"THE WORLD'S 1st 24-HOUR AUTOMOBILE RACE"
By: A. Micheal Knapp, 1979
Twenty-four hour motor races. Test of endurance of men and machines. Headlights roaring out of the distance; red tail lights whining away to pinpoints. Grime. Romance. Major repairs in minutes. Luck . Strategy. Planning Organization. Stamina. LeMans. Daytona. Columbus.
Columbus? Yes, Columbus, Ohio! The first 24-hour automobile race was run right here at what the "Columbus Sunday Dispatch" called "the splendid and long-famous oval track at the Columbus Driving Park." It was a dirt horse- racing track, and was, at the time, located on the near-east side on Bryden Road.
The motor car itself was barely out of its infancy. Ten years earlier, the first automobile race had been run from Paris to Bordeaux, won by a Pauhard- Levassor by driver Boulanger at an average speed of 15 miles an hour. When the 24-Hours of Columbus was contested, The Ford Motor Company was only two years old, having produced an automobile only a bit more than a year earlier.
1905. The 24-Hours of Columbus began on July 3 at 3:20 p.m. when the secretary to Governor Myron T. Herrick fired the starting pistol, and ended a day later, on the Fourth of July. Never before had competing drivers and automobiles attempted a twice-around-the clock speed and endurance contest as a world record feat, by a single car in a time trial. It had driven 1,015 miles in a day.
Four cars, one of which was manufactured in Columbus, were entered in the 24-hour race, although only three actually competed. Roy Repp, who was scheduled to driver a White Steamer, was hospitalized for surgery the day before the race was to begin, and the entry was withdrawn. Competing were Charles and George Soules, Charles being the lead driver, in a Pope-Toledo car owned by C. Edward Born; Lee Frayer, builder, of the Frayer-Miller car of Oscar Lear; and the team of Ballenger and Feasel driving Louis Hoster's Peerless. (Strangely, none of the newspaper accounts mention either Ballinger's or Feasels's first name. Both were from Columbus.)
The Frayer-Miller car, built in Columbus by its driver, Lee Frayer, was the only one of the three cars to be driven the entire distance by a single driver. Barney Oldfield, America's most famous early race driver, drove the Peerless for about an hour at midnight, when the race was about nine hours old, although he was not actually entered in the long race.
ELEVEN SUPPORTING EVENTS
Oldfield and then-famous drivers Charles Burman, Earl Kiser, Dan Canary, and others, were entered in various supporting races. There were eleven supporting events, some run before and some run after the 24-hour main event. One of the supporting events was the Columbus Motor Derby, divided into two heat races and a final, all five mile sprints, for a prize of $2,000.
One cannot help wondering what $2,000 was worth in 1905! The first heat was won by Barney Oldfield in his Peerless "Green Dragon" with which he toured the country giving many their first glimpse of a race car. Second was Dan Canary in his Thomas Tornado. Oldfield covered the last mile of the five in 55 seconds: 65.45 miles an hour. Earl Kiser, in the Winton Bullet, won the second heat, both of which were run before the start of the 24-hour feature race. It was a Winton Bullet, by the way, which had set the world speed record of 68.96 mph two years earlier in Daytona Beach. It was driven during the record-setting run by its builder, Alexander Winton.
The other race run on July 3 before the start of the 24-hour event was a touring car "novelty race," a kind of a gimmick rally more than a true race. The big cars started from a dead stop, engines off, loaded with passengers. They cranked up their engines and raced around the one-mile oval, stopping at each quarter-mile post to discharge a passenger and, on the second lap, stopping again to pick them up! The two lap event was won by Charles Soules in his Pope-Toledo, followed by William Frisbie in an Oldsmobile and then by F.E.Avery (founder of what is now Avery Pontiac) in a Franklin, another car manufactured here in Columbus, The Franklin was disqualified however, for failing to make two of the six stops required.
On Tuesday, July 4, after the finish of the 24-hour race, the final of the Columbus Motor Derby was held: "Oldfield's Ohio State Journal" July 5 explained the strangely staggered start of the Derby:
Oldfield started from the half mile post, Kiser from the judges' stand. The condition of the track, hard beaten from the 24-hour race continuous pounding, was considered too dangerous to have the men start together over the open course.
Earl Kiser won the race, collecting his $2,000 in prize money in gold. His speed over the five laps averaged 61.14 miles an hour.
It was revealed the next day in the Columbus papers that minutes before the start of the $2,000 race Columbus Motor by the Franklin County Sheriff, Oldfield's wife had filed suit against him, alleging "that Oldfield has paid marked attentions to a woman other than his wife at the Chittenden Hotel in this city and that they were guilty of various indiscretions on July 1, 2, and 3 of this year."
News traveled fast in 1905! Oldfield climbed into (or "onto," as the papers said) his car and promptly lost the Derby by a quarter of a mile.
THE 24-HOURS OF COLUMBUS
At 3:20 p.m. on July 3, 1905, the three starters in the day-long feature race left the start line jockeying for position. The race was being run not for prize money, as was the case for the Columbus Motor Derby, but rater for a silver cup, valued at $500, put up by the Hoster-Columbus Associated Breweries.
The Columbus papers assured their readers that the track would be "sprinkled frequently," and the "Ohio State Journal" reporter described the track in glowing terms:
The course at Driving Park has been illuminated with half a hundred arc lamps and all preparations have been made that will be conducive to speed and record-braking for twenty-four hours. The drivers will continue to drive at breakneck speed from the crack of the governor's gun this afternoon until the same hour tomorrow afternoon, stopping long enough to take on gasoline and to replace tires burned to the thinnest fabric owing to the terrific friction. At least that was the plan. Unscheduled stops began soon after the race itself.
The first leader was the Peerless owned by Louis Hoster, who was also the owner of the Columbus brewery which put up the trophy for the race. Shortly before the end of the first hours, however, the Peerless blew a tire, as it was pitting, causing the car to smash through the wooden fence and then into a water barrel. The impact sheared off the car's starting crank and destroyed the radiator, and repairs started immediately.
The George Saules Pope-Toledo immediately took over the lead, and within an hour had a similar mishap of its own. Soules couldn't have planed his accident better if he had tried: he would up with an advantage to the USAC everyone-pit-during-the yellow drill. The Pope-Toledo had tire problems, too, and as it exited turn two, a tire exploded, causing the big car to veer into the outside fence. It chewed up more than 100 feet of fence before flipping into a ditch.
The COLUMBUS EVENING DISPATCH headline for July 4 reads: "Pope Toledo Car Crashes Into Outside Fence; Is Practically Rebuilt in Few Minutes." The pit stop must have been amazing to watch! "The frame was straightened, a new radiator was installed and a new set of wheels put on and everything adjusted for more record breaking time in sixty short minutes."
When both the Peerless and the Pope-Toledo re-entered the tack about 10 p.m., the Pope-Toledo was still in the lead by 50 miles. Charles Soules, who earlier had won his heat of the Columbus Motor Derby, and who would complete in the final after the 24-hour race was over, took over the driving chores from brother George after the accident.
Ballinger wasted no time, however, and began whittling away at the Pope- Toledo's lead narrowing it to within seven miles by 9:00 p.m. The Frayer- Miller's luck did not last: At 9:20, a stone thrown up from the dirt surface ripped three teeth from the main gear, and the camshaft was bent in the process. The car was towed to the owner's garage and the repairs were made, but the car was not able to re-enter the race until nearly 4 a.m., by which time it had lost 250 miles.
The first half of the "great race" was run in record-breaking time, the cars averaging six miles per hour faster than the time-trial record set earlier. Due to the length of time needed for repairs, however, the race ended well within the world record for distance covered.
An interesting sidelight is that the Frayer-Miller car, built in Columbus, was the first air-cooled automobile built in the United States, and was the only one in the race. Skeptics did not think the car had any chance at all of finishing the race, figuring that it would burn itself up before the halfway better shape at the flag than either of its rivals, and it not been for the time lost replacing the cam, the car would probably have won.
A crowd of 15,000, not bad for 1905, watched the finish of the 24-hour race on the afternoon of July 4. The distinction of winning the world's first 24- hour automobile race went to the Soules brothers and their Pope-Toledo, which covered a distance of 828.5 miles. Second, with 728.6 miles completed, was the Frayer-Miller car, which had made up 150 of the 250 deficit it had at 4 a.m. The Peerless finished last, only two miles behind the second-place car.
An endurance race today in which the entire field crosses the finish line under their own steam would be a rare occurrence indeed!
The world's first 24-hour motor race ended with another record-book note: the world's first protest filed in a 24-hour race! There is nothing new under the sun, as they say, and the protest is as old as racing itself. Both Louis Hoster and Oscar Lear, entrants of the second and third-place cars filed a protest claiming that the Pope-Toledo was a ringer: a special- built racing car actually owned by the factory, and not by its entrant.
The protest was rejected, but the news article do not mention whether the $10 fee was returned.
In the supporting races following the end of the 24-hour event, Lee Fryer, driving the same Frayer-Miller car he had just driven in the 24-hour race, won the "three-mile open," beating two Franklins. In the next race, a five- mile handicap, Frayer placed second to Hoster's Franklin, followed by two other Franklins and an Olds. The five-mile motorcycle race was won by George Stream, racing and Indian.
Thus Columbus, Ohio deserves a place in the annals of motorsport history along with LeMans, Daytona and other 24-hour race venues.
The article was submitted by Randy Holton. Copyright belongs to the writer: A. Micheal Knapp who wrote the Columbus story in 1979.