Today, the Indiana State Quarter Coin remembers the first big race at the new speedway on August 19, 1909.
From the New York Tribune of August 19, 1909:
Big Auto Meet Today.
Fast Cars and Best Drivers to Race at Indianapolis.
Indianapolis. Aug. 18 — With the cream of the best drivers in this country and a number of the fastest cars, the first meeting on the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be held tomorrow.
What may be expected in the line of records can be surmised by the performance of Zengel on the course today, when in a tuning up spin he made a mile In 47 3-5 seconds.
The list of entries is said to be the largest and most representative ever brought together at a single tournament.
Some of the well known drivers who will pilot cars for the $25,000 offered in prizes are Oldfield, Strang, DePalma, Lytle, DeWitt, Chevrolet, Ryall, Burman, Momson, Neina, Aitken, Bourque, Dennison and two amateurs, Arthur Greiner and Edward Hearne, of Chicago.
Fred J. Wagner, the official starter of the American Automobile Association, who has acted in this capacity at all the principal contests held in this country, will again occupy this position at the races.
The new speedway track is more than sixty feet wide, and two and one-half miles in circumference, with a straightaway course of more than a mile at the finish.
When the course is completed it will have cost close to $390,000.
The chief contest tomorrow is a 250-mile race.
A ten-mile handicap contest, however, is expected to offer many thrills, as twenty-nine cars have been entered.
From the New York Tribune of August 20, 1909:
Two Killed By Auto
Fatal Accident Mars Big Race.
Indianapolis Speedway Meet May Be Stopped by National Body, Which Demands Changes.
Indianapolis, Aug. 19.— Two lives were lost a two records broken on the first day’s racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today.
William A Bourque, driver of the Knox car in the 250-mile race, a famous driver, and Harry Holcomb, his mechanician, were killed in the frenzied carnival of speed, after they had been beaten by less than a second In a shorter race.
Barney Oldfield, driving a high powered Benz, covered a mile in 43 1-10, breaking DePalma’s mark of 0:51, and Louis Chevrolet, in a Buick, negotiated ten miles in the splendid time of 8:56 4-10, cutting Oldfield’s time of 9:12. Both of these are new American track marks.
Robert Barman, in a Buick car, won the 250-mile race, the feature of the day, and the contest which cost Bourque and Holcomb their lives.
The winner’s time was 4:38:57 4- 10, slow because of the many accidents that marred the race. The Stoddard-Dayton (Clements) was second In 4:46:01 8-10, and the National (Merz) finished third in 4:52:39 7-10. Another National, with Kincaid at the wheel, was the only other car of ten starters to finish the long grind.
The death of the two men caused the American Automobile Association to issue an ultimatum to the owners of the big track that certain changes must be made by tomorrow or the sanction for the races will be withdrawn.
The American Automobile Association demands that the track be freed from its many dangerous ruts which are said to be unavoidable in a new track, and that every Inch of it be thoroughly oiled and tarred.
Today only a short portion in front of the grandstand was oiled, and the dust on the other parts is blamed for the collapse of two drivers in the long race — Louis Chevrolet and Fred Ellis — who were blinded by the dense white dust that covered the major portion of track.
The Knox car was in second place, with Burman in his Buick leading, when the accident occurred. He had covered nearly one hundred and fifty miles when the crash came.
Coming down the homestretch, the car suddenly swerved and tore into the fence at the left of the track, turning completely over and pinning its two occupants beneath it.
Both men were alive when taken from under the ill fated machine, but Bourque died in the ambulance on the way to the emergency hospital. Holcomb lived a few minutes longer, but was dead soon after he arrived at the hospital.
Theories as to the cause of the accident vary, and no one will ever know what really caused the car to swerve from the track.
According to the story told by Private Frank Brandoer, of Company H, 2nd Regiment, Indiana National Guard, who was nearest to the scene of the accident and had a narrow escape from injury, something caused both men suddenly to turn and look behind. As they did so the steering wheel slipped from Bourque’ s hands and he threw his arms helplessly in the air. Then came the crash.
One of the rear wheels was found a few hundred feet from the scene of the accident, and this has led to the advancement of the theory that the axle nuts on it had not been properly tightened when the machine had taken on a new tire shortly before.
Bourque was twenty-six years old and lived at Springfield, Mass. He had been in the employ of the Knox company for seven years and had been a racing driver since 1907.
He finished second in the recent Cobe trophy race at Crown Point, Ind. Shortly before that he had been seriously injured when his car overturned in a hill climbing contest, near Worcester, Mass., in May. He made a good showing in the Vanderbilt Cup race last year, being forced out by engine trouble.
Holcomb was twenty-two years old and lived at Grandville, Mass. He had been with the Knox company for two years and was considered one of the best mechanicians in the racing business. Both men were unmarried.
Albert Denison, the racing partner of Bourque, collapsed after the accident, and the services of a physician were required. The sight of the two men lying dead was too much for the friend of both, who had been called upon so often to face danger of death in a similar manner.
Louis Chevrolet, the French driver of the Buick team, was led into the hospital almost blinded with the tar and dust from the track shortly after the two men had died. The Frenchman, who had been leading during the early part of the long race, was forced to give up.
As he gazed upon the bodies of his two former rivals of the track he muttered: “Too bad, too bad,” and then staggered to a chair, too weak to stand both the physical and emotional strain of the moment.
As the result of the two deaths, the Knox company has withdrawn all its entries for the next two days, and it is said it will probably never again enter its cars in a race.
Strang was the first to come to grief in the big race, as his car caught fire before he had completed one lap. Chevrolet dashed into the lead at the start and held it for fifty-two laps, or more than half the race, with the brief exception of the fifteenth and sixteenth laps, when he relinquished it to his teammate, Burman, the winner.
Then he was blinded and was led from the track and his car withdrawn. Miller in a Stoddard-Dayton also gave up his losing race about this time.
After Chevrolet’s withdrawal Burman again went into the lead, with Bourque second and Kincaid, in a National, third.
This order continued until the fatal accident to the Knox, when Kincaid moved into second place and Ellis, in a Jackson, loomed up as a contender in third place, to be put out by a series of accidents after he had held the lead for a few laps.
The closest race of the day came in the five-mile stripped chassis event, won by Burman in a Buick after a fierce struggle with Bourque.
The two cars tore around the track with wheels almost touching throughout the five miles. The scant margin of nine-tenths of a second separated Bourque from a victory in the last race he ever finished.
The Indiana State Quarter Coin shows with a newspaper advertisement for tires showing the records broken in the first big speedway race.