Blood and Smoke

Classic Driver - - HOLMAN -

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.

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