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Harley-Davidson powered cars at 1915 Vanderbilt Cup


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#1 cabianca

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 17:37

There were some major racing events run in conjunction with the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. This was a World's Fair to celebrate both the completion of the Panama Canal and the rebuilding of SF after the '06 quake.

The races were:
27 February 1915. American Grand Prize won by Dario Resta's Peugeot

6 March 1915 Vanderbilt Cup, also won by Resta's Peugeot

25 November 1915. A 103 miler won by Earl Cooper's Stutz

These were all road races. I have reason to believe there were other races for some specifically-created small cars powered by Harley-Davidson engines. I do not know if they ran on a road course or ovals. The fair site had both an atheletic field and a stadium to display livestock that would have been appropriate for oval racing.

Does anyone know anything about any racing in San Francisco in 1915 having to do with this World's Fair.

Many thanks,

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#2 HDonaldCapps

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 19:08

You are referring to the PPIE Baby Vanderbilt Cup Race which was apparently held using only the track portion of the course.

#3 Bonde

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 21:42

There's a short clip of motion picture footage of the 'Baby' race here: http://svt.se/svt/pl...eo.jsp?a=534633 5:57 into the clip.

#4 cabianca

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 22:18

Do you gentlemen think this was a one time event. If so, does anyone have a date so I can check the San Francisco newspapers.

#5 HDonaldCapps

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Posted 15 March 2007 - 18:25

I have been unable to find the specific date, but I have seen pictures of what appears to be one of the HD 'midgets' on the track which was obviously dirt, but the track in the photo for the start of the 'Baby' VC looks as if it is made of planked boards. Keep in mind that the track portion of the course was orignally dirt, but due to the massive rainfall it was covered over with a planked board surface just prior to the start of the Vanderbilt Cup in a rush job since the dirt portion of the track was basically a bog.

#6 HDonaldCapps

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 01:36

The November 1949 issue of Speed Age, pages 14 and 15, has an article entitled "Grandpa's Junior Vanderbilt Cup" which provides some background on similar cars elsewhere in Califormia.

#7 robert dick

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 08:01

“One of the most unique events staged at the Panama Pacific Exposition at San Francisco this year will be the world’s championship baby car races to be held Saturday and Sunday, May 8 and 9, 1915.” There were 40 starters.

http://webbie1.sfpl....os/aad-6521.jpg
http://webbie1.sfpl....os/aad-6517.jpg

There was a “junior track championship of Southern California”. The 1914 champion was Harry Hartz who won 14 of 15 events in his Indian racer.
“Junior races” were held at Ascot Park on March 21, 1915 (a 5-miler for “home-made single-cylinder cars, a 10-miler for “one-cylinders”, and a 50-mile free-for-all – Hartz won the 50-miler in 1 h 7 min 4 4/5 sec),
and the “second Junior Vanderbilt auto race” at Culver City on April 10, 1915 (winner = Hartz).

#8 tsrwright

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Posted 28 May 2012 - 07:38

The November 1949 issue of Speed Age, pages 14 and 15, has an article entitled "Grandpa's Junior Vanderbilt Cup" which provides some background on similar cars elsewhere in Califormia.


Does anyone - or Donald - have a copy of this article they could email or post here please?

#9 tsrwright

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Posted 28 May 2012 - 10:15

I am chasing more information on these little cars and their events if anyone has it; I am aware of the following, in summary:

Santa Monica races 1909-- 1919 Light car class in 1910 (or earlier) was 160 to 230 cu in. (Osmer and Harms). Mainly modified road cars. "Baby Buick Stripped for Nikrent", LA Times, 6.10.11, "Louis Nikrent will drive the midget in the baby automobile race at Santa Monica a week from tomorrow."

First Chaplin film released with him as 'the tramp' in "Kid Auto Races at Venice California". "Chaplin was dispatched to Venice Beach, the site of a local soapbox derby event ... Berglund pinpoints the birth of the tramp to Saturday 19 January, 1914" (Flom). In fact there are clearly motorized cars running as well as boys mucking around with 'pushcarts"

"Kid Autoists to have Organization' "...will be known as the Junior Racing Association of America with EH Pendleton as honorary president, Earl Cooper as honorary vice-president and active general manager....will have its headquarters in Culver City which was the scene of the recent junior Vanderbilt races". (LA Times 2 April 1914).

"... the first midget race was held in Venice, California in the year 1914 and a young fellow by the name of Al Franklin was the winner" (Jack Peters, Motor Sport September 1936, p438)

Numerous junior races were held during 1914 and 1915 in Southern California, at the San Francisco fair and in Tacoma. Cars were purpose built with chain drive from motorcycle engines mainly V twin. In 1916 stuntman Art Smith "became interested in the boys" and promoted a trip to Japan for them. Thereafter, probably with America's entry into WW1, it all seemed to stop.

Here are some stills from the Chaplin film which are a bit fuzzy - it is freely available to view on the Internet.

Any more clues to sources would be appreciated.

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By tsrwright at 2012-05-28

Edited by tsrwright, 28 May 2012 - 10:23.


#10 Michael Ferner

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Posted 28 May 2012 - 13:44

I am chasing more information on these little cars and their events if anyone has it; I am aware of the following, in summary:

Santa Monica races 1909-- 1919 Light car class in 1910 (or earlier) was 160 to 230 cu in. (Osmer and Harms). Mainly modified road cars. "Baby Buick Stripped for Nikrent", LA Times, 6.10.11, "Louis Nikrent will drive the midget in the baby automobile race at Santa Monica a week from tomorrow."


Scratch that; the 230ci class entries were full racing automobiles, mostly of the 4-cylinder variety - the Buick had a 166ci engine, other cars running were 177ci Model T Fords or 226ci EMF/Flanders. The next year, that class would be dominated by the Mason built by the Duesenberg brothers, which looked exactly like the later walking beam/drop-frame Duesenbergs, not like Midgets. The word "midget" can be applied to anything to mark its unusual small size; in this case it only refers to the engine capacity.

#11 tsrwright

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 00:34

Scratch that; the 230ci class entries were full racing automobiles, mostly of the 4-cylinder variety - the Buick had a 166ci engine, other cars running were 177ci Model T Fords or 226ci EMF/Flanders. The next year, that class would be dominated by the Mason built by the Duesenberg brothers, which looked exactly like the later walking beam/drop-frame Duesenbergs, not like Midgets. The word "midget" can be applied to anything to mark its unusual small size; in this case it only refers to the engine capacity.


I am sorry my reference gave the wrong impression as the article and photo makes it fairly clear it is not a "midget" as I/we think of it now. I thought it was interesting that the word was used but maybe not. There is no question that truely midget/baby/kid racers cars had emerged in Southern California by1914, perhaps inspired by the brief flirtation in the US, as in Europe, with 'cycle cars'. I am interested in the how and why of that as distinct from the later development of midget speedway although there may be some links.

#12 Michael Ferner

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 16:10

Apologies, if I misunderstood. Yes, the word "midget racer" or something similar was used frequently with cars we wouldn't call Midgets today. Heck, even the Indianapolis Millers were called "midgets" by some in 1926 when the new 91 CID formula went into effect!!

" I am interested in the how and why of that as distinct from the later development of midget speedway although there may be some links. "

The "why" is not so difficult, I would think - it was probably cost-related! Racing has always been expensive, and a thousand dollars was a lot of money in 1914, but it didn't take you very far in racing. Finding inexpensive ways to go racing has always been an inspiration for many.

You may be on the right track about the "Great War" stopping that development, although I do recall reading that the AAA was'nt very happy about Cycle Car racing in general, which must've contributed, too. Throughout the twenties, one finds isolated traces of Cycle Car/Midget racing, but nothing like the "explosion" in 1933, first in California and then practically everywhere else. Probably not a coincidence that 1933 was the worst year, economically, during the Great Depression.

Edited by Michael Ferner, 29 May 2012 - 16:13.


#13 tsrwright

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 01:50

I am sure you are right about "cost-related". Racing on the cheap has been a constant background idea in motor sport but in this case I wonder if there was more to it. Some famous names lent themselves to getting this junior racing going so maybe there was also a move to get new talent. In this case Harry Hartz emerged.

It was different to the small amount of cyclecar racing that took place in the east USA around this time. They were basically road cars but the Southern California cars were purpose-built racers. The AAA did blacklist the Michigan State Fair after a cyclecar meeting there on or about 4 July 1914.

Edited by tsrwright, 31 May 2012 - 01:52.


#14 carl s

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 02:01

Dec 25, 1913 NYT article:
AAA Welcoming Cycle Cars into the fold- Action in the East but waiting to hear from the West Coast
http://query.nytimes...4DA415B838DF1D3

#15 David McKinney

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 05:45

Still not what the thread originator is asking about....

#16 tsrwright

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 14:30

The November 1949 issue of Speed Age, pages 14 and 15, has an article entitled "Grandpa's Junior Vanderbilt Cup" which provides some background on similar cars elsewhere in Califormia.


Does anyone have a copy of this article they could email or post here?

Edited by tsrwright, 02 June 2012 - 14:38.


#17 tsrwright

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 14:36

“One of the most unique events staged at the Panama Pacific Exposition at San Francisco this year will be the world’s championship baby car races to be held Saturday and Sunday, May 8 and 9, 1915.” There were 40 starters.

http://webbie1.sfpl....os/aad-6521.jpg
http://webbie1.sfpl....os/aad-6517.jpg


Here is what the San Francisco library on-line entry has for photo 6521;

Notes On back: "28 - Frank Young's Ono, Hughie Hughes, 31st to start. 2 - Duesenberg, Tom Alley, 14th to start. 9 - Peugeot, D. Resta, 9th. 6 - Mercer, G. E. Ruckstell, 2. 19 - Duesenberg, Edward O'Donnell, 35. 10 - Mercer, Louis Nikrent, 9. 22 - Mercedes, Ralph De Palma, 28."

Leaving aside that all the names are probably wrong because this is clearly a line up of junior drivers, am I right that #22, the car at the far end of the line-up, which is the single car on the other photo 6517, is Harry Hartz. Can anyone confirm please?

Edited by tsrwright, 02 June 2012 - 14:44.


#18 carl s

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 23:34

Here is what the San Francisco library on-line entry has for photo 6521;

Notes On back: "28 - Frank Young's Ono, Hughie Hughes, 31st to start. 2 - Duesenberg, Tom Alley, 14th to start. 9 - Peugeot, D. Resta, 9th. 6 - Mercer, G. E. Ruckstell, 2. 19 - Duesenberg, Edward O'Donnell, 35. 10 - Mercer, Louis Nikrent, 9. 22 - Mercedes, Ralph De Palma, 28."

Leaving aside that all the names are probably wrong because this is clearly a line up of junior drivers, am I right that #22, the car at the far end of the line-up, which is the single car on the other photo 6517, is Harry Hartz. Can anyone confirm please?


Certainly looks like him and here's a link to a photo from Tacoma Public Library of the Sep 1914 Cycle Car Race at the 2 mile dirt Pacific Coast Raceway (a board track built for 1915) with #22 Harry Hartz listed in his Indian Cycle Car.
http://s1011.photobu...rrent=30954.jpg

#19 tsrwright

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 10:34

Re the Chaplin film I found this:

May, 1914 Technical World Magazine




Forty youngsters dare-deviled around a ten-mile course at Venice, California some little time ago in the Junior Vanderbilt Cup Race. They all had homemade one- or two-cylinder cars and they were all after one of the six silver cups and a share in two hundred and fifty dollars of prize money.

Albert Van Vrankin, Jr. sailed home with first prize in a little over thirty-seven minutes, although in the middle of the race he ran into a ditch, turned turtle, and had to extricate himself and his car.

Most of the machines were ingenious adaptations of motorcycle engines to four-wheel crafts. Many of these cars, some of which are easily controlled, are capable of amazing speed.

At the race, the ten thousand spectators, including Barney Oldfield, Earl Cooper, and Teddy Tetzlaff, who judged the finish, cheered wildly as the contestants whirled around the track.

Regular road racing rules the contest and the fourteen-year-olds traveled the course with splendid judgment and the daring of older heads.

Besides the Junior Vanderbilt, there were races for pushmobiles, which furnished a great deal of amusement for the crowd. A broad incline was used to give the pushcars a good start and most of the boys had trouble in getting to the bottom right side up. Some of the spills looked dangerous to the crowd but none of the drivers were injured.




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