CROSSING A CONTINENT
Much of the iconic Route 66 was still unsealed in 1928, when sport agent CC Pyle was commissioned to organise an epic running race along its 2,400-mile length. For commercial reasons, Pyle extended the course to New York, to make it a 3,422.3-mile coast-to-coast challenge.
3.30 PM, SUNDAY 4 MARCH 1928 Ascot Park Speedway, Los Angeles, California The Trans-American Footrace begins, with 199 runners taking part and around half a million people turning out to see them off. The first leg was the shortest of the lot, an easy 17 miles to La Puente.
6 MARCH Victorville, California Within days the race enters the Mojave Desert, leaving Bloomington, going through Cajon Pass and into the searing heat. The rudimentary road is rough and rocky, and automobiles stir up dust, which runners battle through. One man is hit by a car, another by a motorbike.
12-19 MARCH Two Gun Camp, near Flagstaff, Arizona Crossing the Colorado in Arizona, runners swap dry desert for mountains and cold late-winter conditions. Race leader Arthur Newton injures his Achilles crossing Route 66’s highest point on Fortynine Hill and is forced to retire from the race. Second-placed Payne comes down with severe tonsillitis here too.
28 MARCH Albuquerque, New Mexico After another ten days of high-altitude running, Peter Gavuzzi begins to gain on the front-runners Andy Payne and Arne Souminen, who have exchanged the race lead. In Albuquerque, the biggest town the race has entered since LA, the mayor snubs Pyle’s carnival and the race finances descend into a perilous state.
EASTER, 6-8 APRIL Amarillo, Texas Runners endure their worst day around Amarillo, with awful conditions turning the road into a quagmire. Race leader Arne Souminen rips tendons on Easter Sunday (8 April) and is forced to pull out of the race, leaving Andy Payne and Peter Gavuzzi to duke it out for top spot.
17 APRIL Claremore, Oklahoma Oklahoman Andy Payne crosses the border into Texola in the lead, and stays ahead though his hometown of Foyil and into Claremore, the halfway point from LA to New York. Here, he receives a 21-gun salute from the Military Academy, but is slowed down by his own enthusiastic supporters across Oklahoma.
27 APRIL St Louis, Illinois Payne loses the overall lead to Gavuzzi as they run through Missouri and enter Illinois. As the race crosses the Mississippi, Pyle’s financial situation worsens when the St Louis Chamber of Commerce refuses to pay his $12,000 fee.
11 MAY Fremont, Ohio By the time the race leaves Chicago, Payne is trailing Gavuzzi by almost seven hours, but the Englishman is nursing a painful tooth abscess that leaves him unable to eat for two weeks, and he is forced to retire from the race 34 miles west of Fremont.
24 MAY Passaic, New Jersey As the race passes through Johnny Salo’s hometown, Payne is given a police escort after fears of violence from local supporters (although the two men had actually forged a solid friendship). Salo is given a job as a policeman, a role he takes up after the race.
26 MAY New York City On the last day of the epic transcontinental race, 84 days after leaving LA and having run 3,422 miles, 55 men cross the Hudson River into Manhattan and have to do 200 laps around a slippery track in Madison Square Gardens. Payne wins the race with a time of 573 hours, 4 minutes, 34 seconds, some 15 hours ahead of second-placed Johnny Salo.