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American racing: 'The Golden Age'


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#1 fines

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 17:15

As a link between the 1894 to 1920 and Junk Formula threads, I thought it would be a good idea to start a new thread about the era the late Griff Borgeson (and others) called 'The Golden Age', and with reason! Frontenac, Duesenberg and Miller racing cars of those days were perhaps the finest in the world, and drivers like Jimmy Murphy, Harry Hartz or Frank Lockhart are legends to this day. The glamour of the races on the high-speed "board tracks" was unmatched for decades thereafter, and nobody cared about the Indianapolis 500 failing to attract a full field for more than two years out of ten.

My hope is that this thread will catch the attention of John Printz, and we will get treated to another series of his fine articles. Failing that, you will probably have to endure another lecture by Yours Truly!;) :lol:

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#2 B Squared

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 17:36

I have a copy of , what I believe, is the first CART media guide, that Mr. Printz and Jan Shaffer were authors/ editors of. Mr. Printz sent it to my dad July 14, 1980. I still have the entire contents of the envelope.
Dad was close friends of Jerry Gebby of Dayton, OH who had volumes of history from that Golden Era - Mr. Printz was working on his history of the era at that time. Mr Printz says in the letter "So far as Mr. Gebby is concerned he is a Duesenberg expert but I find all his published articles to be very inaccurate in detail." To once again quote, "I am presently at work on a complete history of AAA National Championship racing 1918 to 1955. I enclose the chapter on the 1930 season as a sample of my work." He was looking to my father's Indianapolis 500 program collection for published entry lists from primarily 1920 to 1932. He lastly states, "In exchange I could send you a few more chapters of my book. I'm sure you will find that a more detailed and accurate history does not exist."
It sounds like he, Dick Wallen, and you, Mr. Ferner are the ones we need to look to for this rich history to be passed on in its most complete form. Lecture away! And thank you for your kind welcome to TNF.

#3 Flat Black

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 14:31

Not to complicate matters, but what constitutes THE Golden Age is very much a matter for debate. For me, the Golden Age is 1946 through 1980.

Sorry for the interruption. Please return to your regularly scheduled thread topic.

;)

#4 HDonaldCapps

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 15:07

Well, thanks to great part to Griff Borgeson, The Golden age of American Racing -- derived from "The Golden Age of the American Racing Car" -- is generally accepted as referring to the period following the Great War until the introduction of the new rules in 1930. Personally, while I generally try to shy from the use of such superlatives to designate a period, I certainly wouldn't squawk about it in this case.

#5 ensign14

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 15:27

I am guessing that if you got a bunch of Indy obsessives together and get them to name Indianapolis winners stochastically, the last to be named would be George Souders. Anyone know how good he was? Local boy made good, average Indy finish of 2nd, yet only 2 500s...

As Lockhart won as a rookie in '26, and Meyer in '28 (save for a relief bit), I suppose the bookies (were there any?) must have had a field day. Three surprise winners?

Didn't Souders have an entry for the RAC GP in '27?

#6 fines

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 18:09

Mr. Brown... I'd be happy to be called simply Michael henceforth! That Mr. thingy makes one feel so... respected! I prefer a more cordial approach, that is if you're with me... Brian?

Originally posted by Flat Black
Not to complicate matters, but what constitutes THE Golden Age is very much a matter for debate. For me, the Golden Age is 1946 through 1980.

Sorry for the interruption. Please return to your regularly scheduled thread topic.

;)

Sure you're right, Flat, and perhaps my title for this thread was not the smartest! :

But, as Don has already pointed out, the term is so well established, just like Renaissance, Klassik or Art Nouveau - and those are certainly not the only art periods constituting a rebirth of a theme, a classic era or a new one! It's just that the name, for whatever reason, stuck.

To clear it up, this thread should only concern the "twenties" of the 20th century, with a "gray era" of a few years to start and end with. :)

#7 fines

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 18:30

Originally posted by ensign14
I am guessing that if you got a bunch of Indy obsessives together and get them to name Indianapolis winners stochastically, the last to be named would be George Souders. Anyone know how good he was? Local boy made good, average Indy finish of 2nd, yet only 2 500s...

As Lockhart won as a rookie in '26, and Meyer in '28 (save for a relief bit), I suppose the bookies (were there any?) must have had a field day. Three surprise winners?

Didn't Souders have an entry for the RAC GP in '27?

Gee, ensign, you're a bit of a show-off, aren't you? :D Stochastically????? :confused: Even my trusty old Oxford dictionary was puzzled! :confused: :confused: :confused: Good thing there're internet dictionaries...

But yes, Souders certainly has to appear as a bit of a man of mystery these days! In the day, he was quite well known in the Tex-Okie area, where he won a bunch of dirt track races. If that does look a bit strange to you, for a Hoosier boy to go South to get to Indy, that was a smart way of doing it in the mid-twenties, when most promoters in the Indiana/Michigan/Ohio area were "outlaws", and the biggest AAA dirt track "circuit" was going in the South!

His trip to Europe for 12 Monza laps was a failure in 1927, although he appears to have been going fast while it lasted. The allure of Brooklands must've been pale in contrast to that of the AAA Dirt Track Championship in Detroit a fortnight later, so he skipped the British Grand Prix for the chance to meet America's finest at Motown, where he was narrowly beaten by Cliff Woodbury. And then there was his Ascot lap record, that lasted for more than three years. No, he wasn't a slouch.

Interestingly, there was a second Geroge Souders racing in the thirties, I believe it was a cousin!

#8 B Squared

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 18:36

Michael - yes, first names are fine by me. My father was in the Marine Corps, and I was taught to always address an individual with Mr., Mrs., Miss---- until instructed differently. Old habits die hard. Although I did address Henry by first name without consent in another thread. I'm sure Dad would be less than impressed!

#9 Flat Black

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 19:44

Originally posted by fines
Mr. Brown... I'd be happy to be called simply Michael henceforth! That Mr. thingy makes one feel so... respected! I prefer a more cordial approach, that is if you're with me... Brian?

Sure you're right, Flat, and perhaps my title for this thread was not the smartest! :

But, as Don has already pointed out, the term is so well established, just like Renaissance, Klassik or Art Nouveau - and those are certainly not the only art periods constituting a rebirth of a theme, a classic era or a new one! It's just that the name, for whatever reason, stuck.

To clear it up, this thread should only concern the "twenties" of the 20th century, with a "gray era" of a few years to start and end with. :)


That's fine, Michael. I simply was not aware that The Golden Age was an ipso facto defined period of American auto racing history. The things one learns on TNF!

:D

#10 john glenn printz

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 19:17

GRIFFITH BORGESON (1918-1997) AND GOLDEN AGE HISTORY. Borgeson conceived the ''Golden Age" to be the years 1915 to 1929. However the very late twenties, i.e. 1927-1929, were not viewed or regarded as a golden age by its contemporaries. And beginning in May 1920, the AAA races of 1920 to 1922 run under the 183 formula limit, had a great curtailment and diminution with regard to the number of makes, drivers, entrants, and actual starters. American motor racing was seemingly, in both 1920-22 and 1927-29, in the doldrums.

I was among those who were quite excited by the publication of Borgeson's GOLDEN AGE OF THE AMERICAN RACING CAR in 1966. Here, it seemed at last, was a new body of real, informed, and authentic information about the c. 1915 to 1932 era. But later, and now in 2008 too, it seems to me that Borgeson made almost as many errors and omissions as Russ Catlin. However with Borgeson it was a quite different situation, and at a much higher level.

Griffith's interests and outlook were much, much greater and wider than Catlin's; and Borgeson was a very fine writer with an aesthetic sense which Catlin totally lacked and was totally oblivious to. Russ was merely a hack newspaper journalist. Borgeson collected, investigated and wrote about a lot of new things that later researchers like Mark Dees, Gary Doyle, and Dick Wallen's book BOARD TRACK, GUTS, GOLD & GLORY, would improve on and more fully investigate. THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE AMERICAN RACING CAR was a seminal work and will always retain its value as a classic. It is a joy to read, and wherewithal it does contain a lot of basic, and then new, information. The book was definitely more than just several quantum leaps forward.

It must be remembered always that in the 1950s and 1960s, information on the past history of the AAA Contest Board (1909-1941) and its National Championship division (1916 and 1920-41) was not easy, if not impossible, to get a hold of. Genuine knowledge and any hard cold facts were no longer at hand. Everything had pretty much faded out by that time. If one wanted to learn about the 1930s for example, the only accessible source was Wilbur Shaw's GENTLEMAN, START YOUR ENGINES (1955). I read it as a teenager in high school in 1958 or 1959 and it was where I first heard of such persons as Art Sparks (1901-1984) and Myron Stevens (1901-1988), who in the late 1970s, I both got to know.

[AN EXCURSUS: Sparks wanted a book about his life to be published and wanted me to write it. But having a full time job I didn't have the time. And anyway a lot of Art's story was involved with the Legion Ascot track, of which I had no real interest. A very good friend and neighbor of Art's, Mr. Gene Banning, undertook the project and the result was SPEEDWAY: HALF A CENTURY OF RACING WITH ART SPARKS (1983). It is one of the only three good books on AAA racing in the 1930s. The other two being Shaw's autobiography (1955) and Dee's Miller book (1981, 2nd ed. 1994). Banning's volume does not deal much with Borgeson's golden age years (1915-1929) but furnishes a good account, from Sparks' perspective, of the AAA seasons 1930 to 1950. Sparks joined the AAA National Championship ranks, at Indianapolis, with a joint entry there with Paul Weirick, in 1932.

Banning was a World War II aircraft pilot and after the war, an airlines passenger pilot. Gene was involved in secret flights to Egypt for a time, transporting U.S. gold bullion, to keep King Farouk's corrupt regime afloat! Banning admitted one time, in the presence of Sparks and myself, that he had toyed or thought sometimes about how one might possibly abscond and disappear with one of those shipments! I got to be good friends with Banning also. In September 1985 Gene flew to Detroit and I picked him up at Detroit Metro. We stayed together in an Ann Arbor, MI motel, because he wanted to see the CART Michigan 500. Banning was unluckly here because in the morning practice, the day before the race was scheduled to be held, two new tires blew and the event was cancelled for safety reasons. The race was held one week later, but Gene couldn't return. Gene also published a book AIRLINES OF PAN AMERICAN SINCE 1927 in 2001.]

Borgeson did talk to a lot of important people, although in many cases, in their individual and collective memories, they were not always very precise or even accurate. Catlin, during the late 1940s and entire 1950s, was considered the top expert by many, on the entire racing history of the AAA but his reputation was very highly inflated. Here, in talking to people, Borgeson certainly did a much better job of it than Catlin. Russ, with his severly handicapped and limited mental outlook, made a botch of it. Catlin was really just looking for good stories and a possibly sensational scandal or two. He thought he had found one too, in his theory and reconstuction of the late November 1920 Kennerdell swindle, over that year's AAA National Driving Titlist. Russ also had no interest whatsoever in the cars themselves, their development, or anything mechanical.

Griffith's statement on page 7 (quote), "All too little of the history of American automobile racing ever found its way into print." is the bane of any investigator now trying to reconstruct the AAA's Championship division's past. The AAA Contest Board itself was remiss in its collection of on-site race data, and even more remiss in not retaining the data it originally had obtained. Another fault of the AAA was very little or no published statistics or data was ever at hand, i.e. in multiple copies. With just one set or two of the AAA official records, much disappeared, was stolen, and was even deliberately tossed out by the Board itself! Probably most of the pre-1931 AAA files were thrown out by the AAA Contest Board in a late 1930s office clean up and economy drive. Catlin's contention that he saved the pre-1931 AAA documentation and files seems to me to be another one of his numerous yarns. I have found no evidence, after more than half a century, that it was actually the case. But this claim here, proved to be a useful ploy to fob off other would-be and suspicious investigators; particularly in regard to his false tale of the 1920 Kennerdell conspiracy.

However another major source of data on AAA Championship racing became available only in the 1970s. That decade saw many of the past U.S. newspapers (1894-1955) becoming accessible on rolls of microfilm. Here it was possible to ferret out new information, even if it took some time and doing. For instance the rolls had no indexes and one had to inspect the daily newspapers, page by page. Borgeson's book was researched and published before these vintage newspaper microfilm reels were available or in existence. Newspaper archival microfilm reels were but another example of the so-called recent "information explosion". The use of this new tool opened up a hitherto unusable, but very valuable resource.

But all that is obsolete technology now. Gary Doyle tipped me off about the new newspaper internet databases. You don't even need an index. All you do is type in what you are looking for, and up it comes. A veritable miracle!

One major source of my own sometimes unique information were these various newspaper reels. I might add, that they reveal the total incompatibility of Catlin's 1909-1915 and 1917-1920 AAA Championship seasons, with the contemporary newpaper reports and with what actually happened. A completely different development of AAA racing was then clearly revealed for the period 1909-1920. This was all obvious to me by the mid-1970s. The question now became, where did Catlin get his bogus AAA Championship point distributions charts 1909-1915 and 1917-1920, used in his 1954-55 SPEED AGE articles? And who made them and when were they created?

But again...Borgeson's GOLDEN AGE suffers from many inaccuracies and grave omissions. I notice,... 1. Nothing about the Erbes-Miller connection (1915-1917); 2. Nothing about the origin of the AAA National Championship Title (1916); 3. Nothing really about DePalma's link with Packard (1917-19); 3. Nothing about the problem of two different AAA Titlists for 1920, G. Chevrolet or Milton; 4. Nothing about Miller and Milton's connection with Leach Motor Car Company (1921-22); 5. Nothing about Ira Vail's and Frank Elliott's also working independently on the new Miller 183 straight 8 (1921); 6. Nothing about Murphy (1923) or Milton (1925), running in the Italian Grand Prix; 7. And nothing either about why the new 1930 "Junk Formula" was introduced by Rickenbacker, although Griffith believes its introduction marks the end of the Golden Age.

Griffith's mistakes are also legion. He knows of only two major 1918 AAA races. And his dogmatic claim that the 1925 inboard brake front drive Miller was the second front drive Miller made, rather than the first, is infamous. His story of Albert Champion being tossed out of France is bogus also, as Albert died in Paris on 27 Nov. 1927. According to Champion's obituary notice in the NEW YORK TIMES (October 28, 1927, page 23) Albert never became a U.S. citizen. Griffith has the wrong date and race for the Hartz incident that killed two men. He has it at the first Beverly Hills race of 1924 (Feb. 24), but it actually took place at the last Beverly Hills race for 1923 (Nov. 29). Borgeson has little to say about the AAA National Championship Driving Title for the years 1915-1920, but believes there were 1917 and 1918 AAA Titles. Jimmy Murphy did not break any ribs in his Le Mans accident on July 15, 1921, but Louis Inghibert, riding with Jimmy at the time, broke three! And my own reconstruction of Harry Miller's attempts at building racing motors (1915-1917) differs from Griffth's narrative also. Howard Wilcox did not fatally crash at the Altoona 200 of Sept. 4, 1923, in a "HCS" Miller , but rather in a Duesenberg.

And in this context it seems also, that Milton's claim and comment on Jimmy Murphy (on page 137 quote), "The final word on the matter is that after his untimely death at Syracuse in 1924 I was privileged to escort the body to Los Angeles." is incorrect. It was mechanic Riley Brett who was put in charge of Murphy's remains. Accompanying Murphy's body back by train to Los Angeles with Brett were also Hartz, Comer, Hill, McDonough, Shafer, and De Paolo, but not Cooper or Milton. Milton and Cooper stayed behind in Syracuse to wind up Jimmy's affairs and to ship Murphy's wrecked Miller back to L. A. Among the non-drivers who returned with Murphy's corpse were George Stiel, Fred Wagner, Reeves Dutton, Waldo Stein, and Ed Wintergast. Source: Los Angeles Times September 17, 1924, page B3.

The listing of "Major American Races-1915 through 1929" (pages 268-274), supplied by Charles L. Betts, is also very incomplete and inaccurate. But it was still the best such list probably made up to that time (1966). For example, Betts' listings for 1918 and 1920 are most curious. He does not mention the July 4 Cincinnati and Tacoma, or the Sept. 2 Uniontown, 1918 contests. (Compare with the thread AMERICAN RACING 1894 TO 1920, continuation - 32 of June 20, 2007.) For 1920 the genuine AAA Championship events of Tacoma (July 5) or Beverly Hills (Nov. 25) are absent, as well as the non-Championship Beverly Hills sprints of March 28. How the Nov. 25 Beverly Hills 250 wound up missing is a mystery. After all, this is where both Gaston Chevrolet and Eddie O'Donnell, lost their lives. For 1920 also, Betts does not follow or repeat either (1.) the genuine and original five race AAA Championship schedule or (2.) Arthur Means' late 1926 ten race reckoning of the 1920 AAA season.

The photo captions are often incorrect. All instances here from the 1966 edition. (1.) page 24, not Beverly Hills; (2.) page 25, picture is from the Uniontown race of June 19, 1920; (3.) page 46, photo is a 300 cubic inch Ballot, probably at Beverly Hills on March 28, 1920; (4.) page 59, I do not believe that the lady in the first Chevrolet car, is Mrs. Suzanne Chevrolet. I have seen two 1920 photographs of Louis' wife and it is not the same woman.; (5.) page 119, taken at Beverly Hills for the Nov. 26, 1920 event. Hearne, Milton, and O'Donnell are not in this photograph. Car. No. 12, Murphy and Denny Duesenberg; No. 11 Eddie Miller, No. 10 Roscoe Sarles, and No. 9 either Ernie Olson or Fred Duesenberg himself; (6.) page 121, Murphy at Beverly Hills on Nov. 25, 1920; (7.) Not Hearne at Beverly Hills, but possibly Jimmy Murphy. The car is the same No. 8 illustrated on page 28; (8.) page 163, the Indianapolis start in 1922, not 1920; (9.) page 188, this is actually Al Melcher (1884-1944), not Jimmy Murphy. This picture appears in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, Nov. 20, 1927, on page 7; (10.) page 200 Lou Meyer's Indy winning 91 Miller for 1928 was not an ex-Lockhart owned car; and (11.) page 232, this is actually the second Miller front wheel drive machine constructed, not the first.

I would point out that Russ Catlin's HISTORY OF AAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACING, 1909 to 1917 (i.e SPEED AGE, December 1954 to November 1955) joined with Borgeson's GOLDEN AGE OF THE AMERICAN RACING CAR (1966), furnishes a sort of continuous history of American motor racing from 1909 to 1929. The two overlap as Catlin covers 1909 to 1917 and Griffith mostly 1915 to 1929, but the two works are vastly different in concept, learning, outlook, and execution. A year after Borgeson published his GOLDEN AGE, Jack C. Fox made another major contribution to the saving of Championship racing lore with his INDIANAPOLIS 500 which first appeared in 1967. The book contained a priceless collection of photographs and historical statistics. Jack himself was an old curmudgeon race fan, who never married and who didn't know how to drive a car. According to Jack, all American Championship racing was irretrievably ruined, with the demise of the dirt ovals and the coming of the rear engined cars. I knew Mr. Fox for about one decade and met him about the year 1975.

Borgeson also contributed many important and interesting articles to the U. S. automobile magazines, CAR LIFE and SPORTS CARS ILLUSTRATED, along with AUTOMOBILE QUARTERLY, about his Golden Age investigations. He also published other important books on major U.S. automobile racing. These are (1.) THE CLASSIC TWIN-CAM ENGINE (1981); (2.) MILLER (1993); and (3.) THE LAST GREAT MILLER (2000). A 2nd edition of the GOLDEN AGE OF THE AMERICAN RACING CAR appeared in 1998. Here little was added or upgraded and most of the original mistakes remained uncorrected. It was a disappointment for me. Ken McMaken and myself, in both 1981 and 1985, published a more comprehensive and accurate listing of the important U.S. AAA races, 1915 to 1929; but Borgeson did not upgrade Betts' inventory of 1966.

I myself never met Betts, Borgeson, or Catlin, or had any direct contact with them. Borgeson, in his later years, resided in France. Betts, on behalf of Catlin, wrote to Gordon Kirby on June 9, 1983 that the McMaken/Printz contention (made both in the 1981 and 1983 PPG Indy Car annuals, edited by Kirby) that the AAA National Titles 1902 to 1915 and 1917 to 1919 were all bogus, was rank nonsense. Russ Catlin always maintained that they real even though he himself had made up the AAA Championships for 1902 to 1908 in 1951/1952. The 1909 to 1915 and 1917-1919 AAA Championships were, in actual fact, the work of the Contest Board Secretary Arthur H. Means during 1926 and 1927. This was a discovery of Ken and myself in the early 1980s. No one else ever suspected that anything was amiss here. James O'Keefe however, who knew about our investigations, agreed with our conclusions. O'Keefe was, I reckon, the third individual after Ken and myself, that totally adopted these new ideas about the AAA's racing past. But such views were total revolution and heresy in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Gordon Betts asked and demanded from Kirby a written apology directly from myself, to be sent to a distressed and upset Catlin, acknowledging our gross incompetence and ignorance. I refused, for unfortunately, it was Betts and Catlin that were in gross error here, not McMaken or myself. I wrote a short reply letter to Betts stating that it was Russ Catlin that was confused and mistaken here, not Ken or myself, but never heard anything more about the matter from either Mr. Betts or Gordon Kirby. Betts never replied to my letter either to Kirby or myself.

Catlin died in late 1983 but almost immediately the well known racing journalist and PR man, Bob Russo, took up the challenge and supported all the Catlin positions, including Russ' oddball thesis that Tommy Milton had been gyped out of his 1920 AAA National Driving Title in late November 1920 by the gross incompetence and maleficence of the AAA Contest Board Chairman, Richard A. Kennerdell. According to Bob, it was one of the great merits of Catlin that, in 1951 with the approval of the AAA Contest Board itself, he restored Milton as the genuine and rightful winner of the AAA National Title for 1920. Russ Catlin himself, in fact, was directly responsible for all the confusion about the AAA Titles of 1902 to 1920, and Betts and Russo were just the unknowing victims of Russ' faulty assertions, inventions, and historical reconstructions all made by Russ in the first decade (1946-1955) after World War II. And while Bob is still being hailed as (quote) "One of auto racing most respected historians", I know of only two articles by him published on AAA Championship history proper. They are (1) THE 1920 CHAMPIONSHIP (Indy Car Racing, January 1987, pages 43-45) and (2) BEVERLY HILLS - BEST OF THE BOARDS, which is chapter 13 in Dick Wallen's 1990 board track book, on pages 177-198. The whole controversy over the 1920 AAA season can be found on the thread BOB RUSSO AND THE 1920 AAA CHAMPIONSHIP.

Although Borgeson in his GOLDEN AGE book tries to furnish some historical background to the 1915-1929 era he, somewhat oddly, never discusses the origin of the AAA National Driving Title proper or mentions specifically Catlin's SPEED AGE history for the AAA seasons of 1909-1917.

Catlin's health greatly declined in the 1970s and Bob Russo then jumped into Russ' shoes. It was thought that, in regard to all the past AAA or USAC Championship division history, Bob was the man with all the information and the one to go to. This was the opinion of USAC, the newspaper writers, and even Chris Economaki (b. 1920). After Catlin's death in 1983, Russo obtained all of Russ' racing documents, papers, and memorabilia. But by 1980 even the great AAA-USAC decades of the 1950s and the 1960s were fast fading from view and had become just past ancient history. Here Russo was certainly an expert informant as he had directly witnessed most of it first hand, as a racing journalist. With regard to the AAA non-Indianapolis Championship history for the period c. 1932 to 1948, nobody seem to have any real or detailed information: not even Betts, Borgeson, Catlin, or Russo.

One year when the downtown Detroit Grand Prix had become a CART race i. e. 1989-1991, a large computer was put in the press room, against a wall. It was suppose to contain a vast amount of past lore on Championship racing and a man was stationed next to it to operate it. However no one paid much attention to him, or his machine, and he had nothing to do. After a time I felt sorry for him and decided to make his day. So I went to him and asked if the machine could answer who the 1920 U.S. National Driving Champion had been. He immediately lit up and said "Sure!" It only took him a minute and he had the result. "Tommy Milton", he said. I expressed amazement at it all and thanked him profusely, making the man a very happy fellow. But as I walked away I said to myself, "That computer is worthless and that is a wrong and totally incorrect answer." It was not gospel in and gospel out, nor was it garbage in and garbage out. It was garbage in and gospel out.

I would hope that the above furnishes some rather odd and out of the way light on AAA racing history and its past historiography; and why the subject is still a complete mess. Anyway that's the way I see the situation. I wrote articles on Tommy Milton, Frank Lockhart, and Louis Meyer, all inspired by Borgeson's GOLDEN AGE book. I was attempting here to ascertain the general accuracy of what Griffith had written, and also tried to refine and enlarge on his data. The Louis Meyer article has recently been posted. If anyone wants to start a Frank Lockhart thread, I will post my 1981 Lockhart essay forthwith.

Edited by john glenn printz, 29 September 2011 - 14:21.


#11 robert dick

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 08:04

Some photos concerning the subject, from the Library of Congress collection,
July 1925, Laurel

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13944v.jpg
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#12 robert dick

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 08:13

October 1925, Laurel

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14980v.jpg
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#13 robert dick

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 08:38

Nice photos:

Peter De Paolo and Fred Wagner
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13964v.jpg

De Paolo and wife
http://memory.loc.go...8500/38522v.jpg

De Paolo and Lodovico Calderara (son of Mario Calderara, "aviatore")
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13965v.jpg

#14 B Squared

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 10:38

Fantastic collection of photographs - I believe that Mr. DePaolo is holding his son, Tommy, in the shot with his wife, Evelyn (Sally) Lewis. They married June 21, 1922. They were together until their respective final days. Wonderful people that showed my family nothing but kindness.
Brian

#15 Henri Greuter

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 10:55

A pity that Miller never got any decent opposition apart from Duesenberg so that we never saw the V16 he designed being realized.
That could have saved BRM an embarrasment....
(but boy should we have missed out on a lot of BRM relted fun and pleasure....)

Henri

#16 Russ Snyder

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 12:15

Whats the golden age of racing?

1901 to current day.

Kids of today will think that the Lewis Hamiltons, Helio Castro's, Scott Dixons, Jeff Gordons, Jimmie Johnsons were the "Golden age of racing" in the 2060 timeframe. Its all perspective really.

#17 fines

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 15:14

Well, can we now lay to rest the fact that I botched up the thread title? :rolleyes:;)

Thanks to everyone involved so far, especially Mr. Printz and Robert Dick!

I believe this is going to be a good thread! :)

#18 fines

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 18:19

Originally posted by robert dick
Some photos concerning the subject, from the Library of Congress collection,
July 1925, Laurel

Fabulous pictures, Robert, thanks for finding & posting them!

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13944v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13945v.jpg

Ralph de Palma after crashing out spectacularly in the Earl Cooper/Ralph Hepburn Miller. The other driver is Doc Shattuc.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13946v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13947v.jpg

Bob McDonogh with and without Tommy Milton's second Miller - originally declared the winner, second on recheck.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13948v.jpg

Pete Kreis on a Duesenberg.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13949v.jpg

Earl Devore on the special 'oversize' Miller that was originally built for Cliff Durant.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13950v.jpg

A young Ralph Hepburn, making his reputation in Earl Cooper's Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13951v.jpg

Wade Morton, Duesenberg.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13953v.jpg

Doc Shattuc, Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13942v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13941v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13943v.jpg

Pete de Paolo, Duesenberg - the winner following scoring protest.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13952v.jpg

Again, Morton and his Duesenberg. CORRECTION: the driver is not Morton, but possibly Vic Spooner!

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13954v.jpg

Jerry Wonderlich, Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13955v.jpg

Earl Cooper, Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13956v.jpg

Wow, the starting grid! And it's different from what Phil Harms had!!! I'll get back to this later, because this race has quite a few "issues" that need particular attention. So far I wasn't making much progress, but perhaps these pictures can provide a breakthrough!

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13957v.jpg

A Miller and two Duesenbergs on the banking? Needs a closer look...

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13958v.jpg

Ditto...

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13959v.jpg

The cars moving off the grid...?

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13960v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13961v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13962v.jpg

More stuff to check on later... :smoking:

#19 fines

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 18:34

Originally posted by robert dick
October 1925, Laurel


http://memory.loc.go...4900/14980v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...4900/14981v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...4900/14982v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...4900/14983v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...4900/14984v.jpg

Bob McDonogh, Miller - this time really the winner. De Paolo appears to be congratulating him in the third pic.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14985v.jpg

Pete de Paolo, Duesenberg.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14986v.jpg

Earl Devore, Durant Special Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14987v.jpg

Earl Cooper, Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14988v.jpg

Tommy Milton, Miller. Interesting pic!

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14989v.jpg

Leon Duray, Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14990v.jpg

Bennie Hill, Miller.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14991v.jpg

Earl Cooper getting the flag signal to start the race - offhand I can't remember the colour... perhaps red? :blush:

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14992v.jpg

Devore has apparently spun out, Shattuc pits.

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14993v.jpg

McDonogh leading...

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14994v.jpg

There is a second car off track...

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14995v.jpg

Fred Comer, in the second Hartz Miller.

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#20 fines

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 18:39

Originally posted by robert dick
Nice photos:

Peter De Paolo and Fred Wagner
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13964v.jpg

De Paolo and wife
http://memory.loc.go...8500/38522v.jpg

De Paolo and Lodovico Calderara (son of Mario Calderara, "aviatore")
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13965v.jpg

Originally posted by B Squared
Fantastic collection of photographs - I believe that Mr. DePaolo is holding his son, Tommy, in the shot with his wife, Evelyn (Sally) Lewis. They married June 21, 1922. They were together until their respective final days. Wonderful people that showed my family nothing but kindness.
Brian

Probably shot on the way to or from Monza, and the Italian Grand Prix! Was "Wag" also off to Europe?

#21 fines

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 19:17

Originally posted by fines
http://memory.loc.go...3900/13956v.jpg

Wow, the starting grid! And it's different from what Phil Harms had!!! I'll get back to this later, because this race has quite a few "issues" that need particular attention. So far I wasn't making much progress, but perhaps these pictures can provide a breakthrough!

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13959v.jpg

The cars moving off the grid...?

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13962v.jpg

More stuff to check on later... :smoking:

Alright then, based on these three photographs, I reconstruct the grid:

#12 de Paolo, Duesenberg - #28 Duray, Miller
#9 Shafer, Duesenberg - #35 Kreis, Duesenberg
#5 Comer, Miller - #2 Cooper, Miller
#23 Morton, Duesenberg - #6 Hartz, Miller
#3 Hill (B), Miller - #4 Milton, Miller
#27 Elliott, Miller - #14 McDonogh, Miller
#17 Hepburn*, Miller - #8 de Palma, Miller
#19 Hill (J), Miller

* with, apparently, Devore driving

#22 Jim Thurman

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 21:09

Great thread. Before we get caught up in semantics (oops, too late) or blame Borgeson, virtually every historical book on sports in the 1920's referred to the era as "The Golden Age". Golf, Baseball, Football, you name it. Borgeson was likely following that lead. It was quite common.

#23 robert dick

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 10:16

Additional Laurel photos, dated July 11, 1925:

http://memory.loc.go...7400/27445v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...7400/27446v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...7400/27447v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...7400/27448v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...7400/27449v.jpg

#24 fines

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 15:46

Yikes! There's one more car on the grid!!!

#25 fines

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 17:39

http://memory.loc.go...4900/14996v.jpg

I believe this one hasn't been posted yet, Bob McDonogh on the left.

http://memory.loc.go...5900/15954v.jpg

This is also interesting, Laurel one year later when AAA drivers and cars were gone (they didn't come back after an organisational hick-up). This is an NMRA (National Motor Racing Assoc.) event June 19 in 1926, a 100-miler won by Jimmy Gleason.

http://memory.loc.go...5900/15955v.jpg

This Freddie Winnai in his Duesenberg - some say this was the ex-de Paolo car, not the one Souders drove in 1927!

http://memory.loc.go...5900/15956v.jpg

Tom Reed, Peugeot?

http://memory.loc.go...5900/15957v.jpg

This car is the special wide-frame Miller 122 chassis with 183 engine, as used in record attempts by Tommy Milton in 1924 - not sure about the driver yet, but I believe it's Gleason!

http://memory.loc.go...5900/15958v.jpg

An NMRA group shot in front of the Miller 122/183, left to right: Russ Snowberger, unknown, Jimmy Gleason, Freddie Winnai, Ray Keech, Ben Shaw??, unknown

http://memory.loc.go...5900/15959v.jpg

CORRECTION: this shows the whole group, with Tom Dawson, Russ Snowberger, Al Aspen, Jimmy Gleason, Freddie Winnai, Ray Keech, Jack Desmond, Jim Pugh??

#26 fines

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 18:06

Somehow this comes out differently: the Duesenberg pits after the victory (July 11, 1925).

http://memory.loc.go...00/3a03754r.jpg

#27 Buildy

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 18:17

Great stuff Fines!

First time I saw any of those NMRA photos.

I can only wonder if there are other gems hiding in their digital collections,and what they might have that hasn`t been digitized!

#28 fines

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 19:24

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13956v.jpg

The eagle-eyed will spot the #10 Miller (Jerry Wonderlich's car) off track behind the wooden pit stalls, right above the sign reading "SHAFER"! :)

#29 fines

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 19:53

http://memory.loc.go...7400/27446v.jpg

The additional car on the grid is Doc Shattuc on the #15 Miller - originally a non-starter (too slow in qualifying), but obviously subbing for Wonderlich. Some reports have him stalling on the warm-up lap in Wonderlich's car, but obviously he was just there in his own car in place of Wonderlich - note car #10 still behind the pit stalls!

#30 fines

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 21:01

Car identities: I'm not too confident of the Duesenbergs, and anyway can trace them back only to 1924 - they were all completely rebuilt that year, and I don't have any good photographs from 1923 to even try to identify them.

#12 de Paolo - was #12 in 1924 also, driven by de Paolo, also Batten in early '25 (Indy winner)
#9 Shafer - was #15 in 1924, Indy winner driven by Corum/Boyer, also won at Syracuse driven by Shafer, also Morton in early '25
#35 Kreis - was #9 in 1924, the Boyer death car, also driven by Ansterberg, Corum, Houser, Shafer, Elliott, Morton, Kreis and Batten
#23 Morton - was #10 in 1924, the Ansterberg death car, also driven by Batten, Mourre and Gleason

A few Miller histories:

#28 Duray - was #6 in 1923, driven by Hearne (two wins, AAA Champion) and Cooper, #14 in 1924, driven by Comer, Morton and Hartz, pole sitter at Indy in '25
#5 Comer - was #1 in 1924, driven by Hearne and Durant
#2 Cooper - 1925 car
#6 Hartz - was #7/#3 in 1923 and #4 in '24, apparently only ever driven by Hartz
#3 Hill (B) - was #10 late in 1923 and #3 in '24, driven by Hill (B), also Cariens, Ellingboe and Wonderlich in early '25
#4 Milton - was #5 in 1924, driven by Milton
#27 Elliott - was #2 early in 1924, the Murphy death car, also driven by Lockhart in early '25
#14 McDonogh - was #19 in 1924, driven by McDonogh
#17 Hepburn - was #25/#2 in 1923 and #8 in '24, driven by Wilcox and Cooper
#8 de Palma - was #2 late in 1924, driven by de Palma (this was the "short tail" dirt track car, not the #8 long-wheelbase car he drove at Indy!), perhaps Corum in early '25
#19 Hill (J) - perhaps the #32 Mourre car in 1924??, also driven by Johnson and Vail in early '25
#10 Wonderlich - was #4/#8 in 1923 and #7 in '24, driven by Durant, Hearne, Wonderlich and Morton, completely rebuilt after June 1924 accident with distinctive radiator shell, also driven by Ellingboe in early '25
#15 Shattuc - was #31 late in 1924, driven by Shattuc
#24 Devore - was #8 late in 1923 and #16 in '24, driven by Durant, Comer, Hearne and Shafer, also Lewis in early '25

#31 fines

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 14:38

Originally posted by john glenn printz
If anyone wants to start a Frank Lockhart thread, I will post my Lockhart essay forthwith.

Done. :)

http://forums.autosp...threadid=103987

#32 fines

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 15:01

Addendum:

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13957v.jpg

Duray leading from de Paolo and Kreis. Opening lap(s)?

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13958v.jpg

Elliott, McDonogh, Kreis and Hartz.

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13960v.jpg

Elliott, Hartz and McDonogh again - all are in for a good finish!

http://memory.loc.go...3900/13961v.jpg

The band is still playing, while the engines roar! 'Wag' is directing the cars: de Paolo, Duray, Shafer, Kreis, Comer et al...

#33 JimInSoCalif

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 15:32

With respect to the term Golden Age, some people who are interested in men's tailored clothing and things art deco, consider the 20's and especially the 30's to be the Golden Age.

And, some folks who do not care for the current spec formulas used by NASCAR and Indy Cars see the 60's and 70's as a golden age. I guess it is natural to romanticize about the past, especially when people find current products to be rather bland.

Cheers, Jim.

#34 fines

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 15:42

Originally posted by robert dick
Additional Laurel photos, dated July 11, 1925:

http://memory.loc.go...7400/27445v.jpg
http://memory.loc.go...7400/27446v.jpg

These pictures are great! In the TIFF versions, you can almost read the newspapers some of the spectators are using to shelter from the sun! :D Just look at that long row of cars parked outside the Speedway - those board track races were major events for sure, with coverage in every paper of the States, and several articles leading up to the races as well. The sport was at its zenith, heights unreached for another forty or fifty years - if this ain't the Golden Age, what then?;)


http://memory.loc.go...7400/27447v.jpg

From left to right: the Duesenberg pit counter with cars obscured, then #10 Wonderlich, #3 Hill (B), #5 Comer, #6 Hartz, #28 Duray, #27 Elliott - out of the picture are #24 Devore, #2 Cooper, #17 Hepburn, #4 Milton and #14 McDonogh (cf Dick Wallen, Board Track, pp 337 & 342)

http://memory.loc.go...7400/27448v.jpg

At the far left the empty pit of Shattuc, then #19 Hill (J), subbing for Reg Johnson (still injured from Charlotte spill May 11), #8 de Palma, #9 Shafer, #23 Morton, #35 Kreis, #12 de Paolo (with bouquet on bonnet commemorating Indy win), #15 Shattuc (out of line), #10 Wonderlich, #3 Hill (B), #5 Comer and #6 Hartz.

http://memory.loc.go...7400/27449v.jpg

#35 Searching Cliff

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 02:12

Gentlemen:

A few weeks ago I started what I assumed would be an easy task: putting together a narrative about the racing career of my husband's grandfather, Cliff Woodbury. Cliff was a lesser-known racer of the 1920's and raced in the AAA circuit from 1926 to 1929. His last race was in Altoona; he was involved in the crash that unfortunately killed Keech, who had won the Indy 500 a few weeks earlier. Cliff went on later to set a speed record on the beaches of Daytona sometime in 1930.

Not only did I think this would be easy; heck, I also thought I would be bored stiff doing this research. Wrong on both counts -- this era is fascinating, both in racing and in the larger social content. I admit I am hooked. (This coming from someone whose knowledge of cars was previously relegated to how many cup holders my car had and how far away from each other I could sit my kids on the morning commute.) I've purchased many of the books the forums have mentioned, visited innumerable web sites and researched the NYT, Chicago Trib, and Washington Post archives-- all of which have led to valuable finds. I've also researched the archives of smaller papers and found the first reference to Cliff's racing in 1916 in Kansas.

What I am intending to do is gather the family racing memories (of which there are many, including those of my husband who spent a lot of time with his grandfather), copies of the original photos and memorabilia like early racing programs and articles, pictures of trophies that are still in the family (7 by last count), and the results of my research, into one document for distribution to family members.

Why am I telling you all this? For one, to thank you. Many of the posts have given me information I would not have found otherwise, and have led me to other avenues of information. Second, a lot of my questions about the era, the cars the drivers, etc., get answered even before I have posted them. Third, the enthusiasm of the people here makes me feel like I am not totally weird for finding this obscure subject fascinating. And, four, I'll probably be asking questions or looking for help in the future, so wanted to give you a little background on what I was doing. Finally, as this process gets further along, I would like to share any information or any of the original photos or memorabilia with others. Our family is far-flung, and each of Cliff's children got a part of his extensive racing collection. Some of it may be primary source material -- who knows?

Also, please know that I realize that this is a discussion forum, and that all of you know more than I do. I am continually amazed at the breadth and width of the knowledge of the racing enthusiasts here. (I just know enough to know that I don't know much.) I won't get offended by anything that comes up, the Boyle-mob-Woodbury connection for instance. I'm a big girl, and can take it! History is full of fascinating stories which don't all fit into the mom-and-apple-pie category! Thanks, Barb

#36 fines

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 08:37

Wow!

Welcome, Barb, glad you have found the forum, and the time to post here!

As you say, this period is fabulously fascinating, and yet so difficult to research, especially Cliff's early years as an "outlaw". That's why it is so exciting to see someone come up with primary source material, as you apparently have at your fingertips, so to speak. Let's make a deal: I will help you with information that I have, and you include me in your "distribution to family members"! :cat: Deal? :D

Coincidentally, just a couple days ago I looked into various sources for the Keech/Woodbury wreck, and found some very interesting facts, though not much of it is related to Cliff. The key is often to look for reports that don't appear the next day in the papers, but two or three days later, they are often more complete and telling! Trouble is, newspapers are usually not interested in this sort of "old news", and so these articles do not get published at all, which often leads to endless repetitions of factual errors, because they were in any number of papers on the day after. :(

#37 B Squared

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 10:38

Barb - Welcome, I don't have anything to contribute at the moment, other than my admiration for the noble task that you are undertaking on behalf of your family and history. It never ceases to amaze me, how over the years, when visiting the IMS museum and photo shop, how many people have similar tales. It's great that families want to keep these memories alive.

Brian

#38 stevewf1

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 10:40

The "Golden Age" can be somewhat subjective. At least for me, "A Golden Age" was the Indy 500 in the 60s... Lots of changes and interesting stuff happened there during that decade. Innovations, successes and failures, the likes of which we'll never experience again in this now "modern age" of what amounts to "spec" racing.

#39 Searching Cliff

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 11:02

Deal! Glad to do it! :wave:

And thank you for your welcome. Your posts have been some of the most interesting -- and fact packed – that I have found anywhere. :clap:

I have looked into the Keech/Woodbury crash also, because it ends Cliff's career, and sadly, Keech's life. There seem to be different versions of what happened in the crash, and I have been trying to make some sense of them. On another racing bulletin board, there's a broken link to a video of the crash, but I haven't pursued it given the state of electronic equipment which existed then. From a personal perspective, here are some of the family's memories with regard to that race. Cliff told his daughter Jean (my mother in law) that he remembers trying to avoid Keech and the torn rail, then flipping over many times, and going unconscious. (News reports in the papers say he remained conscious through out the ordeal.) The next thing he remembers is waking up alone in the ambulance, still at the track, and realizing that the medics think his injuries are so severe they don't think he will live and are attending to the others that are hurt. Back in Chicago, a radio personality interrupted the broadcast to bring news that the "Illinois dirt track champion" Cliff Woodbury had been killed in a 5-car pile-up at Altoona. Cliff's wife Sadie went into premature labor with their fourth child. All recovered, but Cliff, who spent about a month in the hospital, was persuaded by Sadie that enough is enough, and announced his retirement from racing, but with the caveat that he would be working in the promotions end. For years afterward, Cliff would still be pulling out large splinters from his back which had worked themselves deep into his skin, the result of sliding down the steep angle of the board track.

Which leads me to my first question: just how accurate are these newspaper articles? Here's an example that I encountered a few days ago. A 1918 article about a local race holds this tidbit describing Cliff, "Duesenberg pilot who manages the Duesenberg racing team." Now I know that Cliff has been running his Duesenberg #16 at the outlaw IMCA races since at least 1916, and I know a Duesey placed 10th in 1914 at Indy, 8th in 1915 and second in 1916. Seems that not until 1921 with the Jimmy Murphy triumph did Duesenbergs begin their reign over American racing. Not many races held during the war years, and for reasons unknown, Cliff isn't sent overseas in spite of being in good health and born in the US. So, during those years was Cliff head of the Duesey racing team, and if yes, why can't I find mention of it anywhere but in that short article? By 1920, Cliff's in a Frontenac. I know it’s a small piece of Cliff’s racing career, but I want the pieces to fit. Very frustrating. Perhaps some of the info from the family will answer questions like these. :confused:

Thanks again!

Barb :wave:

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#40 Buildy

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 12:21

Hello Barb,

Very glad to hear from a family member of a Board track era driver! Cliff Woodbury was in the thick of the action for many years,as you know.
The only other family member of a Board track era driver I have had the honor of conversing with is Gary Doyle,a descendant of Jimmy Murphy.
I`m not sure if you have ever contacted Gary. He may be able to offer suggestions of your search!

Here is Gary`s website on his books articles,etc. His writing is a must for a student of the era.

http://www.king-of-t...s.com/index.htm



I have a couple of photo items of Cliff if you are interested in me sending digital copies of them to you I can be reached at: tonydeseta@comcast.net

I would love to learn more about Cliff`s racing career,and would also like to read the account you come up with and see the photos,etc if there is any chance of that.


Best Regards,

Tony De Seta

#41 MPea3

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 12:22

Barb, let me add my welcome to the others. You'll continue to be amazed at what you learn form this board, I know I still am. :)

#42 fines

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 12:26

Aw shucks... :blush: But thanks for the offer! :up: :)

To your question: sadly, newspaper articles are anything but accurate! (with a capital "!") Often, it takes a lot of experience and prior knowledge to take information from old newspaper articles, because they often get shortened at inappropriate places*, typos creep in, and sometimes they are plain, flat wrong - but hey, that's life!

As for Cliff being Duesenberg team captain in 1918, I'm afraid this will probably fall into the latter category. I'd need to see the article in full to be sure, but at the time Cliff was mostly (if not exclusively) competing at IMCA events, and the IMCA is a chapter of its own when it comes to hyperinflated claims! The thing is, those races were almost all very local affairs, and the promoters had no qualms about taking advantage of the fact that people didn't have much information back in the day, certainly not in the Corn Belt. No internet, no TV, hardly anyone had a radio (or the time to listen to it), so that was a feast for ruthless promoters.

The newspaper was often the ONLY source for information, and they in turn depended heavily on input from the outside. Everyone who read the newspapers regularly would know what a Duesenberg is in 1918, thanks mostly to the Indy 500, but all this info came from press agencies. Promoters would address the papers directly, and feed them whatever they wanted. Between faulty press agency reports, often incompetently edited, and inflated promoter input there's a lot of accounting for bad info in the newspapers!

That said, I am pretty sure that the Duesenberg factory didn't do any racing at all in 1918, they were probably all wrapped up in the war effort in New Jersey at the time. Without looking at my sources, I'd say that Tommy Milton would have been regarded as the team captain during that time if and when they would have been racing, and there were several drivers following in the hierarchy, but not Cliff Woodbury. I have never seen him mentioned (or even just in a position to be possibly regarded) as a factory driver for Duesenberg.


* just recently again, I stumbled over a number of "news flash" items in 1929 papers that acclaimed Bill Cummings of having won the "dirt track championship of the United States", when in fact the full message read that he had won a dirt track race for the championship of the United States Auto Racing Association, a minor second- or even third-tier racing organisation in the Midwest! Hardly anyone outside of central Indiana knew the man at the time... :rolleyes:

#43 fines

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 13:02

Originally posted by Buildy
The only other family member of a Board track era driver I have had the honor of conversing with is Gary Doyle,a descendant of Jimmy Murphy.

Tony, Jimmy Murphy was an orphan and didn't have any kids. Gary is a descendant of the family which took him in. Everything else you said about him and his books is correct, I fully endorse it! :up:

#44 Buildy

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 14:31

You are right. I blame my oversight on posting before fully awake-LOL


Barb,
Another person to contact if you haven`t already done so is Joe Freeman.
Gary Doyle would know how to get in touch with Joe.

#45 Searching Cliff

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 18:45

Thank you all for your welcoming emails, and for your scholarship and contacts. I have looked at Gary Doyle's website, but have not contacted him, but surely will! I've considered buying his books on Murphy and DePalma, and will probably do that shortly. (Either those or The Miller Dynasty. I'm pacing myself.)

As for sharing information and photos and such, no problem. But please know that my intent is to build a history meant for family viewing, not a scholarly article meant for publication. What will probably be most valuable to those of you on this forum will be those primary source materials. Family memories are very important in the type of media I'm pursuing, but as the human memory is quite faulty, aren't always the best vehicle for absolute truth. However, I do intend to be as factually accurate as possible. After his racing years Cliff opened the Woodbury Brothers Garage in Chicago which was quite successful. He employed his son-in-law North (who has passed away) and North's children know quite a lot about Cliff, so should be a valuable asset. Cliff wasn't a big talker, but if he talked about anything, it was his racing career and his cars. He lived quite long and stayed with it and interested in racing. In fact, my husband remembers seeing a souped up Shelby Cobra in Cliff's garage when he was younger. Cliff was in his seventies then.

The info about newspapers -- that's what I thought too, but one can never be sure. With so little information available, though, I feel compelled to track down every lead, even if the information seems inflated. By occupation, I am in the research/analysis field, so I understand the need to poke around dark alleys, and it looks like there are quite a few in these years.

As for these being the Golden Years in racing, I don't know enough about the other eras to comment. But think about life in these years. The percentage of Americans who owned cars in 1920 was maybe 20 percent. No tv, limited radio, not all Americans had electricity during this era. The relatively quick evolution from the invention of the gas combustible engine in the late 1800's to the mass production of the Model T in 1908 revolutionized life. In no era before or since has transportation technology expanded so rapidly. Racing as a spectator sport must have been intense, to be there with the noise of roaring engines, the smell of oil and grease, dust in the air ... and the thrill provided by the ever present danger of seeing these mechanical marvels careen out of control. No wonder drivers became celebrities. They were riding bareback on screeching rockets with limited control over uneven and often dangerous track with no safety gear. I can see how it appealed to both spectator and driver alike with an almost primitive delight. I'd almost want to call these The Comet Years.

But on to the next question. Board tracks. I've read the history. But I still don't understand the financial feasibility of the tracks. Maybe I've got my facts wrong, but I have read that the cost for some of the tracks was reportedly $500K. Their life expectancy was a few years, and races were held only a few times a year. How much could be charged for admission, programs, etc? Seating around 25,000? This doesn't add up. Were they like the early version of municipalities selling its taxpayers on a big-ticket sports stadium with the assumption that the facility would generate economic impact? If privately owned, how did they make a profit? Have I missed some important details here that would help explain this? Or were the promoters and ultimately the designers/builders just great travelling salespeople?

About Keech/Woodbury wreck, I have three pictures of the wrecked Miller that Cliff drove. Two you’ve already probably seen bc they’re in the public domain, but the other you may not have. Bob Lawrence shared it with me the other day via email. It’s from the collection of Don Radbruch. Again, it’s unbelievable that Cliff survived that crash.

#46 Buildy

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 04:35

"Or were the promoters and ultimately the designers/builders just great travelling salespeople?"

Yes,in my opinion.

Also, your post about the era of racing and your description of racing in that era, and the rapid development of transportation is wonderful.

Best,

Tony D.

#47 fines

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 09:47

You're asking good questions, it shows you've done your homework well! :D

As for the economics of the board tracks, there is a very good book available, and if you're ready to shell out some money on books (as you seem to be) you should consider buying "Board Track - Guts, Gold & Glory" by Dick Wallen (ed.)! It deals with every single one of the roughly two dozen board tracks in a chapter of its own, and adds lots of general details about the era, like cars, drivers and teams. It also provides a lot of insight and background to the financial aspects behind the building of the tracks.

In short: all those tracks were private enterprises, so no "penny dumps" for tax payers, although some of the businessmen that were financing those tracks may have gone for subsidies because of the general cash flow they were generating for the area, but that's just my hypothesis. In any case, you are right in presuming that not everything was "on the up and up" with the designers and builders, who were generally trying to make a "pretty dollar" as long as the cakes were hot, so to speak. Many of those tracks soon turned into white elephants, although a few turned out to be quite profitable. Some packed up to a hundred thousand people for a race, and don't forget the concession stands - there definitely WAS a lot of money to be made in the twenties!

The biggest problem was the upkeep of the tracks, and short-sighted investors who tried to maximise their profits in the short term - they would usually grab and hide, instead of investing some of the money back into the facilities. Most were probably blinded by the glamour of the boards, as these races were really big-time events of hitherto unknown dimensions, they clearly rivalled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! It was sort of a "world league" of motor racing, and had a very clear and seperate image from the dirt track racing scene, almost literally the grass roots of the sport - this here was Speedway Racing!

For a time, Speedway Racing was also pretty much self-sufficient in as much as drivers were concerned, and it was very difficult for dirt track drivers to break into the ranks. Most of the stars of the twenties had learned their craft as riding mechanics, getting to "warm up" the cars every now and then before they were eventually let loose. Drivers like Jimmy Murphy, Harry Hartz or Pete de Paolo had no dirt track experience to speak of, although most would eventually race on the dirt to "milk" their Speedway success. This all changed with the introduction of the single-seaters in 1923, but it took some time for the changes to take effect. And still, many future drivers went the mechanic's route, like Bob McDonogh, Tony Gulotta or Louie Meyer, to name just the more successful of the lot.

Cliff Woodbury was one of the "old school" dirt track drivers that made the grade. After a decade of tearing around the dirt tracks of the Midwest, he surely must have felt ready, but what it was that made him finally take the leap is difficult to ascertain eighty years later. Surely, he needed money for the capital investment of buying a Speedway car, and here's where Mike Boyle enters the story, although I don't know how this contact came to be - it is one of those interesting "behind the scenes" movements that define so much in racing, but get rarely enough coverage.

At the time, Woodbury was one of the, if not THE best dirt track driver east of the Mississippi. He may have approached Boyle, but more likely "Umbrella Mike" picked him to spearhead his move into autoracing for, beginning with 1926, a whole cluster of "Boyle Valve Special" racing cars began to appear all around the Midwest and, thanks to Cliff, in Speedway Racing as well. Now, what on earth was a "Boyle Valve"? Depending on source, it was an automotive valve with either a special form or a special material it was made of, however, according to authorative sources such as Mark Dees it was never used in racing, and it is quite doubtful if it had any commercial appeal whatsoever. Most likely, it was just a cover-up business for mob activities connected with cash - money laundering in today's parlance!

#48 B Squared

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 12:09

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"After his racing years Cliff opened the Woodbury Brothers Garage in Chicago"

#49 fines

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 13:18

So, he must've done even earlier: "Est'd 1922"! :)

Back to Cliff in 1926, the first car he purchased with Boyle's money was an exceedingly interesting one - here's a pic of it in its last race before it became a "Boyle Valve Special": http://fpc.dos.state...nts/pr09083.jpg Yes, that's Barney Oldfield on the left, and Ralph Hepburn in the cockpit. This dark orange beauty was owned by veteran driver Earl Cooper at the time, who bought it after it had made its race debut in the 1923 Indianapolis 500. It's unique insofar as it had led "the 500" on all three occasions it had made the field, and I don't believe that anything like that had happened before, and it hasn't happened very often since, either!

For the record, in 1923 Howdy Wilcox qualified it in a rain shower (!), only just fast enough to make the field, and slowest of the 24 cars at the start. In the race, he quickly joined the tremendous scrap for the lead between Jimmy Murphy and Tommy Milton in identical cars, and led for a total of ten laps (on five different occasions!) before retiring with a defective clutch at 150 miles, still lying second. Five weeks later, Cooper finished second with it at Kansas City (MO), but else the car collected only retirements in its first season.

The following year, Earl did much better with it, finishing a close second to the supercharged Duesenberg at Indy (and leading almost five times as many laps as it in the process!), and also to Murphy in the National Championship, after winning a 150-mile race at Fresno (CA) and another second place finish at Charlotte (NC). For 1925, Cooper got to drive a newer car, and gave this one to former motorcycle champ Ralph Hepburn, who managed to lead "the 500" for fifteen laps (as a rookie starter!), and was still fourth when he retired less than 150 miles from "home". Later that year, "Hep" finished second at Salem (NH), and third in a 100-mile dirt track race at the New York State Fair.

In March of 1926, Woodbury travelled to California to purchase the car, and run it in the 250-mile race at the Los Angeles Speedway. Whilst being there, he also bought a new crankshaft and a set of new pistons and connecting rods, for it would be necessary to rebuild the engine in time for the 500-mile race at Indianapolis on Memorial Day, when the new 1500 cc formula would come into effect. The three-year-old car, though updated with a supercharger and the latest bodywork, was still a 2000 cc Miller "Type 122" which would be ineligible for the big race without the conversion job.

Cliff practised extensively with his "new" car, and a week before the Los Angeles race was reported to have lapped in 34.4", at more than 130 miles per hour. That was still three seconds off the pace, set by Bob McDonogh in another Miller (143 mph!), but Cliff was apparently careful to "feel" his way around the big speed bowl, and trying to build a lasting reputation rather than to make a quick impression. At the end of the day, he finished ninth and back in the pack, but scored his first ten points for the National Championship besides taking home $800, something to build upon. Of the next three races, one was cancelled and the other two he retired from, so he wasn't exactly a household name when he arrived in the Hoosier capital...

#50 Searching Cliff

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 19:26

That is all incredibly interesting! And, see it shows that family memories can be faulty, bc I was told that Cliff opened the garage after his AAA days. I was also told that Cliff got into the car business after arriving from Wisconsin and becoming a chauffeur sometime after 1910. I am now wondering which came first: the racing interest or the mechanical interest.

I personally don't have any information about how Cliff met Boyle. The book Umbrella Mike essentially begins after Cliff has the wreck in Altoona, so it doesn't provide any details. What does make more sense now given that 1922 date: there's some family info that some of Al Capone's cars came into the shop to be made to go faster. Whether that is a connection to Boyle, I can't say. I'm sure that if a car came in from the mob that Cliff certainly knew that it was mob connected. I don't know whether Cliff happily participated in this, but no one in that era would also refuse a mob request either if they valued their life or livelihood.

I wonder if Cliff was a better driver on dirt or boards? It must have been difficult to make the transition from dirt to boards. Not much leeway in there for a learning curve at 110 mph.

As for board tracks, statistically speaking, what was more dangerous for the drivers? Just looking at Cliff's AAA years, almost all on board tracks, there are a number of fatalities among a relatively small group of drivers. Do you think this is more bc of the surface of the boards, or bc of the supercharging that became ubiquitous for the cars?