Blood and Smoke
is the title of a new Indianapolis history by Charles Leerhsen that explores the dim early scratchings of the 500 mile race founded by Carl Fisher when 500 miles was an all-day enduro more than the modern flat out blast.
“Carl Fisher was born 50 miles southeast of Indianapolis on January 12, 1874, and grew up with the automobile, or more precisely, in a world where motorised vehicles were morphing rapidly from rumour to reality. The standard joke – alas, the only joke – in standard books of automotive history is that the first car race took place shortly after the second car was constructed.
But while this would be almost funny because it is almost true, we can say with reasonable surety that the first formal auto contest ever staged in America (or likely anywhere) occurred four years after Fisher’s birth, in Wisconsin.
This was a 200-mile road race from Green Bay to Madison, that attracted just two experimental steam-powered wagons, weird-looking conveyances (think of buckboards with boilers), which had been christened the “Oshkosh” and the “Green Bay.” The latter broke down in midcourse and the only slightly less hideous former achieved an average speed of 6mph as it strained and grunted toward the finish wire in Madison. So much excitement was aroused by this event that the second car race in America did not take place for another 17 years.”
It’s one of those fascinating books that you have to read to find out the gems of racing history that you didn’t know you didn’t know.