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The 1928 AAA National Championship

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#51 john glenn printz

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 18:14

AAA CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS 1928 (cont.-22) The inaugural Charlotte 250 was run without incident and at the finish, Earl Cooper was declared the victor. But immediately there some some debate and doubt about this result, and a recheck made Milton the overall winner with Cooper now dropped to 2nd place. This was a good win for Milton, who hadn't won a Championship race since his triumph at Indianapolis in 1923. Milton's overall time was given as 2:06:56.02 (118.7 mph), which was a new record for 250 miles, and erased Harlan Fengler's mark of 2:09:14.8 (116.6 mph) made at Beverly Hills on February 24, 1924. Fengler had in turn eclisped Jimmy Murphy time of 2:09:43.61 (115.65 mph) set at Beverly Hills on February 25, 1923. Murphy in this instance was using a Miller 183, whereas Fengler and Milton had Miller 122's.

Earl Cooper had gained 260 Championship points at Charlotte and his total was now up to 1240. So the 1924 AAA Driving Title would be decided at the very last Championship race of the year, just as it had been in 1920 and 1923. Comer was now eliminated for contention and Cooper had to win at Culver City, if he was to overtake Murphy's point total of 1595.

The erection of the new Culver City 1 1/4 mile board track was officially announced by A. M. Young on October 6, 1924. The new oval was to be constructed on the same land that then housed a 1 mile horse track, which had also been used for automobile racing. The new Culver City speedway to be built by Jack Prince, with its 45 degree banked turns, was designed to be even faster than the recently opened Charlotte speed oval. Art Pillsbury, the engineer, estimated it would take forty to forty-five days to put the whole structure up. The new track was to both replace and supplant the former Beverly Hills speedway.

The first race scheduled for Culver City was a 250 mile AAA Championship event, to be staged on Thanksgiving Day, i.e. November 27, 1924. However work was still being done on the incompleted Culver City oval on November 24, 1924, as much construction time had been lost due to a week of heavy rain. On late November 23, A. M. Young decided to postpone the race and stage it instead on December 7. This was due to the request of the drivers that just two days of practice time before the event was insufficient time to get ready for the actual race. Tommy Milton said he was ready to go but commented, "Many of the drivers are unfamiliar with the course, which I believe will be the fastest in the world and as a safety measure it would be advisable to postpone the race." The cars and pilots first got to run on the track on November 29, whereby Milton promptly set a new lap record for 1 1/4 ovals of 129.31 mph (34.8 seconds), which upped Bennett Hill's mark of 128 mph recorded at Charlotte in October.

With a whole week to make test-practice runs the drivers now vied with each other in posting ever faster lap speeds. Hartz hit 130.8 mph (34.4 seconds) on December 2, while Fred Comer equaled it on December 3. The Italian ace Pietro Bordino, with his imported red Tipo 805 Fiat, posted a 131.6 (34.2) on December 4, and Hartz got up to 132.3 (34.0) on December 5. Heavy rain cancelled the December 7 race date and now the Culver City 250 was moved up to December 14. But before the event was actually staged, Hartz ran a circuit at 135.5 mph (33.1) on December 13. Such speeds were unprecedented in U. S. Championship racing.

Dr. "Doc" William E. Shattuc (1894-1962) of Kentucky was full fledged medicial doctor who had been a staff physician at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 1923 and 1924 races. Here the wealthy Shattuc met the reigning AAA pilots and everyone soon engaged in friendly banter and chatter, during the physical examinations and elsewhere. The AAA pilots were always saying to the "Doc" how tough it was to drive the cars, but Shattuc just made fun of it all and laughted at them. Finally someone challenged Shattuc, and told him that if he thought it was all so easy to race, why didn't he go out and buy a car and try it. Actually Shattuc had already gotten the racing bug himself at Indianapolis in 1924. The upshot of it all was that Shattuc did just that in late 1924 and went directly to Harry Miller and purchased a car. Then he entered it in the inaugural Culver City 250 and named himself as its pilot!

It is not clear if Shattuc had had any prior racing experience at all, at this time. In any case Shattuc would have to win the approval of the other AAA drivers, after watching him in practice, if he was actually going to be a starter at the new Culver City track. And if the "Doc" proved to be unfit to drive, he could then nominate instead, an experienced chauffeur to driver his Miller. Shattuc had graduated from the University of Indiana and the Louisville Medical School and then practiced medicine in both Louisville, KY, and Indianapolis, IN. The Doc had come into a large inheritance after the death of his father. There were two catches however. William would have to graduate from a medical school in order to obtain the money, and after that he would still have to wait two full years before he could actually get the money. As soon as Shattuc did acquire the money he purchased a Miller race car from Miller himself in November 1924 for $10,000. At the time Shattuc was married and had two children.

When Jimmy Murphy was killed on September 15, 1924 he was having a new, low slung, rakish looking, front drive racer constructed at Harry Miller's shop which he planned to run in the upcoming Culver City 250. The vehicle was probably the most advanced racing car technologically ever built in the U. S. It even featured inboard brakes. On September 19, in some western U.S. newspapers there appears an odd-duck notice, to the effect that the said car was going to be purchased and presented to Floyd Roberts (1904-1939), a young racer and a would-be pupil of Murphy! What Floyd's connection to Murphy was, I have no idea. Roberts had started racing in late 1923 and had been making a name for himself during 1924, at the local Ascot and Culver City dirt tracks. His car was called the "Grey Essex" and was sponsored by the J. L. Price Hudson and Essex agency of Van Nuys, CA. Floyd would not make it into the AAA Championship division until December 1934, when he relieved Ralph Hepburn in the Mines Field 200 for circuits 68-125.

However it was Cliff Durant who eventually got the car by paying Harry A. Miller a reputed $20,000 for it. Cliff then entered it in the Culver City 250 as the Flint Special. The Flint car was manufactured from 1923 and 1927 by the Flint Automobile Company, and was the middle price line of William C. Durant's 1920s automobile empire or consortium. For Cliff Durant the new Miller front drive was just his lastest toy and he had jolly good time with it, in the Culver City practice sessions, but it threw a rod in practice which destoyed the motor and neither the car or Durant was among the 16 Culver City starters.

Edited by john glenn printz, 25 January 2012 - 14:55.


#52 john glenn printz

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Posted 12 October 2011 - 15:46

AAA CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS 1928 (cont.-23) Finally on December 14, 1924 the inaugural Culver City 250 was run, with a full house of perhaps as many as 65,000 persons. It is worth a mention that almost all the Millers were now equipped with superchargers. Doc Shattuc, who had no problems in the practice sessions, was allowed to start.

At the last AAA Championship race for 1920, Tommy Milton was reckoned as having the best chance to win the 1920 AAA Title, even though Gaston Chevrolet then held the point lead. But alas, Milton became the first driver to retire from the event and thus didn't overtake Gaston's point total. Now here at Culver City, Earl Cooper had to win outright, to take the 1924 AAA Driving crown from the deceased point leader Jimmy Murphy. Cooper was forced into the pits on his 13th lap to change spark plugs and soon was out after 20 laps, with either a broken piston or valve. Poor Earl was the first man out, among the 16 starters. In just six seasons in which it was staged (i.e. 1916 & 1920-1924), the AAA National Championship Driving Title now had two postumous Champions, i.e. Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 and now Jimmy Murphy for 1924. Murphy won his second AAA Title three months after his death, while Gaston won his National Championship less than one hour after his demise.

Still Cooper had had a good year in 1924 with 2nd places both at Indianapolis and in final AAA point standings. In AAA Championship history these two important "2nds" in the same season by a driver was often achieved. Roscoe Sarles did it in 1921, Shorty Cantlon in 1930, Fred Frame-1931, Mauri Rose-1934, Wilbur Shaw-1938, Jimmy Snyder-1939, and Bill Holland-1947. Jimmy Murphy's Championship results in his five AAA seasons were 3rd-1920, 4th-1921, 1st-1922, 2nd-1923, and again 1st-1924.

The Culver City 250 was run without any serious incident and all the AAA records between 10 and 250 miles were broken. The race had just three leaders, DePalma, Hill, and Milton. At 125 miles (100 laps) Milton was in front with a 127.8 mph average. But Bennett Hill, in a non-stop drive, came home first and finished all 200 laps in 1:58:18.6 or 126.9 mph. Hill was followed over the line by 2. Hartz, 3. Milton, 4. Comer. and 5. Shattuc. The old mark of 2:06:56.02 (118.7 mph), established by Milton on October 25, was shattered and even rookie Doc Shattuc had beaten it by posting a 124.2 mph average for the 250 miles. Shattuc's clocking was 2:00:45.2. Nine cars were running at the finish, of which the first six were Millers. Such was the end of the 1924 AAA season. The final AAA point standings for year (top six) were: 1. Jimmy Murphy 1595; 2. Earl Cooper 1240; 3. Bennett Hill 1214; 4. Tommy Milton 1101; 5. Fred Comer 725; and 6. Harry Hartz 666. Shattuc had impressed all and he became one of the regular AAA Championship Trail pilots during the 1925. 1926, 1927 seasons.

JOHN BENNETT HILL (1893-1977). Hill's 1924 triumph at Culver City was his third AAA Championship win, as he had previously won also at the Fresno 150 on September 30, 1921, and the Beverly Hills 250 held on November 29, 1923. Hill originally hailed from New York and began his racing in 1916 at the Allentown, PA 1/2 mile dirt horse track. During 1916 he worked for the Peugeot company and was an entrant, in a Peugeot car, for the Pikes Peak's hill climb of August 12, 1916. Benny served time in the U.S. army during World War I. In 1919 Hill began his major league career in the important AAA contests using an "Aetna Special". Frankly I don't know what that was.

Hill was a short and small man who earned the nickname of "Little Nemo", which was certainly intended as a complement. Little Nemo itself was a William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) Sunday newspaper comic stript drawn by Winsor McKay (1869-1934), which was very artistic and surreal. It ran from 1911 to 1927, off and on. Hill must have moved to California, shortly after the Great War, as he was later considered to be a native Californian. Beginning in May 1920, Bennett had experience piloting all the leading makes, i.e. Duesenbergs, Frontenacs, and Millers. Hill's AAA Championship point standings were 1920-not listed; 1921-19th; 1922-5th; 1923-3rd, and 1924-3rd.

FRED COMER (1893-1928). Mr. Comer took 5th position in the final 1924 AAA point standings and it was, in fact, his first full season as an AAA pilot. In appearance Comer looked ascetic, scholarly, intellectual, and perhaps, as a no nonsense school teacher. He even wore glasses! Fred certainly didn't look like a racing driver but he had the speed bug all the same. Sometime during 1915 Cliff Durant hired Comer as the mechanic for his racing machines. Comer had previously worked as an auto mechanic for Walter M. Brown, the owner of a Stutz agency in Los Angeles.

Comer also generally acted as the riding mechanic, during pre-May 1923 two man car years, when Durant was engaging in actual competition. For example in 1916 Comer rode with Durant in the American Grand Prize (November 18) and in 1919 he sat beside Cliff at Indianapolis (May 31) and at Elgin (August 23). Comer remained the head chief of the Durant racing car preparation work until late 1923, when Cliff nominated Comer as a pilot in the Altoona 200 of September 4, 1923. Here Comer, in his first start, placed 5th with his Durant No. 5 (Miller). Thereafter Comer was an active AAA Championship division driver until his demise at the Rockingham-Salem, NH boards on October 12, 1928.

Edited by john glenn printz, 16 November 2011 - 13:52.

#53 john glenn printz

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Posted 21 December 2011 - 19:32

AAA CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS 1928 (cont.-24) EARL COOPER IN 1925 AND 1926. The 1925 AAA National Championship season was one of the biggest years for the AAA Contest Board ever, as 11 Championship "point" races were staged and only one, the Fresno 150 of April 30, had a distance below 250 miles. Two new board speedways also were put up in 1925, i.e. (1.) the 1 1/8 mile Laurel or the Baltimore Washington Motor Speedway and the (2.) the 1 1/4 mile Salem or the Rockingham Motor Speedway. Even at the start of the 1925 Championship trail supercharged 122's, represented by Duesenberg, Fiat, and Miller, were the already the norm. Technically there wasn't much real innovation in 1925 but rather a gradual but intense refinement of the 1924 ideas, designs and experiments. The one big exception here of course, was the introduction of the front wheel drive vehicle by Harry Miller, which made its first actual Championship start at Indianapolis in May. There were very few new or rookie pilots who entered the Championship ranks in 1925, only eight in all. The two most important names here were Dave Evans (1898-1974) and Jimmy Gleason (1898-1931).

Earl Cooper entered the 1925 fray or lists, and ran in all 11 Championship races on the AAA schedule. There were three Championship point events in 1925 before the running of the all important Indianapolis 500 in May. And in addition there was staged five non-Championship short sprint events at Culver City on April 19. The first event of the year was a 250 miler at Culver City, to be held on a national holiday, i.e. Washington's birthday, on February 22.

In it on lap 5, Frank Elliott (Miller No. 27), in an attempt to overtake Wade Morton (Duesenberg No. 23), hit the outside rail and went into a skid and then the car went into many rapid wild gyrations. Stuart Wilkinson (Miller No. 17), while tying to avoid Elliott, hit the inside rail, which swung his car to the right, just before it shot up the incline and crashed into the outside railing, tearing out 15 feet of it. There the car remained suspended at a 90 degree angle, its rear wheels stuck fast in the rail, as its motor's oil and water ran down the track's wooden surface. William Shattac, on his 14th circuit, lost control of his No. 15 Miller at 130 mph on the slick surface, and his Miller skidded 60 feet backwards before coming to a halt against the inside railing. Elliott and Shattac were not hurt but Wilkinson had fractured his back in two places. Starter Fred J. Wagner halted the the race after 20 circuits so Wilkinson's Miller could be removed from the track. Milton (Miller No. 4) had the lead at the time. After it proved that Wilkinson's wrecked Miller could not be immediately or easily removed, the contest was cancelled and was rescheduled for a June 1 running.

The June 1 restart had 19 starters and 9 finishers. Cooper was among the finishers but placed only 7th. Milton was the victor with a time of 1:58:13 for a speed of 126.88 mph. This bettered Bennett Hill's record, set on December 14, 1924, by the very small margin of 5.6 seconds. Hill's 1924 mark had been 1:58:18.6 or 126.785 mph!

At the Culver City non-Championship sprint program (April 19) which consisted of four 25 mile contests and a final 50 mile event, Cooper fared none too well. In the first heat Earl took 3rd and in the 50 mile sprint Cooper gave the crowd a big thrill. While battling Hartz for the lead on lap 39, Cooper lost control of his Miller and slid backwards for 100 feet. The race winner was Hartz (Miller) with a time of 22 minutes and 11 seconds for a nice average of 135.2 mph, a new AAA record, for 50 miles. At the Fresno 150 of April 30 there were 10 starters and 8 finishers. Cooper placed 5th overall. Here DePaolo (Duesenberg) scored his first Championship win with a 104.87 mph average.

After Fresno, the teams moved across the country for the Charlotte 250 held on May 11. There were 15 cars in the contest. During the last 50 miles Cooper (Miller) became the fastest car on the track and passed the leader Milton to eventually win by a full lap over DePaolo (Duesenberg) in 2nd and Milton (Miller) in 3rd. Earl's clocking of 2:02:55 (121.6 mph) was a new record for the Charlotte bowl. Cooper collected $10,000 for the win. Reginald Johnson was the first man out when on lap 71 he hit the inside railing. His Miller somersaulted twice and Johnson emerged from the car, with a broken collar bone.

The AAA circuit next moved northwest to the Indiana state capital, Indianapolis, for the 13th running of the 500.

Edited by john glenn printz, 25 January 2012 - 17:42.

#54 john glenn printz

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 19:56

AAA CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY 1928 (cont.-25) There were 34 entries for the 1925 Memorial Day classic. Here Cooper switched cars and drove for Cliff Durant. Cooper was assigned a brand new Miller rear drive 122. Cooper's older Miller was given to the Indy rookie Ralph Hepburn (1896-1948), then a famous motorcycle racing ace. Durant himself entered the event on March 21 but never appeared. Instead Cliff's new front drive Miller was given to the veteran Dave Lewis, who by early May, was in charge of this car and its upkeep. Both Cooper's and Lewis' Millers were dubbed "Junior 8 Specials". The name "Junior 8" was the name of a new 1925 model Locomobile passenger car. I would guess again that Cliff was using the Locomobile advertising fund to finance his racing ventures in 1925.

The Locomobile, manufactured in Bridgeport CT, had been a long term and venerable U.S. make. Their first models were steamers, marketed beginning in 1899. By 1905 all Locomobiles were powered by gasoline engines and the marque had become a luxury car. By the early 1920s the company was in deep financial trouble. In October 1922 its assests were $3,129,200 and its liabiltites were $5,908,161, with 900 creditors! The firm had been in receivership since February 1922 but on July 22, 1922 William C. Durant took over as President and reorganized the company. Soon, in July, a new Locomobile Company of America was incorporated in Albany, NY. Durant's takeover of Locomobile gave his new auto conglomerate a high price line and was put next to his cheap STAR and middle priced DURANT. In 1923 he introduced the FLINT to cover the price gap between the DURANT and LOCOMOBILE lines. The Locomobile passenger car ceased production in 1929.

During the "heroic age" of motor competition (i.e. 1901-1910) the Locomobile firm had entered into international automobile racing by having a 90 horsepower car compete in both the 1905 Gordon Bennett race (July 5) held in Auvergne, France, and the Vanderbilt Cup (October 14), staged on Long Island, NY. The car was driven in both instances by Joseph "Joe" Tracy (1872-1959). The 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup race was four laps around a circuit 85.35 miles in length, for a total of 341.4 miles. Here Tracy did not fare well among the 18 starters. After lap one he was running 17th and thereafter completed no more circuits, to place 16th overall. The only two entrants Tracy beat was his U.S. fellow compatriot, Albert "Bert" C. Dingley (1885-1966) in a 60 horsepower Pole-Toledo, who failed to complete even a single lap to place 18th and an Austrian named Hieronymous, who drove a 120 horsepower Mercedes. Tracy fared much better at the Vanderbilt Cup, placing 3rd, behind the winner Victor Hemery (Darracq) and the 2nd place George Heath (Panhard). After their poor showing in 1905 Gordon Bennett affair, the Locomobile company confined their further racing activities solely to the U.S.

For 1906 Tracy with the 90 hp Locomobile won the 297.1 mile American Elimination race held on September 22nd over eleven other competitors, for the upcoming Vanderbilt Cup. Joe averaged 54.4 mph and set the fastest lap at 60.4 mph. In the Vanderbilt Cup itself, run on October 14, Tracy retired on the 9th lap but had recorded the fastest circuit made by anyone at 67.6 mph. There was no Vanderbilt Cup race for 1907. This was due in part because the new "Long Island Motor Parkway", which was to be part of the new course, could not be completed in time. And if the old road course were to be used again, the state militia would have to be utilized, to protect the route itself and the onlooking spectators. But New York state's governor, Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), did not permit this. This was the same Hughes, by the way, who ran on the Republician side in the U.S. Presidential election of 1916, against the Democrat incumbent Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924).

The U.S. in 1907 saw a plethora of 24 hour marathon contests of which Locomobile had two victories. The first occurred at St.Paul, MN on June 28-29. Here pilots Ralph Mengini and Ralph Zach covered a total of 1037 miles, which was not a new record. Later, on September 20-21, Robert Drake and Fred Leiser set a new distance record at Milwaukee by covering 1146 miles, in a 40 horsepower Locomobile.

The 1908 U.S racing season witnessed no less than seven major road races, the last two two being the most important, i.e. the 258.06 mile Vanderbilt Cup run on October 24 and the 402.08 mile American Grand Prize staged on November 20. No Locomobiles appeared at the first three major U.S. road races for 1908, i.e. (1) the 342 mile Savannah Ga (March 3), (2) the 240 mile Briarcliff NY (April 24) or (3) the 254.4 mile Lowell, MA (September 7). On October 10, two separate U.S. races of significance were held. Philadelphia PA had a 195 mile Fairmount Park road race and at Long Island, W.K. Vanderbilt's new Motor Parkway was officially dedicated. Five contests were run with the 234.6 mile Motor Parkway Sweepstakes being the most important. All five races were for stock chassis only and the Motor Parkway Sweepstakes itself was for cars costing over $4000.

The Locomobile Company of America entered two 1906 model 90 horsepower racers, designed by A. L. Riker, in both the Fairmount Park event (October 10) and the Vanderbilt Cup (October 24). The two Locomobile pilots were James "Jim" Florida and George Robertson (1884-1955). Robertson won at Fairmount Park with a time of 4:02:30 or a 49.5 mph average. The 2nd place Acme of Cyrus Patschke (1889-1951) was more than 12 minutes behind Robertson. Florida retired on the very last lap, the 25th, while running in the 2nd position. There had been 16 starters. Later, in 1911 Patschke joined the Marmon team, and would relieve Ray Harroun briefly (laps 71-102) in the first Indianapolis 500.

There were 17 competitors in the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup and the two Locomobile entries did themselves proud. Robertson came home 1st and Florida placed 3rd. Herbert Lyttle's stock chassis Italian Isotta was between the two. Robertson averaged 64.3 mph for the 258.06 mile distance. The best placements for American built vehicles in the precious three runnings of the Vanderbilt Cup were 3rds in 1904 (Herbert Lyttle-Pope Toledo) and 1905 (Joe Tracy-Locomobile), and an 8th in 1906 (Hubert LeBlon-Thomas). The 25 mile course used in 1908 contained about eleven miles of the new Parkway.

The victory, the first by an American built vehicle in a major "international" race, was hailed on all sides in the U.S. However the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup did not have the same importance, quality, or significance as the three earlier Vanderbilt Cups, run in 1904, 1905, and 1906. In 1908 there were no European factory backed teams entered as had been the case in the first three Vanderbilt races. There were indeed six foreign cars in the race, 3 Mercedes, and one each of Hotchkiss, Isotta, and Renault, but all were entered by private individuals, not the car manufacturers. Already back in mid-May 1908 the Automobile Club de France (ACF), via Rene De Knyff (1864-1954), had protested the rules and regulations of the upcoming Vanderbilt Cup race and stated that all the foreign (i.e. non-American) manufacturers would boycott the event, if the rules were not changed.

Edited by john glenn printz, 06 March 2012 - 13:37.