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30 old photos of American car races from the late 19th to early 20th century

Ian Smith

The first American automobile race is generally held to be the Thanksgiving Day Chicago Times-Herald  race of November 28, 1895.Press coverage of the event first aroused significant American interest in the automobile. The 54 -mile (87 km) course ran from the south side of the city, north along the lakefront to Evanston, Illinois, and back again. Frank Duryea won the race in 7 hours and 53 minutes, beating the other five entrants.

One of the oldest existing purpose-built automobile racing circuits in the United States, still in use, is the 2.5-mile (4.02 km)-longIndianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, built from March to August 1909 when it first opened for racing. It is the largest capacity sports venue of any variety worldwide, with a top capacity of some 257,000+ seated spectators.The oldest asphalt-paved oval track in the United States is Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut, once known as the “Indianapolis of the East.”

1908 Long Island Motor Parkway Sweepstakes

1908 Long Island Motor Parkway Sweepstakes

 

1914 American Grand Prize

1914 American Grand Prize

 

Agricultural Park race, 1903

Agricultural Park race, 1903

 

Ascot Park, 1917

Ascot Park, 1917

 

 

Auto races, Abilene, Kansas, ca. 1910s

Auto races, Abilene, Kansas, ca. the 1910s

 

Auto races, Minneapolis, Kansas, August 1917

Auto races, Minneapolis, Kansas, August 1917

 

Car racing at the old wooden race track in north Omaha, 1915

Car racing at the old wooden race track in north Omaha, 1915

 

Car Racing in America from late 19th to early 20th Centuries (2)

Car Racing in America from late 19th to early 20th Centuries (2)

 

Earl Cooper approaches the checkered flag in his Stutz racing car at the Tacoma Speedway, July 4, 1915

Earl Cooper approaches the checkered flag in his Stutz racing car at the Tacoma Speedway, July 4, 1915

Racing did not cease in the United States during WWI, but the official national championship was suspended. The Indianapolis 500 itself was voluntarily suspended for 1917–1918 due to the war. In 1920, the championship officially resumed, and despite the difficult economic climate that would later follow, ran continuously throughout the Depression. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, all auto racing was suspended during WWII. From 1942 to 1945 no events were contested, banned by the U.S. government primarily on account of rationing. Racing resumed in full in 1946. The 1946 season is unique, in that it included six Champ Car events, and 71 “Big Car” races, as organizers were initially unsure about the availability of cars and participation.

Fairgrounds Speedway, Nashville, Tennessee, 1911

Fairgrounds Speedway, Nashville, Tennessee, 1911

 

First auto race at Orange County Fair, Middletown, NY, 1915

First auto race at Orange County Fair, Middletown, NY, 1915

 

George Hill and his mechanician in car, a Stutz, on the new Tacoma Speedway track, 1915

George Hill and his mechanician in car, a Stutz, on the new Tacoma Speedway track, 1915

 

Golden Potlatch race, Tacoma, July 5, 1915

Golden Potlatch race, Tacoma, July 5, 1915

 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, September 9, 1916

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, September 9, 1916

 

Metropolitan trophy race, Sheepshead Bay, May 13, 1916

Metropolitan trophy race, Sheepshead Bay, May 13, 1916

 

Narragansett Park Speedway in Providence, Rhode Island on a sunny fall afternoon, 1915

Narragansett Park Speedway in Providence, Rhode Island on a sunny fall afternoon, 1915

 

Racing at the Readville racetrack in Boston, Massachusetts, 1909

Racing at the Readville racetrack in Boston, Massachusetts, 1909

 

Racing came to Arizona early as evidenced in this cartoon from the November 2, 1908 edition of the Los Angeles Times

Racing came to Arizona early as evidenced in this cartoon from the November 2, 1908 edition of the Los Angeles Times

 

Sioux City Iowa racetrack, 1914

Sioux City Iowa racetrack, 1914

Sioux City Mini Indy, July 4, 1914

Sioux City Mini Indy, July 4, 1914

 

The first auto race in Rush County, Kansas, 1911

The first auto race in Rush County, Kansas, 1911

 

The first U.S. oval track events took place in early September 1896 at Narragansett Park, Rhode Island

The first U.S. oval track events took place in early September 1896 at Narragansett Park, Rhode Island

 

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

 

The start of the Elgin National Road Races on Aug. 23, 1919. The annual dirt-track races went from 1910 to 1920, except for a three year break during World War I. Tommy Milton was the winner in 1919, racing 301 miles in a Duesenberg and winning the Elgin National Watch Company trophy. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION... (Box# 345)

The start of the Elgin National Road Races on Aug. 23, 1919. The annual dirt-track races went from 1910 to 1920, except for a three year break during World War I. Tommy Milton was the winner in 1919, racing 301 miles in a Duesenberg and winning the Elgin National Watch Company trophy. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)…

 

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

 

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

 

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

The Sioux City Speedway race, July 4, 1914

 

Vanderbilt race, 1910

Vanderbilt race, 1910

 

Waiting for start, Ascot Park, 1908

Waiting for start, Ascot Park, 1908