CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes-Benz - The Great Race of 1895

The Great Race of 1895 Chicago Foregoes Turkey To Witness First Auto Race in U.S. MONTVALE, N.J. (August 2, 1999) * A year before Henry Ford built his quadricycle, there were the original automotive pioneers, and first among them were Gottlieb...

The Great Race of 1895 Chicago Foregoes Turkey To Witness First Auto Race in U.S.

MONTVALE, N.J. (August 2, 1999) * A year before Henry Ford built his quadricycle, there were the original automotive pioneers, and first among them were Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. From the dawn of the internal combustion-powered automobile (Benz's 1886 Motorwagen), Mercedes-Benz has been at the forefront of motor sports. It was a Daimler-engined automobile that won the world's first car race, held in Paris in 1894, and it was Benz engines which made history in the first car race in the United States * The Great Chicago Race of 1895.

With a rich heritage in international racing and Chicago history, Mercedes-Benz-powered racing machines return to Chicago for the inaugural Champ Car race in the Windy City, the Target Grand Prix at Chicago Motor Speedway on August 22nd, just one week after the Miller Lite 200 at Mid-Ohio. Mercedes will power five teams and eight drivers over the new one-mile oval, and will compete again in the drive for racing immortality. The Horseless Carriage Conquers Chicago In July 1895, the Chicago Times-Herald -- in a quest to promote the "horseless carriage" and sell more newspapers -- announced a "Prize for Motors" with a $5,000 purse. The announcement touched off a flurry of inventors from around the world to enter. But by the November 2nd race date, only two contestants were ready, so an "exhibition contest" between Oscar Mueller's Benz Victoria and the Duryea brothers' motorized carriage was held, from Chicago to Waukegan and back. The Benz won -- unofficially the first race ever in the US -- a $500 prize.

In a concession to the other entrants, the Times-Herald pushed the "official" race date back to Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895. Although there were dozens of entries, only six came to the starting line that cold and cloudy day: three Benzes (including Mueller's winning Victoria from the November 2nd contest), two electric vehicles and the Duryea.

Heavy snow made for poor driving conditions, and officials shortened the route to a 52.4-mile round trip between Chicago and Evanston (see map). Crowds gave up their Thanksgiving turkey and traditional football games to line the streets of downtown Chicago.

The electric vehicles dropped out early from lack of battery power. The De La Vergne Benz retired due to poor traction in the snow. The Macy Benz swerved and collided with a horse cart on Adams Street, recovered to eventually build a lead, but later stopped for repairs from another collision with a second horse-drawn vehicle and did not finish.

Ten hours into the event, the Duryea crossed the finish line less than 30 minutes ahead of the Mueller Benz and was awarded the $2,000 first prize, despite a rules-violating stop at a blacksmith shop for repairs to its steering gear. National pride was believed to factor in this decision. Owner/driver Mueller had fainted from the cold earlier, and his passenger, umpire Charles King, took over as driver and crossed the finish line with one arm on the steering wheel and one around Mueller, who had to stay in the vehicle as the rules stipulated. Mueller was awarded $1,500. It had taken more than 10-and-a-half hours to complete the 54-mile race, for an average winning speed of less than 5 mph. Nevertheless, historians agree that the contest had almost singlehandedly brought the automobile age to America. A plaque commemorating the event was dedicated in Jackson Park, near the start/finish line of the race, during a centennial celebration and re-enactment in 1995.

THEN AND NOW: A Comparison of Racing Champions 1895 Mueller Benz Victoria versus 1999 Mercedes Champ Car

Engine Benz Victoria: 4-speed, two-cylinder internal combustion gas-powered

Champ Car: Turbocharged IC108E3 V8 2.65 liters, 345 lb.-ft. of torque

Horsepower Victoria: 4.0 Champ Car: 850+

Passengers Victoria: Driver plus 2 passengers Champ Car: Driver only Race Distance 1895: 52.4 miles 1999: Up to 500 miles Top Speed Victoria: 14 mph Champ Car: 240.942 mph (world record)

Time To Cover 1895 Race Distance Victoria: 10 hours, 47 minutes Champ Car: 13.05 minutes* Prize Money Won Victoria: $1,500 Champ Car: $2,023,750**

*assuming 240.942 mph **earnings of top 6 Mercedes CART drivers in 1998 Mercedes-Benz has a 105-year heritage in international motor sports. This season, Mercedes-Benz provides racing engines to five teams in the FedEx Champ Car Series and defends its Constructor's Championship in the Formula One World Championship. SIDEBAR: The Field Although more than 80 entries were received for the contest, only six came to the starting line on November 28, 1895.

Car No. 19 * Benz Victoria owned by the H. Mueller Company of Decatur, Illinois. Driven by Oscar B. Mueller. Car No. 7 * Benz Victoria owned by De La Vergne Refrigeration Machine Company of New York. Driven by Frederick Haas. Haas was a Benz factory mechanic. Car No. 22 * Benz Victoria owned by R.H. Macy Company (as a delivery vehicle). Driven by Jerry O'Conner. Car No. 5 * Duryea owned and driven by J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles. Built by the Duryeas after reading about reading about Benz cars in Scientific American. Car No. 25 * Electric Sturges "Motorcycle," lasted only 12 miles. Car No. 18 * Electrobat electric vehicle owned by the Morris and Salom Company of Philadelphia. Has front-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering. Lasted only 18 miles before the batteries gave out.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series History , IndyCar
Drivers Henry Ford