Sensation from America

LOTS of sensational writings hail from America, and it seems that "Esquire" is not immune. In the issue for June, 1939, there is a long article by Kent Sagendorph, entitled "Hell on Wheels," to which our attention has just been drawn. This article sets out to prove that "race drivers are sissies" and that "the game is getting as innocent as croquet" because nobody gets killed any more. Bob Carey is quoted as the last big-named driver to be killed in the U.S.A. Kent Sagendorph notes that "once there were men who felt the clammy breath of Death in their very faces, but who thumbed their noses and roared on," but not to-day. He says that the 150,000 spectators at Indianapolis used to pay to see superlative daring on display, but daring is not the keynote now. Paul Gallico has observed that somebody's carburetter beats somebody else's valve system and the crowds eat picnic lunches during a parade of whizzing cars that make twice the speeds they appear to. Well, in Europe, of course, we rather like our racing on that plan, anxious that useful lessons shall result from it, and glad when no fatalities occur. This lurid article kicks off with an account of the 1911 Indianapolis race, or rather with the incident when Teddy Tetzlaff and Louis Disbrow locked wheels and crashed into the pits. It goes on to tell of how Joe Jaggersberger's Case broke a steering knuckle at about 90 m.p.h. and of how the mechanic, Gil Anderson, tried to kick the wheels straight and was flung out. Harry Knight is said to have braked to avoid Anderson and skidded his Westcott into the pits, hit a stationary Apperson, and rolled on two wheels through the infield gate. Apparently no one was hurt save the mechanic of a Blitzen Benz, who was cut by flying glass, but later Art Greiner's Amplex overturned in the 12th lap and killed Sam Dixon, the mechanic. Later still the mechanic in Tower's Jackson got sunstroke and leapt out, sailing over a fence and landing unhurt. We confess we had no time to check these details, but students of American racing, such as our good friend Ralph Secretan, might care to do so, for some definite inaccuracies creep in later. Since 1911, thirteen Indianapolis drivers are said to have died, twelve killed in action. Ralph de PaIma is said to have tamed the Fiat "Cyclone" which killed Emil Cedrino, after it had put him out for six weeks. Szisz is said to have taken the first mile-a-minute record at Montlhery track in 1906. Actually, this track was not opened until 1925 and in 1906 the Land Speed Record stood at over 121 m.p.h.! Road racing is alleged to have become so dangerous that America banned it by 1915 and California in 1916. In this 1916 Corona round-the-houses race Bob Burman driving a Peugeot (spelt "Peugot "; Yank spelling dares to take liberties with even classic marques!) described as "one of those imported French beauties that looked and ran like a watch," is said to have wrapped his car round a telephone post at 104 m.p.h. "Burman was shipped back to Imlay in a special casket packed with ice." After the road race, came the board track. Tribute is paid to the precision-built Peugeots, Ballots, Duesenbergs and Millers, which took a year or more to build, and cost 15,000 to 20,000 dollars for "merely a frame, and part of a transmission and a motor." Why, we wonder, does the author imagine that these cars, which obviously intrigue him, were delivered with incomplete transmission And his estimate of maximum engine speed as 6,000 r.p.m. in 1920 seems on the high side. Towards the close of his article Sagendorph's imagination appears to run amok. Death may have been in the box office, offering murder for money, but we are not certain that Ray Keech was killed in a Miller in a multi-fold crash at Altoona— in any case it didn't happen in the early 1920s for Keech held the Land Speed Record about 1928 with his unfaired, triple-engined Triplex, and he won at Indianapolis in 1929. And definitely Frank Lockhart was killed when his 3-litre Stutz ran into the sea at Daytona Beach about 1928 when attempting to break the Land Speed Record, and not while driving on a board track. He won at Indianapolis in 1926. Board track racing was said to have died out after Jimmy Murphy was killed by a length of flying fence rail which pierced the radiator and fireproof bulkhead of his car at the Syracuse track—can anyone check up on that? To-day, the author has it that the game has died—" a bit of irony as a requiem over the graves of men it killed "—because the only big-scale race left is Indianapolis, "where a driver cannot go too fast." It seems curious that this was printed after last year's Indianapolis 500, which Wilbur Shaw's Maserati won at just over 115 m.p.h.—hardly a sissie speed—and in which race Swanson, Roberts and Chet Miller were involved in a three-fold crash which killed Roberts and slightly injured two women spectators. And, if the article was perpetrated before this race, well, Indianapolis was won in 1938 at a cool 117.2 mph….