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Research Notes & Observations


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#1 DCapps

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Posted 09 March 2019 - 15:49

Here are a few research notes & observations that I would like to pass on from years of work focused on the period that is roughly the first quarter century of motor sport in the United States that might be helpful to others.

 

Most of these are pretty much low-hanging fruit, tending to be a blinding flash of the obvious in retrospect, but not necessarily at the time, especially given the rather thin historiography of years ago.

 

The first season review that I have been able to discover in an American automotive journal dates from January 1906 and is focused literally on speed -- both in record or speed trials and on the tracks. It is important to realize, as I did very belatedly, that speed is rarely or not usually expressed in miles or kilometers per hour but more often than not in time, minutes and seconds and fractions thereof. Speed records, real or imagined or contrived, are a constant feature in these early journals and AAA Contest Board materials. Right up until its last season summary in 1955, the Contest Board devoted pages and pages to the international and national speed records.

 

Up until about the beginning of the Great War, considerable coverage was devoted to automotive contests such as hill climbs, reliability & endurance runs/trials, and tours. The were Big Events and deserve much more attention than they are usually given. I was slow to grasp their importance thanks to the usual presentist myopia that we tend to have regarding the past that we are not that familiar with.

 

With the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum currently engaged in a preservation effort that involves the digitization of the AAA Contest Board, USAC, and CART material in its archives, it is possible that there will finally be alternative to the Contest Board material currently found only on the microfilm that the Atlantic Old Timers Racing Association had made in the mid-1980s will be available to scholars. Related to this, there is an ongoing digitization project for the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) at the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMMRC) that should be boon to  researchers.

 

The recent availability of digitized American automotive journals of the early 20th century has transformed the study of this period. While there are still issues with gaps and poor reproduction regarding the journals, it is now possible to use these journals for research without having to undertake an extensive travel program to find them.

 

Much work remains to be done on the AAA Racing Board and the Contest Board. There seems to be little of the original documentation of the Racing Board that has survived; however, there is much regarding the Racing Board's activities that can be found in the contemporary automotive journals.

 

Despite the herculean efforts of Darren Galpin and others, there still is not a good record of the automotive contests held in the United States from 1895 to the end of the 1920 season. Given the enormity of the task it quite possible that there may never be, but that this basic element of information is still very much missing in action is telling. Mea culpa, by the way. Also, this effort should conform with the contemporary practices of the time and not be forced to conform with boxscore practices of later days, which can distort the information. Also, one should avoid the boxscore/database mentality and adopt a narrative approach. You might be surprised at what you might notice.

 

There is a big -- as in Huge -- difference between possessing Information and possessing Knowledge. Accept that and continue to plug away with the realization that while research is endessly seductive, writing is still hard work (thus spake Barbara Tuchman...).

 

Accept that what you find will often be muddled and even contradictory at times, but gather enough sources and something close to what happened will emerge. Also, along this line, the contemporary writers actually do a better job than some would have you believe. Skepticism is always warranted, of course, but be careful that it does not become cynicism. Although whatever Russ Catlin has written should be approached with great caution, there are a few nuggets even in his articles if you look for them.

 

American motor sport during its early years was quite cosmopolitan in almost all respects.

 

This topic is wide open for research and work focused on infrastructure and other aspects rather than the usual overkill on the machinery and personalities. Or, rather the overkill on the Usual Suspects rather than the other often overlooked machines and people.

 

There is more, of course, but these are just a few ideas I wish someone had passed on to me Way Back Then...

 

Share.

 

Above all, Bibliographies and Footnotes Are Your Friends.



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#2 Ray Bell

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Posted 09 March 2019 - 18:33

I'm sure, Don, that as long as there are people with the tenacity you show that there will be 'gems' being unearthed...

Staying power is obviously a vital element. Encouragement from and for the IMRRC and the diligent people there no doubt play their part.

#3 DCapps

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Posted 11 March 2019 - 16:06

There is the distinct possibility that the creation of retroactive champion drivers was the result of several factors and not something that Arthur Means -- and Val Haresnape -- simply dreamed up one day on their own. Here is what might be one part of the story (https://www.racingar...ampion-drivers/), with the other part being related to the fact that 1927 was the 25th anniversary of the AAA and its Racing Board, the Contest Board's predecessor. In addition, Eddie Rickenbacker (formerly Rickenbacher) was now the president of the Contest Board, offered the position when Kennerdell resigned after his second stint as the chairman. As the head of both the IMS and the Contest Board, to suggest that Rickenbacker exerted a great deal of influence over US racing at this time would be an understatement. This would suggest that something of this sort could not be done without his knowledge and approval, tacit or otherwise. Also, contrary to what some have suggested, Arthur Means only came aboard as the assistant secretary in late September 1927 ("Announcing the Appointment of Arthur H. Means as Assistant Secretary of the Contest Board AAA," Contest Board Bulletin dated 16 September 1927). Note that it is a month later that the first evidence of the newly-created champion drivers surfaces (in the Bulletin dated 17 October 1927). There is also the question of what role the manager of the Contest Board, Ernest Smith, may have played in all this. Again, as in the case of Rickenbacker, it is extremely unlikely that Means and Haresnape simply did this all on their own volition and then passed it off as being official without others granting some type of approval.

 

The 1951 Contest Board season summery is the first to change the 1909 champion driver from Bert Dingley to George Robertson and with Tommy Milton replacing Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Although the 1952 IMS program has the Russ Catlin article with a listing of AAA champion drivers beginning with 1902, the Contest Board's 1952 season summary sticks with 1909. In the 1953 IMS program, an article by Jack Curnow of the LA Times has the same 1902 listing. In its final season summary issued after the Contest Board ceased operations in 1955, its listing of champion drivers stuck with 1909. The first USAC record book was issued after the 1956 season and begins its listing of champion drivers with 1909. However, by the 1960 USAC yearbook, the listing of champion drivers now begins with the 1902 season, with CART also using the 1902 listing in its media guides until its 1983 media guide.

 

By the way, if you go to the INDYCAR stats (https://www.indycar.com/Stats) and look at what they have for 1909 to 1920 and 1946 seasons, it appears that someone simply copied stuff and put it on the site. The venues alone are enough to make you roll your eyes -- I am sure that you were aware that Ascot Speedway was a board track, right? The Atlanta Metrodome was used for racing in 1910, in Corona, Grand Avenue Boulevard was another board track, Tacoma Speedway is repeatedly referred to as the Pacific Coast Speedway, and the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds as the Milwaukee Mile. Oh, the venue for the 1911 Vanderbilt Cup and ACA Grand Prize/Gold Cup was the Savannah-Efflingham Raceway. There eleven races listed for the 1920 season, by the way.

 

Maybe, some day....

 

Postscript / Addendum.

 

It is notable that in the IMS programs of the 1930s, there were often a two-page spread of "American Champions," reflecting the 1929 view of the Contest Board as to whom were the champion drivers. Think of Rickenbacker once again regarding this.

 

Another factor in this that warrants consideration is the creation of a Hall of Fame in the early 1950s, which necessitated the creation of statistical information for those doing the selections. That at least some of this information was generated by Russ Catlin would seem to suggest a possible motive for Catlin's interest in this topic. The minutes of at least one of the annual Contest Board meetings discusses this matter and has this material attached to the minutes. The Hall of Fame is also mentioned in Speed Age.

 

There is a great doctoral dissertation in here somewhere of comparing the Contest Board and later sanctioning bodies and Rashomon when it comes to all this....


Edited by DCapps, 11 March 2019 - 18:28.


#4 Jim Thurman

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Posted 21 March 2019 - 23:16

Even though I have other matters I should be attending to, I finally have a chance to tackle a few points here...

 

First, Don, I don't believe I mentioned it, but I always assumed you might have known about the retroactive collegiate football champions. I certainly was aware of it, so I knew there was precedence. Michael refuses to acknowledge those ball sports   ;) , but from following them as well and knowing some of their history, one can trace similar steps (and missteps) in how auto racing has conducted itself and chronicled its history. Take the lifting of the ban on "colored drivers", much akin to baseball doing the same. There is much to learn or be noticed from these other sports. I do try to point that out. For example, in all of your railing about "stats", the same issue has come up with virtually all U.S. major team sports. The biggest being whether to include statistics from competing leagues in career stats. Most have decided to do so, but there are still some that do not. This should be noted when expecting (rather unrealistically) that the AAA, USAC, CART, IRL and CCWS and Indycar be separated out in career totals. That, however, does not excuse including races that did not award points as "championship" races. Again, that there were "Championship" cars and "Championship" races is a semantic conumdrum.

 

Which brings me to railing about stats and urging to not do boxscores. While I can see urging folks to dig deeper, I see no harm in assembling some sort of "boxscore" that shows who was there and who wasn't, where they placed in the main race, etc. That's even with the caveat that many racing programs in the pre-1920 era were conducted quite differently, particularly in the 1900s-1910s, and don't lend themselves well to a boxscore format.

 

Now, about the finding that perhaps there was the precedence (see above) and possible motivation for the revisionism. Then perhaps the vitriol aimed at Mssrs. Means and Haresnape, particularly the former, might have been a tad unjust? Perhaps Means wasn't the big boogeyman in all of this? Certainly it was on their watches, but as you noted, it happened rather quickly after Means took his post. One thing I do know, is that however much you felt Means was responsible, Phil Harms certainly wasn't and I have to assume that the times you wrote railing against Haresnape, Harms and Catlin, that you meant to type Means (same number of letters, ending in s).

 

I'm pleased to see you mention that even Catlin could have his nuggets. Obviously, he wasn't wrong all the time. Plus, he was hardly the biggest fabulist covering motorsports, his major folly notwithstanding. Why Mr. Catlin dug his heels in so hard when confronted with Mr. Printz's evidence refuting his claims is something we will never know.

 

As far as the Indycar website and its errors on tracks. Oh my! indeed. However, the link https://www.indycar.com/Stats seems to go nowhere for me, so I can't see what you found. While I can see this supporting your anti-statism, these are down to poor compilers rather than the stats themselves being evil. As far as the Milwaukee Mile, well, that is the current name for the track, so regardless of how you might feel about it being used, at least it isn't incorrect.


Edited by Jim Thurman, 21 March 2019 - 23:19.


#5 DCapps

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Posted 22 March 2019 - 18:14

First, Don, I don't believe I mentioned it, but I always assumed you might have known about the retroactive collegiate football champions. I certainly was aware of it, so I knew there was precedence. Michael refuses to acknowledge those ball sports   ;) , but from following them as well and knowing some of their history, one can trace similar steps (and missteps) in how auto racing has conducted itself and chronicled its history. Take the lifting of the ban on "colored drivers", much akin to baseball doing the same. There is much to learn or be noticed from these other sports. I do try to point that out. For example, in all of your railing about "stats", the same issue has come up with virtually all U.S. major team sports. The biggest being whether to include statistics from competing leagues in career stats. Most have decided to do so, but there are still some that do not. This should be noted when expecting (rather unrealistically) that the AAA, USAC, CART, IRL and CCWS and Indycar be separated out in career totals. That, however, does not excuse including races that did not award points as "championship" races. Again, that there were "Championship" cars and "Championship" races is a semantic conumdrum.

 

You assume correctly regarding the retroactive collegiate football champions that I certainly was aware of them, not to mention the seemingly endless controversy connected to them. What I had not realized previously was the timing of the Dickinson/Houlgate systems in relationship with regard to what happened at the Contest Board. It simply did not occur to me until recently to make the connection. Or, I should say, realize that there was more of a connection than I realized, not thinking about the timing aspect. It was always THERE, I just did not pick up on it until recently. Sometimes the Obvious may not always be obvious to someone, at least until something clicks it into place. 

 

A good point and one that is often overlooked is that one needs to remember that motor sport history needs to be considered within the context of sport history, there being influences from sport that often also affect motor sport. Just as sport does not take place in a vacuum, neither does motor sport, which is also affected by those forces that influence sport.

 

Statistics are both boom and bane to sport history. How one approaches and uses them tends to be linked to how one views or considers sport. They are an aspect of sport, the question being how one evaluates that aspect; see, for instance, Bill James. instance.

 

That there is an understandable tendency to lump things together is, as it is often pointed, what it is. That does not make it correct in many aspects, but it does make it easier to relate the present to the past. Again, it tends to be simply how one approaches the past. We generally tend to like unadorned simplicity while generally avoiding nuanced complexity. The difference between, say, middle school textbook material on the Great War/World War I and mastering the graduate school historiography on the topic. Very different audiences, to say the least, but they manage to co-exist on a spectrum.

 

Which brings me to railing about stats and urging to not do boxscores. While I can see urging folks to dig deeper, I see no harm in assembling some sort of "boxscore" that shows who was there and who wasn't, where they placed in the main race, etc. That's even with the caveat that many racing programs in the pre-1920 era were conducted quite differently, particularly in the 1900s-1910s, and don't lend themselves well to a boxscore format.

 

Boxscores are one of the foundations of sport history. Period. Regardless of the sport, the boxscore plays an essential role for capturing what happened on the playing field. However, too often they are not unpacked, if you will. This past summer, Donald Davidson and I had a nice conversation regarding this topic. The issue is not boxscores, of course, but what one does with them. That some are "better" than others is a factor, of course, but they are the Big Dots that help us connect bits of information together into a coherent picture, whether it is an individual event or a series of events. I wish I could quote Donald exactly, but is pretty much what he offered several times during our discussion. No disagreement on my part there. Perhaps it is simply that by unpacking the boxscore and laying out its components presents another means to analyze the material helps those of us who are more narrative-oriented in our thinking processes. It simply works for me, so whether it works for others, whatever, just a suggestion to nudge the paradigm.

 

When the past is reduced to a database and a set of statistics, that methodology certainly must affect both the prism and the way it is perceived and the processes through which it is then considered and interpreted. Yes? No?

 

Now, about the finding that perhaps there was the precedence (see above) and possible motivation for the revisionism. Then perhaps the vitriol aimed at Mssrs. Means and Haresnape, particularly the former, might have been a tad unjust? Perhaps Means wasn't the big boogeyman in all of this? Certainly it was on their watches, but as you noted, it happened rather quickly after Means took his post. One thing I do know, is that however much you felt Means was responsible, Phil Harms certainly wasn't and I have to assume that the times you wrote railing against Haresnape, Harms and Catlin, that you meant to type Means (same number of letters, ending in s).

 

That there might be reasons to rethink the roles of a number of possible players involved in the development of the Contest Board's development of a counterfactual past has nagged at me for some time, in part thanks to the timing of Means' arrival and what roles that Ernest Smith and E.V. Rickenbacker may have played, if any, in all this. While it seems clear the both Haresnape and Means were in some shape or fashion directly involved in this effort, could they have done so in a vacuum, without the consent or knowledge of others on the Contest Board? To pin it entirely on Means and/or Haresnape seems more and more to ignore the context in which this had to have happened. I suggest that there is much more to this, but the currently available archival documents leave us with gaps in the records that may never be entirely plugged, barring what turns up at the IMS.

 

Re: Phil Harms. I certainly admired and respected Phil. He was a godsend to my research, opening up avenues and providing material that I would have never been able to find on my own. However, Phil always seemed to accept the validity of the counterfactual seasons & champion drivers. At the time, I did not have enough background and knowledge to discuss in the depth that I wished I could have, but other than 1920, I never quite felt much in the way of doubt most of the time. At times, yes, in our exchanges, but that was often a side issue. of course. It is now clear that there is material generated by Phil that is mixed in with the Betts,Catlin, and whatever else is found in the IMS Contest Board archives.

 

I'm pleased to see you mention that even Catlin could have his nuggets. Obviously, he wasn't wrong all the time. Plus, he was hardly the biggest fabulist covering motorsports, his major folly notwithstanding. Why Mr. Catlin dug his heels in so hard when confronted with Mr. Printz's evidence refuting his claims is something we will never know.

 

As has been said, even the blind hog finds acorns on occasion, or that a stopped analogue clock is still correct twice a day.

 

In several of my phone conversations with John (actually, he liked, "Jack") regarding Catlin, he always felt that Catlin felt that his work and legacy was being threaten by what he and Ken were doing and what Gordon and then Jan Schaffer would making public. That Catlin was in poor health and pretty much unchallenged in his position regarding AAA racing history, this had an effect. Catlin's friends seem to have been -- as seen in the forum entries -- quite concerned about this "attack" on Catlin's veracity and struck back. (One could suggest that the more things change, etc.)

 

As far as the Indycar website and its errors on tracks. Oh my! indeed. However, the link https://www.indycar.com/Stats seems to go nowhere for me, so I can't see what you found. While I can see this supporting your anti-statism, these are down to poor compilers rather than the stats themselves being evil. As far as the Milwaukee Mile, well, that is the current name for the track, so regardless of how you might feel about it being used, at least it isn't incorrect.

 

The INDYCAR stats link is not necessarily intuitive, but if you mess around with it long enough you can eventually what I directed you towards. It certainly puzzled me for a time, so it isn't you. The compilers seem to have not even used former INDYCAR sources, which is interesting in itself. I failed to to find references to "The Milwaukee Mile" in any of the contemporary journals. I guess I did not look hard enough or simply misunderstood. My bad.



#6 DCapps

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Posted 22 March 2019 - 18:40

Oh, yeah, keep in mind that much of what some of us try to do is simply throwing out ideas and seeing what stick to the wall and what doesn't and/or what the responses might be.



#7 Jim Thurman

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Posted 27 March 2019 - 00:50

Don, thank you for your response. As usual, we're pretty much on the same page. I might have a comment or two down the road, when I have time.

 

EDIT: I had a nicely thought out reply ready, only to lose it via a hiccup. Most of it is best for an e-mail anyway, lest I be accused of navel gazing  :D


Edited by Jim Thurman, 02 April 2019 - 00:41.