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Denver Motor Speedway 1910-1911

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#1 Rob Semmeling

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 15:18

I recently came by a track I'd never heard of before, the Denver Motor Speedway.

This track is described in period sources as being a 3.5 mile dirt oval (also reported as 3-1/3 mile) built in a natural amphitheatre some 8 miles from Denver in a town called Sable, although I can't find a place with that name in Colorado.

The speedway opened with a card of three motorcycle races on September 3, 1910 despite the track surface and grandstands being unfinished, and hosted an automobile race won by Harry Ball (Apperson) two days later. The seemingly sole meeting after that was a 200-mile auto race on May 30, 1911 - the day of the first Indy 500 - won by Eaton McMillan (National). Apparently a driver from Detroit named Robert Bean was killed during practice for this event.

A quick internet search reveals the track may have been converted into an airfield some time after that.

Who knows more ? A track of this size surely must have drawn some attention. Is there any connection with the earlier Brighton Cup road races in Denver ? Ball and McMillan won the 1908 and 1909 Brighton events, respectively.


#2 Rob Semmeling

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 15:32

After some more searching, I can at least pinpoint the approximate location of the track. According to this website, there was a town called Sable in Adams County around 1909.

This map from 1920 shows Sable was located close to Aurora. Today, there is a Sable Boulevard in Aurora, which indeed is about 8 miles east of Denver.

#3 Catalina Park

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 09:09

Looking at the map on the usgwarchives.org Sable looks like it was on the rail line between Denver and Watkins.
Looking at railways stuff I found this http://www.trainorde...ad.php?1,199271 that says... "Sable Siding was once a rail junction for three US Government installations between 1918(?) until 1965. It connected with a government operated rail line that served Buckley Naval Air Station (later Buckley Air National Guard and now Buckley Air Force Base), Fitzsimons Army Hospital and Lowry Air Force Base. The latter two were closed in the 1990's."

So I looked at Google Maps in that area and stumbled across something that looks a bit speedwayish on the corner of E Smith Road and Picadilly Road.
There looks like a big oval with a smaller paved oval inside it (with a paved figure 8) Underneath that looks like a paved runway that runs right over to the north/south freeway.
I don't know if this helps or if I am side tracking things.

#4 Terry Walker

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 13:09

That's it all right: you can make out the ghost of a large track, now probably barely crop-marks, and tucked inside at the bottom edge is a small hard-surfaced track with an crossover, and you can see where the bleachers were, too, and what was probably the access road coming in from the east.

#5 Rob Semmeling

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 15:31

Fellows, I appreciate your input, but those are the remains of Century 21 Speedway, which has nothing to do with the pre-World War One Denver Motor Speedway. Remember, this was supposed to be a 3.5 mile dirt track - that's far larger than any of today's speedways, including Indianapolis and Talladega.

Where are our knowledgable American members ?

#6 Michael Ferner

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 19:24

I have only the same two races at Sable Speedway, and yes, it is somewhat strange that a track of that size (I have only ever seen 3 1/3 miles) disappears so quickly. But remember, times were different, and not a lot is known about circumstances. Maybe the infrastructure was done on the cheap to get the thing started, and with a small crowd (I have seen 12,000 mentioned for the opener, which is good by any standards, but no figures for the second meet) and disgruntled drivers it was doomed from the start? It was probably a lot easier to get people to attend races at Overland Park, with excellent facilities, and much closer to the population centre.

There was another AAA race sanctioned for Sep 26 in 1914, under the promotion of the same Denver MC which promoted the Sable events, but I suspect that was run at Overland (if at all). And yes, the Denver MC also promoted the earlier road races, although McMillan and Ball were local "hotshoes", and thus likely to win in any event, since in those days there wasn't as much travelling, and the races were almost by default local affairs. Interesting to note that both were "works" drivers for a different make of car than the one they used to win at Sable: Ball drove for the Overland Auto Company, and McMillan for the Colburn Auto Company! Colburn was a small local manufacturer who just happened to distribute the National in the area, but I'm not really sure if the Overland Auto Co. had any connections with the Overland Co. of Indiana/Ohio - it may have been a name coincidence. Overland had a strong agency with racing involvement in Phoenix, but I don't know of any connections to Apperson.

EDIT: By the way, Sable Speedway wasn't the largest dirt track at the time - Frontier Park at Cheyenne (WY) was a 4-mile oval! Much the same drivers competed at both tracks, e.g. Harry Ball won a 200-miler at Frontier Park in 1910, with Eaton McMillan third!

Edited by Michael Ferner, 25 July 2013 - 19:31.

#7 carl s

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 23:07

A few more tidbits:

1911, May 31

NATIONAL “40” wins 200-Mile Open Event at Denver Sable Speedway

Eaton McMillian is the driver. 3 hours 30 minutes

Source: The Automobile magazine June 8, 1911 page 136

Also, there was a primitive airstrip located on the property which became Stapleton Airport.

An 1899 Willits Farm Map7 authenticates the ranch and reservoir on property owned by the Cyrus G. Richardson Estate. A circa 1910 map8 shows the Julia F. Richardson Farm with four reservoirs fed by the flows from the High Line Canal, West Toll Gate Creek and Coal Creek. The Denver Motor (Sable) Speedway was located on the ranch property where a George Van Arsdale flew a biplane around the 3.3-mile course at 60 miles per hour in a snowstorm on January 4, 1911 possibly inaugurating this land for future use as Stapleton airport.13 An early 1900’s ranch photo is all that remains of the Richardson buildings.14 The reservoir and surrounding 123-acres of land are now preserved as the Bluff Lake Nature Center with Bluff Lake (Richardson Reservoir #4) located adjacent to Sand Creek on the Stapleton residential development.

And "Denver Opens its New Speedway"

Edited by carl s, 26 July 2013 - 03:48.

#8 Catalina Park

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 07:28

A bit of airport history that I found. http://www.airfields...E.htm#stapelton

#9 Rob Semmeling

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 13:27

Thanks all, for the interesting additions !

Perhaps it is not surprising that Denver Motor Speedway fell out of use so quickly. After all, apart from Indianapolis none of the big ovals from that era - Lakeside, Atlanta, Sioux City, San Antonio et al - lasted more than a few years, or even a few meetings. I am slightly surprised, however, that a track of this size attracted so little attention.

As for Cheyenne, reports vary a little as to the shape of the track, but I think it's fair to say it was an oval rather than road course. It opened just three days after Indianapolis Motor Speedway but was apparently also used very little, with just two automobile races - on August 17, 1909 and August 23, 1910 - taking place before the track fell into disrepair.

However, "The Cimarron News and Cimarron Citizen" of September 3, 1914 reports that "[t]he four-mile speedway on which Cheyenne formerly held automobile races was used for racing for the first time in several years. Cheyenne motorcyclists engaged in a series of races on the track, which has been repaired. The chief event was a forty-mile race."

The "Cheyenne State Leader" confirms motorcycle races were held on the four-mile track on August 30, 1914. The feature race over 40 miles was won by George Wales (Excelsior).

On 20 July 1915, the racing part of the Frontier Days took place on the shorter 1-mile fairgrounds oval.

#10 fbarrett

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Posted 31 July 2013 - 20:28

Just spent an hour looking through the photographs of Harry Rhoads, who worked for the Rocky Mountain News from 1900 through 1969 (it says there). They are on the web site of the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection. Found a few auto racing shots (mostly Overland Park) but nothing from Denver Motor Speedway or Sable. Rhoads was evidently a car guy (drove a Hudson) and shot everything from train wrecks to visiting firemen. There's a book about him, Denver's Man With A Camera.


#11 Rob Semmeling

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Posted 03 August 2013 - 07:31

Thank you for checking, Frank.

(...) Cheyenne (...) was apparently also used very little, with just two automobile races - on August 17, 1909 and August 23, 1910 - taking place before the track fell into disrepair.

I have to correct myself, because there was at least one other meeting on Cheyenne's 4-mile speedway, on May 11, 1910. Barney Oldfield was the main attraction that day.