund. 

Drivers Louis Chevrolet and Ralph DePalma both contributed to the lap prize fund before it closed on May 17, 1920, with the final donation, which meant the fund reached it's $20,000 goal, came from Indianapolis Motor Speedway co-founder James Allison’s Allison Experimental Company. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the custodian of the fund, held the drawing for the sponsorship lap order at a luncheon on May 19 1920.  

The eighth annual International 500-mile Sweepstakes victory banquet, held on the evening of June 1 1920 in the Riley Ballroom at the plush Claypool Hotel, located at the corner of Illinois and Washington Streets in downtown Indianapolis. 

Barney Oldfield “the Master Driver,” served as the emcee, with five-time ‘500’ competitor with World War One flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker as the keynote speaker, but most attendees were there to collect their part of the total $93,550 race purse.

John Reynolds, secretary of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, awarded the lap prizes to Joe Boyer, who received $9,300, while Ralph DePalma collected $7,900.  The race winner, Gaston Chevrolet, picked up $1,400, Frenchman Rene Thomas received a $1,200 check, while Jean Chassagne and Art Klein each won $100.

The positive publicity created by the lap prize fund at Indianapolis led to a similar effort later in the year in Los Angeles, led by A. M. Young, for the 200-lap Thanksgiving Day race held at the high-speed 1-1/4 mile Los Angeles Motor Speedway board track in Beverley Hills.  Donors to the $5,000 Los Angles fund included the Beverley Hills Hotel, actors Wallace Reid and Tom Mix, retired racer Barney Oldfield, race car builder Harry A. Miller and the Gilmore Oil Company.

Jimmy Murphy got a check for $250 as he led the first lap of the Beverly Hills race, while Roscoe Sarles collected the balance of the fund as he led each of the race’s remaining 199 laps. Unfortunately, the Thanksgiving 1920 Beverly Hills race is remembered more because of the triple fatality.

The #6 Frontenac, driven by the reigning Indianapolis 500-mile race champion Gaston Chevrolet, tangled with the #9 Duesenberg driven by Eddie O'Donnell as they passed the slower car of Joe Thomas. Gaston, just 28 years old,  perished instantly in the accident, while 33-year old O’Donnell and his riding mechanic Lyall B. Jolls (given surname Headen) passed away the following day. The only survivor, John Bresnahan, Chevrolet’s mechanic, thrown from the car, slid down the banking to safety.

1921 - the ninth running

For 1921, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce pared the Citizen’s Committee down to ten members, and the donors from 1920 put on a “roll of honor” which gave them the opportunity to renew for 1921 before any new donors were approached. 

A. H. Adams served as the committee chairman with members that included Dickson and representatives of Indianapolis Power & Light, the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company and the Willard Storage Battery Company.  

On May 3, 1921, Adams reported that subscriptions to the lap prize fund passed the half-way mark, but with the United States economy in a recession, progress on fund-raising apparently stalled after Adams’ announcement. To remedy that situation, the Committee and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway scheduled the first “Drivers’ Day” on Saturday May 21 with all the money collected earmarked to complete the lap prize fund.

On May 21st, race fans that paid 50 cents admission each watched as Seth Cline (Klein) the Speedway’s “official announcer” introduce   the drivers entered for the ‘500.’ Klein, who ran a radiator service shop at 820 North Meridian Street, later became the 500-mile race assistant starter in 1923 and the chief starter from 1935 through 1954.  

5,294 fans saw Ralph DePalma and Tommy Milton stage a short “dash,” followed by Howdy Wilcox, Jean Chassagne, and Bennett Hill in a three-way “brush.”  

The program also included appearances by Arthur Chevrolet, 1911 ‘500’ winner Ray Harroun, Barney Oldfield, and “the fastest car in world,” the twin-engine sixteen-cylinder Duesenberg that Tommy Milton drove in April 1920 to the 156.046 mile per hour (MPH) land speed record on the Daytona Beach sands. The Indianapolis Star reported that a crew towed the record-setting Duesenberg past the grandstands but the car did not make a lap. 

Unfortunately, after expenses “Driver’s Day” only collected  $2,382 which brought the lap prize fund total to $16,700. When the fund-raising closed five days later on Thursday May 26th, the fund’s account contained only $17,150. 

Because of the shortfall, the fund paid the leader of each lap $100 up to lap 150, after which the fund paid $100 to the leader of alternating laps over the final 50 laps or 125 miles.  

Ralph DePalma led 108 laps in the '500' before his French Ballot broke a connecting rod, which handed the lead and the victory to Tommy Milton in a Frontenac, designed by his friend Cornelius "CW" Van Ranst and built by the Chevrolet brothers.  

At the Victory banquet, DePalma received $10,650 in lap prizes, while Milton won $6,300 and Joe Boyer, the leader at lap 2, and Roscoe Sarles, the leader at lap 6, each won $100. The firms and individuals that donated $100 each and the one $50 donor, the WB Burford Printing Company, were all identified in an article in the May 31 1921 edition of the Indianapolis Star newspaper.


After the 1921 lap prize fund shortfall, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce reduced the total lap prize fund to $10,000, to pay the leader $50 per lap during the 1922 International 500-mile Sweepstakes. 

The 1922 Committee members included Wallace O. Lee, the Vice-President of the Indianapolis Power & Light Company, Spanish-American War veteran Captain Harry M. Franklin and Carl H. Wallerich, an Indianapolis Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge dealer.

Born in Iowa in 1883, Carl came to Indianapolis in 1900 and in 1903 joined the new Overland Automobile Company (which later became Willys-Overland). Wallerich served as a “Clerk of the Course” and managed various aspects of track operations during the 1912 International 500-mile Sweepstakes.  

Several companies reportedly donated the same $100 amount as in previous years and claimed two laps. Committee chairman A.H. Adams announced on April 7 1922 that the fund already contained “about $3,000.” The Committee held its first meeting on Saturday May 13 and in his report Adams described the fund as “about half subscribed.” 

The Citizen’s Committee staged another “Drivers’ Day” on Saturday May 20 1922 but it appears that in the recession economy, the lap prize fund again fell short of the goal with a total of $8,375 collected. 

The race winner, Jimmy Murphy, led 153 laps from the pole position and received a payment of $6,300. Harry Hartz led 42 laps and received $1,825 and a $100 radio set, while Peter DePaolo led three laps and got $100, and Leon Duray led two laps and got $50, according to the report in the Indianapolis Star.      


For 1923 the prize was back to a $100 a lap and on May 17 the Citizen’s Committee new chairman, Harold Hampton, kicked off the $20,000 lap prize fund subscription period with the “Drivers’ Day” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway scheduled for Friday May 25th.

In his Indianapolis Star column “Speedway Appetizers” on Thursday May 24th William Sturm claimed that “businessmen have contributed $10,000.”  The newspaper advertisement for the 1923 “Drivers’ Day” promised thrills with “exhibition races,” and suggested attendance as a civic duty to support the fund. 


Once again, the 1923 lap prize fundraising fell short of the goal of $20,000, so the prizes were only awarded for the first 125 laps. The fund distributed $12,100 among five drivers, per the United Press International report. The race’s first two-time winner, Tommy Milton, led 128 laps and banked $8,500 in lap prizes, a small amount as many of his leading laps came late in the race including the final 50 laps.

Milton’s HCS Motor Company teammate, Howdy Wilcox, led 51 laps and received $2,000. Third place finisher Jimmy Murphy, the 1922 race winner, led eleven laps early in the race and got $1,100.  Russell “Cliff” Durant, earned $400 for four laps led, although Cliff scarcely needed the money since he was a multi-millionaire and owned eight of the cars entered in the 1923 race.  Harry Hartz, the second place finisher in a Durant entry, led twice for a total of six laps, but only got paid $100 for leading one of those laps.


The May 14 1924 edition of the Indianapolis Star reported that the committee members were selected at a noontime Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Harold Hampton, the Chamber of Commerce athletic committee chairman, announced that for 1924, the prize would be $50 a lap and the article stated that Hampton “expressed belief that contributions this year would make this easily possible.”

Solicitations began immediately and after a follow-up meeting two days later, the Committee chairman, insurance agent Austin J. Edwards, told the Indianapolis Star  that the AAA and the local Yellow Cab Company each stepped up to sponsor two laps, while the Indiana Bell Telephone Company, the accounting firm Ernst & Ernst, and the Indianapolis Indians baseball club each sponsored one lap.

On Monday May 19, the Indianapolis Star printed an appeal from A. L. Block, the President of the prestigious L. Strauss & Company department store, which read in part “Indianapolis people cannot do too much toward helping the daring drivers whose feats have made the city internationally known.”  Block’s statement closed by saying that “my greatest hope is that each lap will have its award that the drivers may not think us ungrateful for their efforts.”       

Indianapolis Star sports editor W. Blaine Patton reported in his “Observed from the Speedway Pits” column in the May 21st edition of the that the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, Polk Sanitary Milk Company, the L. S. Ayres & Company department store chain, Nordyke & Marmon and the Indianapolis Star newspaper all donated $100 to the fund.     

The Speedway held the annual “Drivers’ Day” on Tuesday afternoon May 27 1924 with 3,500 reported attendees which added $1,600 to the fund after expenses. The Indianapolis News reported that race car builder Harry A. Miller wrote a check for $200, which brought the fund total up to $5,900. Apparently, the 1924 fund topped out at $6,250 which paid the leader of each the race’s first 125 laps.

Austin J. Edwards the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce’s representative, distributed the lap prizes at the 1924 ‘500’ victory banquet, which was held in the Rainbow ballroom at the Casino Gardens clubhouse. Formerly known as the Indianapolis Canoe Club, the building still stands two miles east of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the west bank of the White River. 

Earl Cooper, the second place finisher, received $3,400, and third place finisher Jimmy Murphy received $2,800, while co-winner Joe Boyer (with L.L. Corum) got $50 as he led the first lap from his fourth place starting position.   

We will examine the fundraising and distribution for years 1925 and beyond in future installments.     

For fans interested in viewing the individual 500-mile race programs covers, the National Indy 500 Collector Club has an excellent website at  https://www.ni500cc.com

Monday, December 14, 2020

The history of auto racing in Haskell Texas


The history of auto racing in Haskell Texas

In the nineteen twenties, cotton farming was the major industry in the central Texas county of Haskell, named in honor of the Texas Revolution hero Charles Ready Haskell who died at the Alamo.       

Haskell County held fairs intermittently at various locations within the county, but that all changed in 1924. On May 22 1924, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published news from the city of Haskell, the county seat, that on that very morning, 25 men began construction of permanent buildings and a race track with a 4000-seat grandstand on 68 acres near the city’s business district recently purchased by the Haskell County Fair Association.

The finished 5/8-mile oval dirt race track featured 6-to-1 sloped turns (9.5% banking) “to hold the swiftly moving cars safe on their course,” according to an August 1924 article in the Fort Worth Record-Telegram.

The Haskell County Fair opened its three-day run at the new location on Thursday October 2 1924, with American Automobile Association (AAA) sanctioned automobile races set for Friday.  Before the scheduled event at Haskell, the AAA racers appeared in Abilene Texas on September 26th, Amarillo on September 27th and Wichita Falls on September 29th.  The Fort Worth Record-Telegram newspaper listed drivers Phil “Red” Schafer “well-known auto ace,” and Dick Calhoun from Cleveland Oklahoma as entries for the Texas swing promoted by oil transport magnate D. H. Jeffries, the AAA area representative.  

Three accidents marred the September 26th West Texas Fair race at Abilene, one of which killed a spectator. During the day’s fourth race, a wheel came off Lee Bammel’s machine, “hopped over the fence,” as described in the Fort Worth Record-Telegram report and struck farmer T. W. “Tom” Carlisle who stood on the running board of his father-in-law’s car watching the races.  Carlisle, 28 years old and married with three children, died later at the West Texas Baptist Sanitarium in Abilene from a fractured skull. 

“Red” Shafer, the July Abilene race winner, won the first 10-mile race in his Duesenberg after early leader Dick Calhoun’s ‘Cresswell Special’ broke a connecting rod and retired for the day.  Shafer, a native of Des Moines who lived in Fort Worth, won the day’s featured event, the fifteen-mile handicap race over Harry Milburn. Shafer took the lead during the eleventh mile after he overcame the one-minute starting handicap.   

Before the races on October 3, officials treated the new Haskell track surface with a reported 360 barrels of crude oil (over 15,000 gallons) to prevent dust. The afternoon program, attended by 5,000 fans, boasted seven races and a total purse of $1,100 but a sparse field of cars  Notably absent was the highly advertised “Red” Shafer and his Duesenberg racer as he raced that day in the inaugural AAA “Raisin Day Classic“ National Championship race on the 1-mile board track in Fresno California.  

Calhoun’s troubles continued at Haskell, as his car caught fire during a practice run before time trials, but with the fire extinguished and repairs effected, the ‘Cresswell Special’ set quick time as Calhoun completed two laps in 77 seconds (58 miles per hour) and won the silver loving cup.  

J. E. Larrick of Wichita Falls won the first five-mile race for the eight fastest qualifiers, then Calhoun won the ten-mile race. During the non-qualifiers race, the right rear wheel of H.V. Link’s machine collapsed and he “came perilously near to ending in a junk heap,” according to the Fort Worth Record-Telegram report.  In the day’s featured fifteen-mile handicap race, Calhoun edged Jimmie Reeder’s Chrysler Special and German emigre Johnny Mais in his “16-valve” Dodge. For his day’s work at Haskell, Calhoun won $375.


Nearly a year passed before the AAA racers returned to Haskell County. On September 25, 1925 D. H. Jeffries announced that “Red” Shafer, Ralph DePalma, Frank Lockhart and Dick Calhoun were among the twenty-five drivers entered the October 2nd races.  Shafer and Calhoun were well-known to Texas race fans, as well as DePalma, the 1915 Indianapolis 500-mile race winner, while young Frank Lockhart, a relative unknown, had experienced some success behind the wheel of Harry Miller’s 183-cubic inch dirt car.

The Haskell County Fair opened its three-day run on Thursday October 1, with the races held on Friday afternoon. Among the honored guests at the races were R.Q, Lee of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce accompanied by his wife and Hardy Grissom the president of the Haskell County Fair Association.

In time trials, five drivers broke Calhoun’s year-old track record of 77 seconds, led by John Gerber (misidentified as “Goerber” and “Garber” by some sources). Gerber completed his two qualifying laps in 72 seconds with an average speed of 62 miles per hour (MPH) while Calhoun could not defend his record as his car experienced engine trouble. 

Gerber, the original ‘outlaw’ racer from Meriden Kansas, won the day’s first 10-mile race for the eight fastest qualifiers in his Chevrolet-powered “bobtail” over Shafer, then George Souders won the second race and Harry Milburn won the day’s third race, each of which were 5 miles in length. W. R Hayes won the day’s third five-mile race, then he captured the day’s featured 15-mile event and its $250 purse. J.E. Larrick finished second and George Souders (misidentified as “Souder” in some reports) originally from Lafayette Indiana but then living Abilene finished in third place and won $75.  


As in 1925, the Haskell County Fair races were part of a series of Texas fair races along with races in Abilene and Amarillo.  Peter DePaolo the 1925 Indianapolis 500-mile race winner, received top billing and was joined by Elbert “Babe” Stapp, Dick Calhoun, George Souders, Fred Fame, Roy Meacham and Chester “Chet” Gardner. Frank Lockhart originally signed to appear, but after his brilliant Indianapolis 500-mile race victory, he chose to concentrate on the AAA National Championship trail, much to D. H. Jeffries’ annoyance. 

The September 22nd West Texas Fair races in Abilene were marred by the death of Freeman Minyett, a welder by trade, who suffered a fractured skull when his Frontenac-powered racer overturned.    The other racers, including Chet Gardner, the feature race winner, donated their portion of the purse to Minyett’s widowed mother.

The three-day Haskell County Fair opened on September 30th, with the races scheduled for October 1 and 2nd.  On the opening day of races, Fred Frame, in a Miller Special, won the first 7-1/2-mile race while Souders, who would win the 1927 Indianapolis 500-mile race, in a similar machine in third. 

Roy Meacham won the second 7-1/2-mile preliminary race, then finished second in five-mile dash behind Roy Gardner of Denver. Fred Frame won the 15-mile finale to claim $250, as Meacham in second place won $140, while Souders finished third and won $90.     

We do not have the results from the second day of races in Haskell, but during the day’s third race, Meacham of Pawhuska Oklahoma died instantly from a broken neck after his Chevrolet racer veered out of control and plunged over the embankment.  Meacham, a World War one veteran, had been a motorcycle officer in Tulsa and Pawhuska before he started racing motorcycles then graduated to racing cars in the three months before his death.  


1927 saw the introduction of motorcycle racing on the Haskell 5/8-mile track on July fourth.  The fourth annual Haskell County Fair held from October 6 through 8, 1927 featured two days of automobile racing on the 7th and 8th. Again, results of the races are nonexistent but during the second day’s featured fifty-lap race, H.S. Fortner’s car crashed into the disabled machine of Joe Miller and overturned several times.  An ambulance rushed Fortner to the Stamford Hospital, 15 miles south of Haskell.  

Fortner who hailed from Okmulgee in east central Oklahoma reportedly passed away the following day, with the news of his death distributed widely on the Associated Press wire service. On October 12, many Texas newspapers, including the Austin American, reported that Fortner had not only not died, but was in fact “rapidly recovering.” After his recovery, Fortner relocated to the Houston area and raced briefly during the 1928 season before he started a sewing machine sales firm. 


Motorcycles returned for the July 4th races, and attracted a large field of riders and 5,000 spectators. Perrett Austin “E. A.” Kathcart from Waco established a new track record as he rode two laps on his Harley-Davidson in 77 1/5 seconds then went on to win the day’s five-mile and eight-mile events.

The AAA Contest Board granted sanction #2085 to Henry Alexander (of the Fair Board) for two days of automobile racing on October 4th and 6th 1928. In qualifying on the 6th, Vic Felt, a standout driver from Colorado in his Marathon Special, lowered the track record for two laps to 68 3/5 seconds. Felt won the first event, a 7-1/2-mile (12-lap) dash over Tulsa’s John Bolling, but Bolling swept the other two races on the program, the 2-1/2 and 5-mile races in a program marred by numerous accidents but thankfully no injuries.

After 1928, horse races on the 5/8-mile track replaced automobile races during the Haskell County Fair but auto racing would return to the fairgrounds track eight years later. In the intervening years, large oil deposits were discovered in Haskell County which transformed the local economy.


The four-day Central West Texas Fair in Haskell hosted automobile racing on the first two days of the fair October 21 and 22, promoted by Eugene Tonn (the local Farm Bureau agent) and sanctioned by the Southwestern Automobile Racing Association and part of the six-race series to determine the 1936 Southwestern dirt track champion.

The Haskell race on the 21st counted towards the title, along with races at Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Meridian Mississippi. Morris Musick, one of the five racing Musick brothers from Dallas, won the feature in a 17-car program that also featured entries from Joie Chitwood, Leonard Musick, and Augustus “Cotton” Grable, the “Blond Blizzard from Texas.”


Haskell hosted a two-day meet on July 3rd and 4th 1937 again promoted by Tonn, as each program featured time trials and five races - three eight-lap heat races, one five-lap handicap and the 20-lap feature. “Wild” Bill Morris of Lincoln Nebraska had great success on July 3rd, but could not race on the 4th as his “DO Hal” racer had reportedly “thrown a connecting rod.”

On July the fourth, 2,000 fans watched Herschel Buchanan set quick time with a 33.4 second lap. Red Hodges won the first heat race over Buchanan, but Herschel came back to win the day’s feature race over “Tex” West of Junction City Kansas.

Automobiles raced again at Haskell on October 23 1937 on the last day of the Central West Texas Fair with a scheduled field of fourteen cars. “Wild” Bill Morris led qualifying with a 38-second lap and won his heat race, then captured the feature event over Leon Fondoble and Buddy Rusch.  


In 1938, the 5/8-mile dirt oval in Haskell then known either as “Fair Park Speedway” or “Haskell Speedway” hosted a two-day racing program held over the Fourth of July holiday, promoted by Oklahoma-based Joe Ziobro with the sanction provided by the Southwestern Auto Racing Association. 

On Sunday July third, Joe Termin of Dallas Texas dominated in his blue double overhead camshaft “DO Hal” powered machine, which used a conversion cylinder head built by Harold “Hal” Hosterman for the four-cylinder Ford model B engine.  Termin set quick time and new lap record of 33.3 seconds in qualifying, won his preliminary six-lap heat race and the twelve-lap feature as he finished ahead of Johnny Holland and Gene Fredrick.

William “Red” Hodges of Dallas won the second “slow” heat race despite that his car limped around the last two laps of the race on a flat tire. Lex Newbill of McKinney Texas won the day’s four-lap consolation race.  

Promoter Joe Ziobro promised the 1,200 fans a better show for Monday the fourth of July, with three new cars scheduled to arrive from Oklahoma City that included Waldo Parnett and Posey Reeves together with a possible visit by Texas Governor James Allred.

1,000 fans turned out on July fourth and saw Termin qualify second fastest.  As Termin entered the first turn on the third lap of the preliminary heat race, the right rear tire on his “DO Hal” racer failed, and the out-of-control machine went through the wooden fence and disappeared over the embankment. Termin, a 35-year old auto mechanic married less than a year, suffered fatal injuries when the car rolled over him. According to fellow racing historian Bob Lawrence, Termin’s death was the first fatality in Ziobro’s twelve years of racing promotions  

Herschel Buchanan, the 31-year old driver from Shreveport Louisiana, won the six-lap heat race which was completed under the caution flag after Termin’s crash. Oscar Coleman won the second heat race which was marred by a crash by rookie driver Arthur Rhodes in the same place as Termin’s earlier fatality, but Rhodes escaped unhurt.  “Red” Hodges captured the third heat race, then Buchanan, who years later became a two-time champion in International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) late model stock cars, won the Haskell 12-lap feature event ahead of Hodges in a time of six minutes and nine seconds.  

There were no races presented as part of the two-day 1938 West Central Texas Fair, and reportedly there were “stock car” races held in Haskell on the 5/8-mile track in August, September and October 1939 but the author has been unable to uncover any details.

There was a second Haskell Speedway which began operation in 1966 located approximately 4 miles west of the town of Haskell on farm land owned by T C Redwine and promoted by Redwine and CW McKelvain. The first two seasons the track hosted stock car races on Sunday afternoons, but for 1968 and 1969 presented races on Saturday nights.  The track apparently closed after the 1969 season.

The author has been unable to find information about the exact locations of the either the Fairgrounds 5/8-mile or the later “Haskell Speedway,” and welcomes any leads from our readers.   

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Pete Kreis story Part five 1932 to his death and beyond


The Pete Kreis story

Part five 

1932 to his death and beyond

The photo from the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection shows Pete Kreis, left shaking hands with Henry Ford in 1932

Following the 1931 Indianapolis 500-mile race, at Cliff Durant’s direction, Tommy Milton sold the ‘Detroit Special’ (last raced by Kreis in 1929) to Harry Hartz, who had metalsmith Phil Summers build a two-man body. Hartz installed a 182- cubic inch straight-8 Miller engine in the chassis and entered ‘Miller-Hartz 2’ in the 1932 International 500-Mile Sweepstakes.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker’s dream of automaker involvement under the “junk formula” came true in 1932 with the Studebaker factory’s five entries. A year earlier, prolific Indianapolis race car builder Herman Rigling built one car for Ab Jenkins and Studebaker chief engineer George Hunt that used a Studebaker Commander straight-eight engine, transmission and axles. 

Although it crashed out on lap 167, the car performed well enough in the 1931 ‘500,’ that the Studebaker Corporation hired Rigling to build four copies for the 1932 ‘500.’

The factory supplied the 336 cubic-inch, L-head, 8-cylinder Studebaker President engines, 3-speed manual transmissions,  front and rear axles, brakes and steering components. Rigling built the chassis and Pop Dreyer built the two-man bodies. 

Hunt designed an intake manifold fitted with four Studebaker single-throat carburetors, supplemented with an aftermarket exhaust manifold and magneto which boosted engine output from 110 to 175 horsepower. 

The driver lineup for the Studebaker team included Tony Gulotta, the 1931 driver, Luther Johnson, Zeke Myer, Cliff Bergere and Albert Jacob “Pete” Kreis. The cars were each painted in a different Studebaker President passenger car color – silver, black, blue, red and green. 

Even before the big track opened for practice, on Sunday May 1 the team ran a test led by manager and Chief Engineer George Hunt. Gulotta and Johnson drove a combined 660 miles in one of the team cars reportedly at an average speed of 102.6 MPH “exclusive of the pit stops” per the Indianapolis News. 

Peter Kreis is his Studebaker for the 1932 '500' at the right of this photo of the team courtesy of the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection

Four of the Studebaker team cars qualified on the first day of time trials, Saturday May 21 and Bergere led the team in qualifying as the #22 averaged 111.503 MPH to start tenth. Cliff just edged his teammate Luther Johnson’s four-lap run of 111.218 MPH which placed the #46 Studebaker eleventh.  Kreis in the #18 wound up seventeenth fastest at 110.270 MPH while Gulotta posted a 108.896 MPH average and would start twentieth. 

Zeke Meyer in the final Studebaker Corporation entry, qualified on the eighth and final day of times trials, on Saturday May 28th and ran ten laps at an average speed of 110.745 MPH to start 38th in the 40-car starting field.     

On Decoration Day Monday May 30 1932, it initially appeared that it would be another runaway by Billy Arnold and Matlock in ‘Miller-Hartz 1’ as they took the lead of lap 2 and proceeded to lap the field. 

However, in an eerie repeat of the previous year, Arnold and Matlock crashed in turn three on their 59th lap after the car slid in oil while they lapped Pete Kreis’ car and hit the wall injuring both driver and mechanic  for the second year in a row. This time Matlock suffered a broken pelvis while Arnold broke his collar bone, but Arnold never raced again, reportedly at the urging of his wife.  

After a mid-race 36-lap duel with Wilbur Shaw, Fred Frame in ‘Miller-Hartz 2’ took command on the 153rd lap and led the rest of the way.  Frame, with riding mechanic Jerry Houck  won the 1932 ‘500’ by a lap over Howdy Wilcox II with a new record average speed of 104.144 MPH despite the necessity for six pit stops to add water to the radiator for the overheated Miller engine. 

Three of the Studebaker entries finished the 1932 ‘500’. Bergere and his riding mechanic Vern Lake led the Studebaker team with a third place finish in the red #22 only four minutes behind winner Frame. 

Meyer (unrelated to fellow driver Louis)  and Walter Mitchell finished sixth in their green #37 with an average speed of 98.476 MPH, and Gulotta and his mechanic Carl Riscigno scored a 13th place finish in the silver #25 flagged with 184 laps completed; they were positioned for a good finish but lost considerable time when a tire blew in turn one late in the race. 

The two Studebaker entries that failed to finish were both the victims of crashes. On lap 164, Luther Johnson’s black #46 Studebaker with Billy Mallar alongside lost a wheel on the main straightaway. Kreis lost control of the blue Studebaker #18 on the main straightaway on lap 178 and crashed in turn one in front of the ‘E’ grandstand. Pete and his riding mechanic Aaron B. Vance, an Indianapolis resident, finished 15th, one spot better than Johnson.

Four nights later, all the Studebaker team members, including the pit crew, were honored in a testimonial dinner held in the Studebaker Corporation Administration Building in South Bend Indiana.  Prize monies were awarded and top Studebaker officials took turns praising the team. The South Bend Tribune reported the comments of Paul Hoffman vice president of sales “the biggest tribute I can pay them is to say that they performed even more credibly than expected.”

On June 22nd, Kreis and Vance were back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “making an experimental run,” (Firestone tire tests) when a tire blew out and the car reportedly “went over the retaining wall” in the third turn.  Details were sketchy, just that Kreis’ injuries “are not serious,” as reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinel while the Indianapolis Star reported both men suffered broken ribs, cuts and bruises.

Later in the summer of 1932, Pete took part in the Studebaker traveling auto show that stopped at Studebaker dealerships across the state of Pennsylvania. Pete appeared with one of the Studebaker Indianapolis cars and gave a brief talk about his racing experiences. 

In one appearance in Altoona, newspaper advertisements claimed Pete would drive the race car through noon day traffic while he wore a blindfold and black hood.

One night after Christmas 1932, Pete had another close call when his Chrysler coupe plunged off Topside Road near Knoxville, caught fire and burned to the ground but Pete received no injuries. 

For the 1933 race, the AAA Contest Board instituted a new rule that limited fuel tanks to 15 gallons and a limit of six gallons of oil used during the race. 

Following his success in the 1932 ‘500,’ winning driver Fred Frame went on a spending spree. Frame bought the “Miller-Hartz 1” (crashed by Arnold in 1931 and 1932) and rechristened it as the “Frame-Miller.”

Frame also bought a four-cylinder Miller 220-cubic inch powered Duesenberg 122 chassis built in 1930 and entered in the 1933 Indianapolis ‘500,’ while he continued to drive “Miller-Hartz 2” for Harry Hartz in 1933.  

Hartz nominated 1932 AAA Pacific Southwest Big Car championship runner-up mustachioed rookie driver Lester “Les” Spangler for his second entry, a rear-drive four-cylinder Miller 255 cubic inch-powered Miller chassis. Hartz purchased this car, the 303-cubic inch DOHC Miller V-16 powered machine from Bill White, shortened the chassis and in place of the V-16 installed one of the first Miller 255 cubic inch engines.

When the official Indianapolis entry list closed on May 1, 1933 Frame had nominated Pete Kreis as the driver of the front-drive Frame-Miller, while Paul Bost would pilot the Duesenberg. On May 3 the Knoxville New-Sentinel reported that Pete Kreis left Knoxville for Indianapolis. 

As he departed Knoxville Kreis told the reporter “I believe I will have my best chance to win this time.” Upon arrival in Indianapolis Kreis found that his car had not arrived, and Pete, a scratch golfer wiled away his time with Bill Heinlein on the Speedway golf course according to the Indianapolis News.

On Saturday May 20 1933, Pete Kreis, on his second attempt, qualified the gray and blue trimmed #2 machine at an average speed 114.370 MPH for his 10-lap 25-mile time trial run which slotted him eleventh in the 42-car starting field on Decoration Day.  Pete had aborted his first attempt earlier in the day after nine laps were completed due to a tire problem.   

A driver protest delayed the start of the 1933 International 500-mile Sweepstakes. Speedway physician DR.  H R Allen disqualified sixth-fastest qualifier Howdy Wilcox II due his diabetic condition (reported as epilepsy). The other 41 drivers protested and refused to start the race and presented a petition signed by all 41 drivers that demanded that Wilcox be allowed to race.

Dr. Allen refused to allow Wilcox to compete, and the drivers remained unmoved even after AAA steward Eddie Edenburn’s impassioned speech.  Finally, after more than an hour’s delay, Speedway officials pushed Wilcox’s ‘Gilmore Special’ off the grid and Edenburn ordered Mauri Rose to start the car from the tail of the field.        

With the first thirty laps completed, Kreis with mechanic Charles Marant rode in seventh place in ‘Miller Hartz 1’, one lap behind leader Bill Cummings, but Pete retired on lap 63 with a broken universal joint in the left front wheel. 22 laps later, his car owner Frame joined Pete on the sidelines as his Miller-Hartz broke a timing gear.

On lap 132, the Hartz second car, the cream and red #14 tangled with Malcom Fox’s semi-stock Studebaker and rolled onto the wall in turn two. Several hours later both driver Spangler and riding mechanic Glenn "Monk" Jordan died of their injuries, the fifth and sixth victims of crashes at the Speedway in May 1933.  Louis Meyer led 71 laps to win his second Indianapolis 500-mile race.

Eighteen days later, on June 17th 1933, Kreis and his friend and instructor Charles “Sonny” Rising took off from Island Airport near downtown Knoxville, but the engine in Kreis’ Waco biplane quit on takeoff. The plane stalled from a height of 300 feet, grazed a tree and crashed into the Tennessee River upside down.

Kreis, despite his injured right eye, arm and shoulder and the loss of the tip of the middle finger on his right hand, pulled the unconscious Rising from the wreckage and saved “Sonny” from drowning. After their rescue, both men were admitted to Howard-Henderson Hospital, with Pete released a week after the accident to convalesce at home.

After five deaths at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1933, for the 1934 International 500-mile Sweepstakes, the AAA instituted a limit of 45 gallons of fuel and six gallons of oil per car for the 500 miles to slow the cars down. The teams were allotted three gallons of gasoline to qualify, estimated at 12 laps for a time trial run; one lap to get up to speed, the ten timed laps and one cool-off lap.

Just before he left for Indianapolis, Pete took delivery of his new car, a 1934 Ford Model 40 (V8-powered) 3-window coupe from the Vester Motor Company located on Main Street in Knoxville.

Hartz entered his car number 14 without a driver named and when Harry and the front drive Miller- Hartz 2 (the 1932 ‘500’ winner) arrived at the Speedway on Sunday May 13 Indianapolis Star reporter W F Sturm quizzed Hartz as to possible drivers.  Hartz mentioned rumors of Billy Arnold, and Sturm reported that when asked about Pete’s desire to drive the car, Hartz stated that Kreis had not a said anything to him about it.

Three days later, Hartz had still not named a driver but on Wednesday May 23 Sturm reported that Kreis will “probably drive the Hartz car.” On Thursday May 24th Hartz announced that Kreis would take his first laps on the morning Friday May 25 and qualify later that day. Lengthy practice would not be needed as the reader will recall that Pete a veteran at the Speedway, drove the ‘Miller-Hartz 2’ chassis in 1926 powered by a supercharged 91-cubic inch Miller-powered engine and in 1929 as the two-stage supercharged “Detroit Special.”

It was later reported that at 7:40 AM on Friday May 25, Kreis and fellow driver Cliff Bergere stopped at the corner of Michigan Street and White River Parkway while they were enroute to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and lent aid in a fatal passenger car accident until the ambulance arrived.  

Just after 9 AM, the 34-year veteran Tennessee racer headed onto the track to take his first practice laps for 1934. Reportedly, Kreis and his riding mechanic Bob Hahn turned several slow warm-up laps, then ran several laps at approximately 90 MPH before Pete picked up the throttle for a flat-out lap.  In the Garage Area, car owner Hartz supervised a photography session with Frame and no one in the pit area seemed to pay much attention until the #14 car did not appear.

Patrolman J R McCormick of the Indiana State Police, on duty on 16th Street, later provided the only eyewitness report. McCormick stated that he heard the car hit the wall at the exit of turn one then he watched it slide along the wall for approximately 80 feet before the car climbed the 3-foot high wall and slid along the top of the short chute wall for approximately 75 feet.

This Indianapolis Star photo shows the damage to the Miller-Hartz 2 in Pete's fatal crash as the car is in the garage area the following day. 

The ‘Miller-Hartz 2’ fell off the south wall and tumbled down the 16-foot banking and hit a tree. After the car hit the tree it broke in half. The front of the car from the cowl forward including the engine and front drive traveled another 40 feet while the crushed tail of the car rested against the tree.

Officer McCormick rushed to the scene and removed Hahn from the wreckage of the car but he died before the ambulance arrived. McCormick reported Kreis’ body landed 20 feet from the wreckage and that Pete had been killed instantly.

Doctor John Slab, the Marion County deputy coroner who investigated reported that Kreis suffered a fractured skull, crushed chest and partial amputation trauma to both his legs. Hahn, the riding mechanic, suffered a fractured skull, broken leg and arm and crushed chest.  

The #14 Miller-Hartz reportedly struck the same tree George W. “Benny” Benefiel hit in the crash of the Jones & Maley Special in qualifying two years earlier that killed riding mechanic Harry Cox. Officials never determined the cause of the Kreis fatal accident but speculation focused on mechanical or tire failure.

A later unidentified witness described as a track guard by the Indidapolis News claimed that he saw the #14 car’s wheels shimmying before it hit the wall. Based on that observation, experts surmised that either a steering knuckle or tie rod connection broke.

The afternoon of the Kreis/Hahn fatality, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker gave what in retrospect seems to be a rather callous statement to the Indianapolis News “a serious accident happened at the race track this forenoon and I deeply regret it. However, it is a thing that happens in every walk of life. Men are willing to take a chance in pioneering for progress and glory.” 

21-year-old riding mechanic Williams Robert “Bob” or “Howdy” Hahn, raised on a turkey ranch in Chino (often erroneously reported as Chico) California had raced on the West Coast in some CARA (California Auto Racing Association) dirt track events in 1932.

Hahn raced “back east” in 1933 at tracks in Lewistown Pennsylvania, Woodbridge and Flemington New Jersey and the Harford County fairground in Maryland.  In 1934 he returned to California, lived in Manhattan Beach and worked as a mechanic for Harry Hartz. Bob, divorced with a son William Hahn Junior was buried May 29 1934 in Forest Park Cemetery in Glendale California.

With Pete’s mother at home convalescing after an appendectomy, Kreis family friend Dr. Herbert Craig and Pete’s brother-in-law Herbert Clark left Knoxville on Friday for Indianapolis to retrieve and return Pete’s remains to Knoxville, with his funeral held on Sunday afternoon May 27.

Several hundred people attended the ceremony at Mann’s Chapel with more than a hundred floral offerings that included a 12-foot diameter floral steering wheel. The funeral procession to Asbury Cemetery in Knox County included more than 100 cars where Pete Kreis, a bachelor survived by grandparents, parents, 2 brothers and 3 married sisters was interred.  

One brother, John, died in a car accident two years later and the other, Roy, with whom Pete worked with at the construction firm, died of a heart attack in 1937. His mother died in 1938 at age 65 and his father fell to his death in a barn on his turkey farm at age 72 in 1945.     

After being torn in half in the crash Louis “Curly” Wetteroth rebuilt the ‘Miller Hartz 2’ for Harry Hartz who entered the car at Indianapolis in 1936.  Sophomore driver Eylard Theodore ‘Ted’ Horn started eleventh, led 16 laps and finished in second place at Indianapolis in 1936.

Horn returned in the same car the following year, fitted with a supercharger, and finished in third place in the 1937 Indianapolis 500-mile race. In 1938, after the end of the “junk formula” rules package, fitted with a new body and rear suspension, Horn qualified sixth and finished fourth in the ‘Miller-Hartz 2’

After Ted Horn left Hartz for the Boyle Valve racing team for 1939, veteran Herb Ardinger drove the Miller-Hartz in 1939 followed by midget racer Mel Hansen in 1940. Hartz did not enter the car for the 1941 running of the 500-mile race. 

After the war, new car owner Robert J McManus entered it for rookie Tony Bettenhausen in 1946 and Tony made his first '500' start in the machine and finished 20th.  In 1947, motorcycle racer  Roland Free returned after a 17-year absence and finsihed 17th after he spun out on lap 87. 

Acquired by Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Anton “Tony” Hulman after its racing days, today the ‘Miller-Hartz 2’ is part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum collection restored and displayed as the 1932 ‘500’ winner.  

Author's photos of the restored Miller-Hartz 2 at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

author's photo

Albert Jacob “Pete” Kreis’ cemetery monument, erected in September 1935, measures 11 feet wide and 5 feet high and weighs an estimated eight tons including the concrete foundation. On the face of the monument is a replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track, complete with a detailed marble replica of the #14 Miller-Hartz car jumping the wall at the location of Pete’s fatal crash. The inscription on the monument reads “The Last Lap.” 

author's photo

The center of the marble monument is a detailed relief portrait of Pete in his racing helmet while the left side of the monument shows the outline of a race starter that strongly resembles AAA steward Eddie Edenburn as he displays the checkered flag.

The huge block of grey Tennessee marble came from the Kreis family’s Appalachian Marble Quarry Company.  The sculptor of the monument, Italian emigre Albert Milani of the Day Marble & Granite Company, worked non-stop for nine weeks to complete the monument placed in the Asbury cemetery located two miles from Pete’s childhood home.  Readers of The New York Times Magazine recognized Milani’s work on the Pete Kreis monument as the most outstanding of 1935.    

In July 1948, the new Broadway Speedway in Fountain City, north of Knoxville presented “The Pete Kreis Memorial” midget racing program on its ¼-mile dirt oval sanctioned by the short-lived Indiana-based Consolidated Midget Auto Racing Association.

The CMARA racers mainly drove V8-60 Ford powered midgets, but boasted two stars in Offenhauser-powered midgets – Woody Campbell and Gene Force, but Walter “Leadfoot” Geis won the race and received the trophy from Hazen Kreis, Pete’s first cousin. Although the track existed through the 1958 season it never repeated the “Pete Kreis Memorial Race.”

A sportsman that competed purely for the love of sport, Pete Kreis never won any AAA races but his driving skills were highly regarded by fellow competitors (and later car owners) Harry Hartz, Earl Cooper, and Tommy Milton. Kreis competed in a very dangerous era of automobile racing with cloth helmets wound up giving his life for the sport, and his sacrifice is honored with a magnificent monument.