THE MINNEAPOLIS 500 by Noel Allard

Special thanks to Noel Allard of Park Rapids, Minnesota, for allowing me to display his historical work on the Minneapolis 500 here on gotomn.  It is a privilege to have so many people share their photos and written work here on the gotomn.com history page.  Scroll to the bottom of this page for a photo gallery with captions and Noel's email address.  You will find a gallery of photos from the Minnesota State Fair Speedway from Noel's collection as well.   Stan Meissner


THE MINNEAPOLIS 500 by Noel Allard

Bibliography:

The History of America’s Speedways, Past & Present, Allan E. Brown, Allan Brown 1984

Wheels for the World, Douglas Brinkley, Viking/Penguin 2003

Thunder in the North, Gale Frost, Branston House, Inc. 1980

Minneapolis Park System 1883-1944, Theodore Wirth. Minneapolis Park Board 1945

Ill fated TC Auto Speedway, Noel Allard, Hennepin County History Magazine, Spring 1976

Minnesota Aviation History 1857-1945, Noel Allard, MAHB Publishing 1993

The Oily Grail, Jack Albinson, T.S. Denison, Minneapolis 1974

500 Souvenir Book, Carl Hungness Publishing 1983

Barney Oldfield, William F. Nolan, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York 1961

Minneapolis Journal Newspaper

Minneapolis Tribune Newspaper

What Became of the old Twin City Speedway, Lake Area Newspaper, May 1982, David Wood

Forword:

What follows is basically a story about a single automobile race, the 1915 Minneapolis 500. But there is much more to the story than just the few race descriptions that exist. The story encompasses a time when the country, yes, the whole world, had become romantically aware of the automobile. It was a time of far away war that most Americans would rather not have concerned themselves with; a time of incredible opportunity in the industrial age; a time of huge inventions and even larger personalities. The United States was dragging itself out of the Depression. And yet it was a most opportune period, when fortunes could be made - and lost – in the virtual blink of an eye.

The race – the 1915 Minneapolis 500 – was held on the sprawling site of the present day Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. This site is perched on the bluffs above the Minnesota River, near its confluence with the great Mississippi. It sits on a corner of one of the great fortresses of the American frontier, Fort Snelling, where US troops embarked to fight the last of the Indian Wars, and, later, would ship out to battles in the Civil War. Later, still, they would depart from there for World Wars I and II. But it is a piece of racetrack romance that once, in this historic place, there existed an unbelieveably modern automobile racetrack, unbelieveable because in its day, it nearly matched the qualities of the modern racetracks of NASCAR.

Here then is the story of the Twin City Motor Speedway and the one great Minneapolis 500 mile race that, most unfortunately, entered the racing stat book as a one-time event.

Chapter One:  The Beginnings

The latter part of the nineteenth century was a time full of excitement and frantic industry. New-fangled machinery was becoming available that would make man’s life easier. New utilities and conveniences were rapidly invented, developed and made available to the common man. Eli Whitney, for example, would invent a device to make processing cotton more practical; Robert Fulton’s steamboat revolutionized water-borne commerce and recreation; Cyrus McCormick’s reaper and John Deere’s steel plow gave hope for a simpler future for the farmer; Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph had shortened man’s chain of communication, as had Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone; Edison had brightened the daily lives of millions with the first practical light bulb. The linotype accounted for the rapid publication of new ideas. The tinkerers were changing the way of life of everyone on the planet.

During that time, the bicycle had also undergone a revolution, from the old high wheel “boneshaker” with its awkward and dangerous high perch, to a low-slung, pneumatic-tired device that could deliver the youth of America to work, to the market, and even to the racetrack. Many inventors such Henry Ford and later, Glen Curtiss and the Wright Brothers were bicycle buffs and racers. And like them, Ford was also interested in gasoline engines.

The idea of racing motor vehicles was not new by 1915, the moment in time of our story. In fact, its start had begun in Europe before the turn of the century. A German, N.A. Otto was the first to invent a gasoline powered internal combustion engine. Another German, Karl Benz, using an engine built by Gottlieb Daimler assembled a strange three-wheeled buggy, the first roadable motor vehicle, in the late 1880s.

In the US, Charles & Frank Duryea drove their first engine-driven “horseless carriage” around the streets of Detroit in 1893. And as soon as there were two such motorized vehicles on the road, the natural impulse of any sportsman was to compete with the other, and in this case it meant trying to “dust off” a rival on the muddy and dusty country path or city street. America’s first auto race occurred in Chicago on November 28, 1895. Duryea with a one cylinder, 4 horsepower, water-cooled car bested some eleven other entries, roaring to victory in a race that covered 52.4 miles. It took him ten hours to cover the distance; his average speed, 5.1 mph!

In 1893, Henry Ford, a modest young man working for Detroit Edison, the local electric company, produced an internal combustion gasoline motor of his own design. By 1894, he had made the decision to mount it in a rolling chassis; and by1896, citizens of Detroit began to complain about the smelly, noisy vehicle which Ford called the “quadricycle” nipping at their heels and scaring their horses as he tooled around the city’s rudimentary streets. The vehicle used a two-cylinder engine that Ford had constructed and set in a crude chassis which weighed in at 500 pounds. By 1898, Ford had an improved vehicle on the street, but he wasn’t alone. Already others were constructing motorized buggies, including Charles King, Ransom Olds, and Francis and Freelan Stanley among others. The Stanleys thought to utilize steam for propulsion. Steam power was much quieter, but also requiring more logistics – ie: fiddling with kerosene and water, waiting for steam pressure to build, etc.

Europe already was holding motorcar races and the news had spread to this country. Ford had his eye on the future, however. His thinking was that virtually every man on the street was a potential buyer of a motorcar. The motorcar would free a person to conduct a wide-ranging business, to distribute products, to travel to lands unknown, or to take the family for regular outings. The opportunities were numerous and, indeed, in 1900, Ford had built his first truck. But, in 1901, he needed a way to put his motorcar in the spotlight. He decided to challenge the reigning speed king, Alexander Winton, to a race!

Winton, whose expertise was in building cars, had also been competing, and was well-known to be on the top of the art. His “Bullet,” as his racing machine was nicknamed, held the current speed record, not quite a mile a minute. For the state of the art, the status of tire technology, the adequacy of the dirt and cinder horse tracks of the day, and the knowledge of fine-tuning…that was fast. Ford sent a news release to the Detroit newspapers that he would challenge Winton and anyone else interested to a 25-mile race – in a Ford motorcar that was not especially built for competition. He was in over his head. Ford knew nothing about either the theory or practice of sliding turns and wheel-to-wheel maneuvering.

Five contestants, including Ford, signed up for the event. But soon one competitor, Henri Fournier, pulled out in order to try for a land speed record in New York where, apparently,  there was more prize money involved. William K. Vanderbilt, a wealthy racing buff encountered mechanical problems with his car and withdrew; and then racer W.N. Murray found a leak in the water jacket of his engine and scratched as well… leaving Alexander Winton and his Bullet to vie with Ford in the big race. Though not a racer, Ford was the penultimate tinkerer, and never put anything on public display until he was certain all the bugs had been worked out. Full of confidence, he asked one of his mechanics, Spider Huff, to ride with him, standing on a running board as ballast. Ford had positioned handles on various points on the open car frame so that Huff could lean far out and balance the car on the turns. Ford’s own position was seated unbelted on a bench seat holding onto a tiller bar to steer the vehicle.

Officials, seeing the lack of competition, downgraded the race to 10 miles instead of the planned 25. Winton smiled. He was confident he’d cross the finish line before Ford. Ford took two practice laps on the half mile dirt track and was as ready as he ever would be. From the start, Winton quickly pulled away, but by the fourth lap, the seven thousand paying spectators noticed that Ford had settled down and was slowly gaining ground on Winton. Ford averaged 45 mph for the ten miles, enough to beat the vaunted Winton. When it was over, Ford wiped his face and said to the local press, “I was scared to death and I’ll never do that again. That board fence was right there in front of my face the whole time.” Then, graciously, he added, “Put Winton in one of my cars and he can beat anything in this country.” Sitting in the audience that day was a person who was to go on to greater fame in a racing car than either Ford or Winton, one Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield.

In 1902, Ford still saw racing as a potential marketing tool and his shop had built up two powerful 70 horsepower open-chassis race cars, one painted yellow and the other, red. Ford and a partner investor, Tom Cooper planned to enter the two cars in a race called the Manufacturers Challenge Cup at Grosse Point Township, Michigan, not far from Detroit. Twelve days prior to the race, the two had hauled the cars to the track to do some testing. Needing an extra mechanic, Cooper had called a friend, a mechanic named Barney Oldfield, to come and help. Oldfield was a hell-bent-for-leather young man who naturally migrated to a sport with the most danger and thrills. Up to this time he had been a bicycle racer, having paid his dues in slivvers and broken bones on the short board bicycle racing tracks of the times.

Neither Oldfield nor Spider Huff could start either racing car. Ford, in frustration, could see his reputation going downhill if his name was on the unwilling cars, so he told Cooper that he would sell him his share too. Thus at race time, Tom Cooper came to own the two cars. In practice, attempts were made to break the one minute mile (60 mph), but Cooper and Huff were unsuccessful, although they had finally gotten both cars to run after some clever jury-rigging of the carburetors by mechanic Oldfield. Finally, in frustration, Oldfield begged for the chance to try to break the mark, though he had never driven a competition automobile. He convinced Cooper to let him drive based on his reputation as a winning bicyclist.

The cars were by now given the names “Arrow” for the yellow car and just “999” for the red car after a high-speed train of its day. In his first race in “999,” on the dirt horse track, Oldfield was to compete against the “Geneva Steamer” driven by Bucknam; Shanks in a Winton “Pup”; White in a “White Steamer,” and several others. At the start, Oldfield jumped into the lead and held it till the end, lapping the fourth-place car of Bucknam. Only four cars finished. Oldfield’s long career had been launched.

Chapter Two: The competitors

It would be appropriate at this point to thumbnail some of the most influential and popular auto racing figures in the country from 1908 through 1919, figures who would be competitors in the 1915 Minneapolis 500.

The year 1904 was a year of much social energy. The Panama Canal was underway and President Teddy Roosevelt was the major newsmaker. The Wright Brothers had just completed tests at Kitty Hawk that proved man could fly; their unknown rival, Alberto Santos-Dumont, had proved the same to the people of Brazil;;and the New York subway was completed. The Edison studios turned out the first moving picture to hit commercial theatres, The Great Train Robbery. In addition, there were literally hundreds of American car companies producing automobiles, and, in fact, industry publications list over 3000 car companies that began life between 1895 and 1905! The Model T Ford came out after 1904 and by 1915, Ford would produce 1,440 cars a day with a 24 hour shift, or 300,000 Tin Lizzies a year!  Cars were indeed the most important new product in the hands of the average American.

After his introduction to racing via 999, Barney Oldfield had signed on with the Peerless Automobile Company and raced a special car, created just for racing, called the “Green Dragon.” In 1904 he used this car to win the Gordon Bennett Cup, winning over the Pope “Tornado,” a respectable racer of its day. At Grosse Pointe, Michigan, he triumphed over the two Winton Specials. In the Louisiana Purchase Trophy Race at St. Louis, Oldfield raced again in the Green Dragon, and in trying to avoid a spectator who had run onto the track, crashed, killing two persons and severely injuring himself. Out of the hospital in October, he jumped into the repaired Green Dragon and won the American Championship for the year at Cleveland. Competing for the World Championship at the end of October, 1904, he raced against a European contingent, vying with French champion, Maurice Bernin in a 90 hp Renault; Italian ace Paul Satori in a 90 hp. Fiat; and Frenchman Leon Thery, who had won the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup in his 80 hp. Richard-Brassier. Oldfield was out for the money! He signed a press agent, William H. Pickens (who co-incidentally was also the agent for the great woman aviator of the times, Katherine Stinson) to promote and enter him into contests and appearances. He had taken to clamping an unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth to keep his teeth from grinding together on bumpy racetracks, completing his colorful persona.

In 1908, Barney sold both of the Peerless automobiles he owned, the Green Dragon 3, and a companion, the Blue Streak. He was offered a Stearns 90 hp car to drive in the Briarcliff Road races at New York, but only came in 11th. Italian-born Ralph DePalma had come on the scene. DePalma had been a bicycle racer, as had Oldfield, having started in 1902. A rivalry was begun that would become more serious as years went by and as wins were traded between the pair. In 1909, Oldfield campaigned a National racecar and the same year, acquired a German Benz. This $4,000 car, with its 120 hp. Motor, was the same car that had won the 1906 French Grand Prix in Europe. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had just opened under the ownership of Carl Fisher and other investors.

The Indianapolis track was configured as a two and a half mile modified oval of tar and crushed stone surface. A three-day speed fest was held in 1909, with Oldfield racing to 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 mile speed records. His top speed of 83-84 mph laps also brought him the kilometer mark as well. Unfortunately, tire and track technology of the day were unknowns and the rough, loose surface played the major role in a crash by Charles Merz, in which a tire blew and the car went out of control, killing three people. When the speed fest was over, Fisher immediately had the track re-surfaced with 3,200,000 bricksm, earning it the nickname which was to go down in history, “The Brickyard.”

The American Automobile Association (AAA) became the major sanctioning body during this time, and because Oldfield had reneged on a contract to appear in Atlanta, driving at another track instead (where the purse was greater), was suspended from AAA competition. There were other venues and records calling Oldfield. In 1906, a Stanley Steamer had driven to an American speed record of 128 mph on the smooth endless sand of Daytona, Florida’s beach. Oldfield traded his Benz for a newer, bigger car named the “Lightning Benz,” perhaps the car most associated with his name over the years. This auto was a 200 hp monster with a 21.5 litre (1312 cubic inch) overhead valve engine and 4-speed transmission. In this car, on March 16, 1909 he raced on the sand to a new record of 131.7 mph, and knew the car could go much faster.

Oldfield then shipped the car to California, where he drove a match race against DePalma and others on the board track at Playa Del Rey. When DePalma’s Fiat had engine trouble, as did Oldfield’s Benz, a Fiat driven by Caleb Bragg beat Oldfield by a nose in two out of three heats. In September, 1909, Oldfield beat DePalma by 1/5th of a second at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds’ mile dirt track. Oldfield quipped that he could have beaten even that time except “for the dead weight of my cheroot” (cigar).  During his suspension by the AAA, Oldfield opened and ran a saloon in Los Angeles and also took on a tire dealership from a close friend, Harvey Firestone. For him, Firestone developed a special performance tire, branded the Oldfield model, which was used for many years on the top racing cars of its day.

By 1912, due to public pressure, Oldfield was assimilated again into the AAA. But he was stilled banned from competing at Indianapolis in the second 500 mile race to be held there. Carl Fisher had decided that no matter what the AAA did, he was still at odds with Oldfield. In 1911, the first year of the 500 mile race, Ray Harroun, an engineer and fine race driver, won the event in a Marmon, and the US AAA champion was Ralph Mulford, another excellent driver of the day. The top drivers during this period would be DePalma, David Bruce-Brown, “Terrible Teddy” Tetzlaff, “Wild” Bob Burman and Earl Cooper, a 120 lb. Californian with “the calculating mind of a mathematician.” The 1912 Indy was won by Joe Dawson, cruising past the Benz of DePalma, its engine dead and DePalma and his riding mechanic pushing it over the line for second place.

The Titanic tragedy occurred in May, 1912. Despite the terrible disaster which dominated headlines for months, the racing world continued at its normal pace. Oldfield had purchased J. Walter Christie’s red 300 hp. Christie front drive in 1909 to preserve it. It had been given the sobriquet of “Killer Christie” because it was overpowered and hard to handle. Oldfield had future plans for the car.

By 1913, Oldfield was again driving for the Mercer team. In the event at Tacoma, he ran against the Stutz team cars and lost out to Earl Cooper.

Cooper and Oldfield would run head-to-head at the Santa Monica Road Race, held on an eight-mile macadam course near the ocean. Oldfield blasted away from the starter’s flag and held a sizeable lead, but Cooper passed Tetzlaff for second and began running Oldfield down. With a 4-minute lead over Oldfield, one of Cooper’s tires blew out and he had to coast into the pits. As his riding mechanic struggled to get the wheel off, Oldfield roared past. Cooper jumped out of the driver’s seat and wrenched the wheel off, the tire was changed and the car back on the track to begin running down Oldfield once more. In his exuberance to stay ahead, this time Oldfield blew a tire and bumped into the pits as Cooper whisked past and on to the checkered flag as the winner.

On September 9, 1913, Cooper and Oldfield again met head-to-head on a 3-mile paved track that circled the town of Corona, California. Cooper, after experiencing the tire problem at Santa Monica, had cannily practiced on the course to find what maximum speed he could drive in order to not make any tire stops at all. He determined that if he drove 75 mph. for the entire race, he could do just that. Oldfield, hell-bent-for-leather, predicted that the race average would go to 90 mph. Oldfield set the pace from the start, over Cooper, Tetzlaff, DePalma and Spencer Wishart. He clocked an awesome 98 mph on one lap, but the track had started to break up from the pounding it was taking from the heavy cars. Oldfield burst a tire and Cooper inherited the lead. Oldfield was back on the track and again at speed when again, a young spectator ran onto the track in front of him. Oldfield swerved to avoid the lad and crashed heavily, injuring several people and himself. Cooper won again and would go on to take his first AAA National Championship.

With war breaking out in Europe, the country was abuzz. Moviemaker, D.W. Griffin’s talking picture “Birth of a Nation” hit the silver screen and George Herman “Babe” Ruth became a batting wizard. Oldfield had found a niche for the summer, racing against daredevil flyer, Lincoln Beachey in a Curtiss biplane. Both daredevils raced one-another at fairgrounds around the country, one winning one time and the other the next. Crowds loved the spectacle for it was generally the first time the majority of them had even seen an airplane. Oldfield and his PR man, Will Pickens, pocketed $250,000 that summer. Beachey would die later in the year, diving into the ocean off California during a stunting exhibition.

The 1914 Vanderbilt Cup saw a fifteen car field set for the start. Driving for Mercer were Ralph DePalma, Spencer Wishart and Eddie Pullen. Stutzes were driven by Earl Cooper and Gil Anderson.  A newcomer was on the grid, “Baron von Rickenbacher.” The Baron was Eddie Rickenbacher, and the title was meant to draw a response from the crowd, well aware that the war against Germany was on though the US was yet to be involved. (After the war, Rickenbacher’s name changed to Rickenbacker.) The Mercer team fielded two cars of 450 cubic inches and a third of 300 cubes. DePalma had won the 1912 Vanderbilt and this year he had qualified at 117 mph. Thinking they would insure their dominance, the Mercer team also hired Oldfield at the last minute. DePalma immediately resigned! The feud between the two intensified. As Oldfield was congratulating himself, DePalma purchased the old Grey Ghost Mercedes and had it rebuilt.

This year, the race was held on the Santa Monica 8.4 mile course. Oldfield drove with his faithful riding mechanic, George Hill. Anderson assumed the lead shortly after the start, but was out by lap 19 and DePalma was leading. Oldfield pulled up alongside DePalma and they raced the last ten laps side-by-side, sliding the turns together. At the wire it was DePalma by a nose. Earl Cooper arrived at the line in fourth position.

In 1914, Carl Fisher finally relented and allowed Oldfield to drive in the Indy 500. Oldfield would race in a Stutz along with Earl Cooper and Gil Anderson. Bragg and Wishart would drive for Mercer, Tetzlaff and Carlson for Maxwell, Joe Dawson, the 1912 winner in a National, and Rickenbacker and Haupt for Duesenberg. Others entered were Burman, DePalma, Mulford, and Grant, along with eight foreign drivers, including Rene Thomas and Albert Guyot in a Delage, Art Duray driving a “Baby” Peugeot and Joseph Christiaens in an Excelsior. Of the top seeds, DePalma withdrew early in the race with a heavily vibrating chassis. Thomas won in the Delage, Rickenbacher was 10th.  

The same year, at the new 2-mile dirt oval at Sioux City, IA, Rickenbacker won on July 4th. Gil Anderson was fourth in his Stutz. At the Elgin Road Races in Illinois, DePalma came in first in his trusty Mercedes, Anderson took second and Oldfield was fourth. The next event was the Cactus Derby, a road race from Los Angeles to Phoenix for the title of Master Driver of the World. Oldfield was entered in his Stutz, a racetrack car entered among the stock cars in this very punishing mixed terrain event. To everyone’s surprise except his, Barney Oldfield won the title. Despite not finishing the Indy 500, however, DePalma ended the season with enough points to be crowned the 1914 AAA champion.

1915 at Indianapolis would find DePalma winning, with Italian-born newcomer Dario Resta taking second. Oldfield was too hung-over to even get into the race car. He drove his big “Killer Christie” at Tacoma on the 4th of July and survived…although he didn’t win. At Chicago, Oldfield raced hard in a Delage against Resta, Burman and Cooper. Resta won the event. At the Elgin Road Races in August, Anderson and Cooper were 1 and 2 in Stutzes. The next race would bring them all to Minnesota.

Backtracking for a moment - at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a series of smaller races that occurred in 1910 had been dismissed to conduct one 500 mile endurance race in 1911. The long “500” was won by Ray Harroun in his Marmon Wasp car. Harroun was an automotive engineer and had helped design and build the Wasp. The Wasp was a single-seater, competing against 39 two-man teams. Harroun was one of the very few to be racing at the time without a co-driver/riding mechanic. His design also incorporated the first rear-view mirror known. He had started 28th in the field and worked his way to the lead by the end of the race. Ralph Mulford finished 2nd  and Eddie Rickebacher finished 11th as co-driver with Lee Frayer. In 1912, only 24 cars started the 500, and 1913 and 1914 saw a foreign invasion, with French drivers winning both years. In 1914, Oldfield, the first American to finish, came in 5th in a Stutz, and Rickenbacher finished 10th.

In 1915, Rickenbacher moved at first to the Peugeot team, then switched to Maxwell (whose cars were designed by Ray Harroun.)  He would co-drive with Barney Oldfield in the Minneapolis 500 on Labor Day. Finishers at Indianapolis on Memorial Day would mirror the competitors at the Minneapolis 500 on Labor Day. Top Indy finishers were: 1. Ralph DePalma, 2. Dario Resta, 3. Gil Anderson, 4. Earl Cooper, 5. Eddie O’Donnell, 6. Bob Burman, 7. Howdy Wilcox

Chapter Three:  The Racetracks

From the turn of the century, racetracks abounded. Every large town had its own dirt racetrack, mostly half mile and mile dirt or cinder tracks. Every county fair was centered on its horse racing track, where spectators gathered in huge crowds on special weekends during the summer to cheer for their favorite horses. It was totally logical that entrepreneurs seized this venue for promoting the next fad, motor racing, and the next step would be the superspeedway.

The definition of a superspeedway generally refers to a large oval, high-banked track of  ¾ mile or longer. Brooklands, in England, was the first high-banked specialized racetrack. It opened in 1907. It was, interestingly enough, built of concrete. The first oval auto track in America was built in 1896, a one mile dirt track near Narragansett Park in Cranston, RI. It was later paved with concrete and lasted until 1923. The first superspeedway of any prominence was the Los Angeles Motordrome, at Playa Del Rey which opened in 1910. It was a board track constructed by Jack Prince, who would go on to design many similar tracks across the country. Bankings were 20 degrees on the turns. It was an exactly circular track. Once cranked into a turn, a racecar could be driven all day at one power setting with little effort. The board track was not new, except to motor racing. For many years short board tracks of 1/7th to 1/5th mile had been used for professional bicycle racing and called “Velodromes.”  They were inevitably built with high banking. When the Los Angeles Motordrome opened, it was the first board track built to a length that would accommodate high speed racing cars, and built to strength standards to absorb the pounding of such heavy machines. Before the Motordrome closed in 1931, it had seen race speeds over 140 mph. Bankings were extreme, in the case of the Miami-Fulford track, an incredible 50 degrees. (Talladega, the highest-banked NASCAR track today, is a mere 33 degrees.) Cars racing at Miami had to run a speed of at least 110 mph just to stay up on the banking. Because of these high speeds, and the ability of spectators and competitors to race unheeding the usual clouds of dirt and stones raised by cars on dirt tracks, board tracks became popular and are considered the first superspeedways.

The next board track to open was the Chicago Speedway. It opened on June 26, 1915 and races were held there until it closed during 1918 to become the site of an Army hospital. It featured the first oval, circular ends with short straight-aways between. The Tacoma-Pacific Speedway in Tacoma, WA came next, opening July 4th of that year, replacing a 2 mile dirt track. It would last until 1922. The Omaha Speedway board track of 1.25 miles also opened in July of 1915, but only three races were held there before it closed, also as a result of the war’s distraction. The Des Moines Speedway opened in July, 1915 as well. It too, lasted only a single year. A track at Sheepshead Bay in New York was constructed and another one was begun at Philadelphia, but the reigning sanctioning body, the American Automobile Association (AAA), would not accept it, and it was closed before it opened.

The years 1910 – 1931 were the period of the board tracks. There were 24 outstanding board tracks in operation during these years in the U.S. One was even constructed on the site of what was the Montgomery Ward Department Store on University Avenue in the Midway of St. Paul. Board tracks helped advance engine development, tire and fuel technology, metal alloys and supercharging. Unfortunately, fires, hurricanes and rot all worked against their permanence. There was no such thing as treated lumber in those days. Only one or two tracks were rebuilt after the wood rotted.

The board tracks, due to their high speeds and clean atmospheres, were obviously where the action was in the early WWI time period. Board tracks were built on pilings driven into the ground, to which cross stays forming the banks and levels of the racing surface were bolted. 2x4, 2x6, or 2x8 boards of various lengths were then nailed together, on edge, to form a solid surface. The boards of one of the tracks, the Pacific Coast Speedway at Tacoma, WA, was to be paved over with asphalt, so the boards were laid flat and spaced three-eighths of an inch apart. It was never paved over, due in part to the fact that asphalt of the day was rather runny and not as we know it today.

Since 1903 there had been racing at the short dirt track at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds. The most famous superspeedway in the history of American motor racing would also be constructed near that city, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Carl Fisher, chairman of the Prest-O-Lite Company, and his partners; Arthur C. Newby, owner of the National Automobile Company; P.C. Avery, inventor of the carbide headlamp for automobiles; James A. Allison; and Frank Wheeler, partner in the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, created the 2.5 mile oval with corners banked nine degrees. A planned road-racing track in the infield never materialized. Work started in 1908, using crushed stone and the oily asphalt of the day. When the track opened on June 5, 1909, racing became a nightmare due to the unstable track surface, resulting in the death of one of the drivers and his riding mechanic. Fisher quickly moved to repave the track with bricks for the 1910 season. Workmen laid 3.2 million bricks in a record 63 days. The “Brickyard” became the only brick track in the US. (When Eddie Rickenbacker took over ownership of the track in 1927, he had most of the track repaved with asphalt, except for the main stretch in front of the grandstand. That, too, was later repaved in asphalt with the exception of a three-foot stripe at the start-finish line, which remains today as a reminder of the surface that gave it its nickname.)

As mentioned earlier, besides the board track on University Avenue in the Midway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds was the site of a very fine one-mile dirt track, used for horse racing from 1904. It was here that the great Dan Patch paced his record mile at 1 minute, 55 seconds on September 8, 1906. The one mile horse track also had a half-mile dirt track inside of it, sharing a portion of the grandstand straightaway. In 1940, the mile track was plowed under and in the late 1950s the half-mile track was paved with asphalt. The flying dirt had vexed the spectators and the surrounding vendors (who thought that the dirt floating onto their wares was polluted with the manure of horses over the years).

Chapter 4:  The Minneapolis 500

In 1914, plans for a huge two-mile oval speedway near Fort Snelling Military Reservation, between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, were put on the table. The location would be south of the city limits of Minneapolis and across the Mississippi River from St. Paul. Streets bounding the area chosen were 60th Street to the North and 66th Street to the South, 34th Avenue on the West and 46th Avenue on the East. The Twin City Motor Speedway Company filed for incorporation as a Minnesota corporation of the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, of Ramsey County on April 8, 1915. The incorporators were Charles W. Van Orsdol, Henry E. Habighorst, and James F. Sperry, all of St. Paul. The purpose was to construct, operate and maintain a speedway in the vicinity of St. Paul and Minneapolis and to furnish speedway entertainment and amusements. Capital stock was set at one million dollars, divided into 10,000 shares of $100 each. Habighorst was designated President; Van Orsdol, Vice President; and Sperry as Secretary. It is no surprise that the major investor and general advisor to the Twin City Motor Speedway Company was Frank H. Wheeler, the same investor who had backed the Indianapolis track and was President of the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company. In their first board meeting, election of officers made Wheeler the President, with Habighorst as VP; Dr. C.E. Dutton of Minneapolis, Secretary; and C.W. Van Orsdol, J.F. Sperry and Oren Kellogg, Directors.

The property, consisting of 342 acres, was purchased for $41,000 from local farmers.

The speedway was designed by Walter D. MacLeith, an architect and engineer practicing in St. Paul. Ground was broken on May 20, 1915 and the construction work began July 8th. The work was rushed. Timing was such that a national championship AAA sponsored race could be held there on Labor Day, September 4, 1915, less than two months away! Though it hadn’t been done in the US., it was decided to surface the track with concrete, including banked turns of 20 degrees (considerably steeper than the Indianapolis track.)* The track would be 60 feet wide on the straight-aways and over 80 feet wide on the banked curves. Over 300,000 cubic yards of dirt would be moved as the field was graded. Some 18,000 barrels of Chicago AA cement were used, along with 10,000 cubic yards of crushed stone and 6,000 cubic yards of sand in making the 76,000 square yards of concrete required. Cement was poured over the course of the next few weeks to a depth of six inches at the rate of 2,000 square yards a day. The operation required 200 to 250 workers on each of two shifts, day and night. Concrete technology was brand-new. No reinforcing rods were laid to strengthen the concrete; the method was virtually unknown and, as yet, not a standard. In fact, the track surface had not even been smoothed properly. These unknowns would lead to the demise of a great racetrack.

Covered grandstands were erected 40 feet back from the track on the West side to accommodate some 75,000 spectators. Open bleachers were built to hold another 25,000. Three tunnels were excavated under the track to allow for another 125,000 spectators to fill the infield. A two-story timing box was constructed at the start-finish line. Altogether, a total of 3,500,000 board feet of lumber purchased from the Ingvoldstad Lumber Company of St. Paul was used for the structures. 2,500 squares of galvanized steel were used for roofing. A row of open pits was arranged on the infield side of the track opposite the grandstands. Though the pit area was open – continuous to the racing surface itself - a concrete wall separated the grandstands from the track. A total of 1500 men had been put to work building the facility during a period of less than two months. Even then, work continued on the grandstands even after the Labor Day race had begun! In fact, streetcar tracks from downtown Minneapolis to the Northern edge of the speedway grounds were hurriedly laid and finished just three days before the race!

*The figure of 20 degrees is estimated from scaling photographs. Nowhere does the actual degree of banking appear in written records of the time.

The working crew of persons involved in the operation of the event included representatives of the AAA contest board: R. Kennerdell of New York, C.F. Ireland of Peoria, C. A. Kneedler of Sioux City. Referee would be H.J. Clark of Minneapolis, starter Fred J. Wagner of the Chicago Athletic Association, a technical committee of five persons, a director of scoring plus ten assistants, a contest director and his assistant, a chief umpire, surgeons, publicity directors, press committee, scoreboard supervisor, paddock supervisor, program sales manager, ushers and myriad others whose jobs were to make the event happen smoothly.

The well-known drivers of the day entered the event. Much publicity was made of the fact that Ralph DePalma (the winner of the 1915 Indianapolis race only four months earlier); Dario Resta, Barney Oldfield and Earl Cooper were among the entrants. The Minneapolis Journal of September 2, 1915 reported the track as a “tremendous shrine to king speed on which in elimination trials, the rubber-tired projectiles have hurtled through space at a rate exceeding 100 mph … a triumph in construction and engineering skill.” The prize money was to be paid in gold! Mayors from 53 regional cities were signed to attend. Dayton’s Department Store, ever ready with its outstanding marketing department, advertised “Kar Coats for the Motor Speedway Races.” Donaldson’s Department Store advertised “motor apparel needs from bonnet to boot, including all the latest fads and fancies affected by the socially exclusive cliques of the east and beyond.” Minneapolis and St. Paul were said to have gone “car-Crazy.” Hotels were filled, the streets were crowded with visitors, youngsters clattered around in push-mobiles. What could be more exciting?

A disappointing total, however, of only fourteen cars were entered. Dario Resta in his Mercedes earned the pole position with a qualifying speed of 102.8 mph. Gil Anderson in a white Stutz sat in the front row with a 100.5 mph speed. Eddie Rickenbacker, working as co-driver for Ralph DePalma, circled the track in practice in their Delage at a surprising 114 mph, which would be the fastest speed ever recorded at the track.

Labor Day, September 4, 1915, dawned sunny and hot! The cars were inspected at 10:00 am and the race was to start at 12:00 noon. The cars took one slow lap (there was no pace car) around the track and starter Fred Wagner of the AAA dropped the green flag for the rolling start as the cars swept past to start the race. Resta immediately shot into the lead in his Peugeot, followed closely by the two white Stutzes of Earl Cooper and Gil Anderson, then Ralph DePalma in the Mercedes. Bob Burman, in his Peugeot, having started in the second row, caught and passed the Stutzes at the end of the second lap and drafted along behind Resta. Burman soon passed Resta and forged a lead of almost 30 seconds over Resta. It was then DePalma and Cooper closed on the leaders. At the end of ten laps, DePalma steamed into the pits for some minor adjustments, returning to the track well in arrears of the other cars.

Gil Anderson, resuming his season-long battle with Stutz teammate Earl Cooper, pushed past Resta, coming up behind Burman, who was averaging over 93 mph on the rough track. On the 16th lap, Burman clunked into the pits, opened the car’s hood, shook his head when he learned that a connecting rod in the engine had broken, and announced his retirement for the day. He would later relate that he had planned to install new rods in the engine before the race, but they hadn’t arrived in time. His retirement left Cooper leading, Resta in second and Anderson third. At 56 miles, Resta powered by Cooper. Mulford was fourth, Tom Alley fifth, O’Donell sixth and DePalma seventh. Billy Chandler, Henning, Haupt, Brown and Oldfield brought up the rear. Now Anderson, who had been holding back, stepped hard on his gas, passing the charging Resta. At the 100 mile mark, it was Anderson, Cooper and Resta. Anderson was still averaging over 90 mph. Now the track began to take its toll. Cooper stopped for oil. Anderson blew a tire, which wrapped itself around the drive shaft and slowed him coming into the pits. All this was just fine for DePalma, who was coming from behind in a masterful show of driving, picking off one car after another.

Passing Resta and pulling up on the rear of Cooper, DePalma, at the 110 mile mark, had things going his way. Resta slowed and coasted into the pits with a broken oil pump. A cap from the back of the pump case had jolted off, causing a loss of oil. Next it was the Duesenberg of Ralph Mulford that encountered trouble. With its hood flapping, it was white-flagged (today it would be black-flagged) because of the danger of its coming off during the race and causing injury. There was no quick fix for it and Mulford was done! Now Otto Henning’s Mercer lost power and stopped on the track. Henning steered it out of the path of onrushing cars and he, too, had to watch the rest of the race as a spectator. At 120 miles, it was Cooper in the lead, averaging over 88 mph, then DePalma, and Anderson. DePalma’s car began losing speed, and the two Stutzes closed up in the lead. But DePalma wasn’t done. The car picked up again and DePalma pushed it hard, reclaiming second place.

During pit stops, Johnny Aitkin took over as relief driver for Cooper and Rickenbacker took over Oldfield’s car. At 200 miles, the leaders were Anderson, Cooper and DePalma. When DePalma’s car finally gave out entirely, the two Stutzes of Cooper and Anderson were left far up front with Ed O’Donnell a distant third in his Duesenberg. When Anderson gave way to a relief driver, the crowd was left with nothing much to cheer about. The race was now a battle of cars against the track. When the leaders slowed perceptively to avoid punishing their cars for the rest of the race, the crowd began to drift away. It was a hot day; the star drivers were retired or their relief was driving. Huge gaps between cars left the spectators with nothing to watch but the occasional pit stop. The handling of the pitwork was superb, however short. Harry Stutz, the builder of the racers, managed the Stutz team cars himself. As little as it was, however, it left the crowd bored and restless. For the bleachers, they had paid $2.00 a seat, and for the grandstand seats from $6.00 to $10.00 besides a general admission fee of $2.00, and for so little entertainment.

The finish was exciting though. Cooper crossed the finish line 30 feet ahead of Anderson after a five mile, neck-and-neck, see-sawing battle for the lead. O’Donnell in the Duesenberg was third, finishing over 30 minutes later! He had driven the first 376 miles without a pit stop, quite unlike the other competitors. Alley in the Ogren car, was fourth; Haibe, in a Sebring fifth; Bill Haupt, in his Duesenberg, sixth. Haupt finished his 500 miles nearly 50 minutes after the leaders and as the grandstands had by now emptied, starter Fred Wagner finally stepped onto the track and waved the green flag (there was no checkered flag used in racing yet), stopping the remaining cars, including Billy Chandler and Barney Oldfield. It was customary at that time to pay prize money only to the cars that completed the full number of laps designated for the race. This was an exception.

The race had plenty of disappointments. To the spectators, few cars started and fewer finished; and even then, so far apart that only the battle for the lead held any interest. The spectators could be excused for becoming a bit restless because of the few cars circulating - the race had gone on for almost six hours! (Oldfield’s Delage made twenty tire and spark plug stops, consuming 72 minutes in the pits. Cooper, in winning, made only five stops for a total of three and a half minutes, and Anderson, five stops, for four and a half minutes.) One must realize that the spectators were more used to seeing sprint cars sliding sideways on the dirt mile track at the Minnesota Fairgrounds. There the speeds seemed higher because cars were more bunched up on the smaller track. Here, there were not even clouds of dirt to take home as souvenirs. Historian David Wood concedes that “even the most avid fans could remain excited for only so many hours.”

 There was also disappointment for the track’s owners in that the track’s condition resulted in speeds well below those of Indianapolis, and even the board track at Chicago. An average speed of over 100 mph had been expected. Furthermore, the huge crowd anticipated at over 100,000… was finally counted at around 30,000. This was going to be a costly experiment!

There was disappointment for the drivers who finished out of the money and the car owners who faced expensive repairs and replacements. It was the rough concrete that broke the cars. Eddie O’Donnell’s riding mechanic, Jack Henderson, was forced to hold up a broken radius arm with his bare hand for the last 100 miles of the race after the chassis structure had broken from the bouncing. He nearly collapsed when the car’s wheels stopped rolling. The drivers expressed feelings that vibration from the track was almost beyond belief, and the track owners promised that the track would be ground with carborundum before the next race.

Technically, the track design was correct. The straight-aways had been wide enough for side-by-side racing and the corners engineered well enough that the cars stuck to them like glue. The cars could barrel down the straight and dive into the corners without letting up on the gas.

A sidelight is that Dario Resta offered to race Cooper in a match race the following week at the track, winner take all of $5,000 of his own money. The match race was never held.

Statistics:

Earl Cooper         Stutz       5:47:29 86.35 mph   $20,000   John Aitkin

Gil Anderson        Stutz       5:47:29:31  86.35       $10,000  Tom Rooney

Ed O’Donnell    Duesenberg  6:20:25 78.86       $  4,500

Tom Alley       Ogren       6:24:44 77.91       $  3,500

Haibe           Sebring 6:38:17 73.33       $  2,700

Bill Haupt      Duesenberg  6:45:18 73.97       $  2,000

Billy Chandler      Cooling flagged             $  1,750

Barney Oldfield     Delage      flagged             $  1,500 Rickenbacker

Bob Burman      Peugeot 16 laps

Dario Resta     Peugeot     

Ralph DePalma   Mercedes    100 laps

Ralph Mulford       Duesenberg  

Henning     Mercer

Brown           Du Chaneau

Pete Henderson  Duesenberg

Chapter 5:  The Demise

Immediately after the 1915 race, the owners knew they were in trouble. The track had been built at a cost of over $730,000 in 1915 dollars. Income from the race at $2.00 and $2.50 a head amounted to a drop in the bucket. The prospects for next year were not bright. In fact, the track was unusable in its current condition and would require additional expense to smooth it. No sooner had the race noises ceased when scores of laborers arrived at the office of General Manager Sperry in St. Paul demanding their paychecks. They were stalled off. Contractors and representatives of firms that had supplied materials met Wheeler and Sperry and demanded their money. More than one garnishment suit was filed, including one by a driver, Tom Alley, who apparently couldn’t pickup his prize money! Wheeler begged for time. Walter Ingvoldson, who had sold the corporation the lumber, claimed his payment. For others, checks had bounced. Before the following week was out, some 500 laborers and creditors had stormed the general office, all demanding their due. Still, partial payments were handed out to the laborers and creditors. Maybe the situation could be salvaged after all.

Wheeler took a train to Indianapolis to meet with Indianapolis Speedway officials, hoping for backing to float a bond issue. No backing was found. Then, W.F. Martin of the Twin City Carpenter’s Union filed a blanket mechanics lien for $16,000 and the whole mess was now assigned to the courts. Races held in 1917 brought in a meager $6,500 from which taxes and expenses could barely be paid. By the end of 1917, the stockholders still owned the track, but were in bankruptcy, and the track’s future undecided.

In the first fall and winter, the track was further plagued by frost heaving. The lack of re-rod had made itself felt. In 1916, the owners had no option but to begin dismantling the grandstands and selling the enormous amount of lumber and tin to begin paying off bills. The infield land was leased out to local farmers, from whence it acquired the nickname “the 342 acre farm enclosed in concrete.”

By March, 1917, the speedway had been sold at sheriff’s auction for a mere $250,000 to the Minneapolis Trust Company. Still, creditors held some $375,000 worth of bills. For all practical purposes, the speedway was defunct and the land had to be put to a different use. The grand experiment was over. After the abandonment of the track as a racing venue, the high banks still remained for many years. Young men, eager to test themselves against the racing heroes of the day, often challenged the track with their Model A’s in the late 1920s. In 1925, Lyman Brown relates that he took his Model A, nicknamed his “Collegiate Car,” to the track on a number of occasions, and, only able to drive it at 25 mph, he had to stay low on the banking because with its skinny tires, it would slip and slide down the banking. “It was rough as the dickens with holes and cracks and broken concrete chunks.” He told this author. Even so, he and his friends thought they were rally racing! My father, Raymond Allard, told me that, once in a while, one of his buddies would try to run around the high side and the car would tip over. “Tiny” Larson, early Northwest Airlines mechanic, claimed that once he and some friends borrowed one of their father’s cars, and while trying to tame the track, the car tipped over. The boys righted the vehicle and returned it to the owner without mentioning the fact.

The auto racing buffs had slipped away, but in their place arrived a new breed of sportsmen – the aviators. The fairly flat field enclosed within the racetrack beckoned early flyers with its clear white circle, a landmark easily seen from the air from many miles away.

In 1917, with America engaged in the European war, the Aero Club of Minneapolis had been formed for the purpose of assisting the military with training aviators for overseas flying needs. At the same time, Dunwoody Institute of Minneapolis became the location of a Naval aviation ground training facility. It, and its school in the Midway area between Minneapolis and St. Paul, included a plan to train a few aviators. They would be given their first lessons near The Parade, as a patch of ground near Dunwoody Institute was named. By October, 1917, there were 85 men holding pilot’s licenses in the local area.

In February, 1918, Sheriff Earle Brown, one of the Aero Club directors, put his large land holdings northwest of the Twin Cities at the disposal of the club. With the Armistice, the Brown farm came into civilian use by the Ashley Aeroplane Company under Enos Ashley and Walter Bullock. It became the first real northwest flying field, but was soon followed by others: a field in Fridley used by the Federated Fliers, Inc., under the ownership of C.W. Hinck; a field near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul run by William A. Kidder called the Curtiss Northwest Airplane Company. Brothers Wilber and Weldon Larrabee also created the Security Aircraft Company and built a hangar to house their operation on the site of the Twin City Motor Speedway. It was constructed using part of the main straight-away as its concrete floor.

With flying distributed at sites around the cities, and frankly needing regulation and a single permanent site, the Minneapolis Aero Club had been very active in seeking the proper place for a large permanent landing field. By November, 1919 State regulations had been imposed on the area’s flyers which prevented stunting over the cities and officially licensing of aircraft and pilots. At the same time, the State Adjutant General, W.F. Rhinow had requested the State to establish an air squadron within the Army National Guard. They also needed a home. The area that both groups had in mind was the grounds of the former Twin City Motor Speedway near Fort Snelling and midway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, for the same reasons as the promoters of the racetrack had favored. When the property had gone on the sheriff’s sale block in March of 1917, it was purchased by Mr. Gus Hohag, (one of the original farmers who had sold it to the Speedway corporation.) He, in turn, sold it for $56,000 to Guy A. Thomas. Thomas turned it over for $100,000 to the Snelling Field Corporation (name changed soon to Snelling Field, Incorporated) with Thomas as an officer of the corporation. With the Security Aircraft Company and other operators established on the field, by 1920 it had become the center of all Twin City flying, and in fact, most of Minnesota’s flying.  The Minneapolis Aero Club gave way to the Twin City Aero Corporation which leased the grounds of the old speedway and began removal of the concrete and making improvements to the field. An airmail hangar was built and the Twin Cities welcomed the first government airmail flight in 1920. In 1921, the State provided funds for construction of three hangars for the newly chartered 109th Observation Squadron, the first Air Guard aerial squadron approved by the US War Department. The airfield was called Speedway Field until it was dedicated in 1923 to two local flyers killed in aerial combat in the Great War, Ernest Groves Wold and Cyrus Foss Chamberlain (Wold-Chamberlain Field).

In 1915, a law had been passed by the State Legislature authorizing the Minneapolis Park Board to be created. A levy allowed the Park Board to acquire property for parks and playgrounds. In 1926 the Park Board officially acquired Wold-Chamberlain Field from the Twin City Aero Corporation and thus began the airport’s climb to becoming Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. During the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of 1935 – 1939 (named the Work Projects Administration from 1939 to 1942,) the remainder of the concrete speedway was removed, the field improved and paved runways laid. The Park Board gave way to the Metropolitan Airports Commission in 1943 in whose hands it is administered still today.

(Much more of the history of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport can be found in the book, Minnesota Aviation History, 1857-1945 by this same author, published in 1993).

It is noteworthy that Candler Field near Atlanta, GA was another “superspeedway” racetrack, built for auto racing in 1909 and closing in 1923. It also became the site of a major airport, today the William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

When Wold-Chamberlain Field was improved during the 1930s, the remaining concrete portions of the track were bulldozed to fill-in low spots in the central portions of the field. So, it is today that somewhere under the two mile long, twenty inch thick runways at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the remains of a once great, but doomed speedway lie forever entombed.

In 1916, the Twin City Motor Speedway would hold additional races, but not a lengthy enduro. Races occurred on Memorial Day, the same day as the Indy 500. Of six races on the card, the longest one featured a 25 lap race for sprint style cars. A novelty was a 5 lap race for what was called the Twin City Trophy, reserved for cars that had been owned by Twin Citians for at least 30 days. A 5 lap motorcycle race ended the holiday activities. Dario Resta won a 150 mile event at the track later in the Fall.

For 1917. Ira Vail would win the last race at the Twin City Motor Speedway, a 100 mile tussle with the rough track held on July 14, 1917, a race sponsored by the Red Cross, called the American Red Cross Auto Derby. In a preliminary event, Reeves Dutton had won a 25 lap sprint in a Stutz.

Miscellaneous:

National Champions:

Barney Oldfield

1911    Ray Harroun

Ralph DePalma   (AAA)   

Earl Cooper

Ralph DePalma

Earl Cooper

Dario Resta

Earl Cooper

Thumbnails of the competitors:

Alley, Thomas. Raced five times in the Indy 500. Best finish 5th in 1919. Drove for Duesenberg in 1915.

Chandler, Billy. Raced from 1912 through 1916. One championship win in 1913. Drove a Cooling in the 1915 Minneapolis 500.

Oldfield, Berna Eli “Barney.”  Born January 29, 1878 in  Fulton City, Ohio (another source claims Wauseon, OH). Died October 4, 1946. Married three times. In 1910, drove a car to a record 131.25 mph. First driver to break a 100 mph lap at Indianapolis in 1916. In the 1930s he road-tested cars for Hudson, was the 1931 starter for the Indy 500, drove Allis-Chalmers tractors in high-speed fairgrounds exhibitions, owned a Country Club near LA., and was a movie star and Broadway actor.

Cooper, Earl. Born in Nebraska in 1886. Died October 22, 1965. Second at Indy 500 in 1924. Three-time National Champion (1913, 1915, 1917) Began racing in 1908. Joined Stutz in 1912. In 1913 he won seven of eight races entered and finished 2nd in the eighth race. Missed the 1914 season and part of 1915 due to injury. Drove for Stutz.

Mulford, Ralph. Born 1884. Died October 23, 1973. Ended his career as a hill-climb expert, setting records at Mount Washington and Pikes Peak. Raced at Indy ten times. Involved in controversy as to who won the first Indy 500, he or Ray Harroun.

Anderson, Gil. Raced Stutz cars in five of six Indy 500s. Best finish was 3rd in 1915.

Resta, Dario. Born August 17, 1884 in Milan, Italy. Died Sept. 2, 1924. Won US Grand Prix in San Francisco in 1915 and the Vanderbilt Cup and was 2nd at  the Indianapolis 500. He won the inaugural board track race at Chicago Speedway in 1915. Drove a Peugeot car in 1915. Winner of 1916 Indy 500, the Chicago 300 and Omaha 150 as well as the Minneapolis 150. Finished his career driving in Europe. Killed at Brooklands trying for a new land speed record.

Burman, Robert. Born Imlay City, MI April 23, 1884. Died April 8, 1916. Raced from 1909 to 1915. Raced at Indy five times. Best finish 6th in 1915 in a Peugeot. Had six championship race wins. Killed at Corona, CA in 1916 in the Peugeot.

Rickenbacker, Edward “Eddie”  Born 1890 in Columbus, OH. Began his career in 1906 as a pit-boy, then became a member of the Lee Frayer/Miller team. His first race was in Red Oak, IA where he crashed, but later in Omaha, he won nine out of nine races he entered in a Miller car. In 1917 he went into the US Air Service, becoming the leading US Ace with 26 enemy aircraft shot down. After the war, he manufactured his own line of automobiles, and in 1927 bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1940 he spent several days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in a rubber raft before he was rescued. He became President of Eastern Airlines in 1948.

DePalma, Ralph.  Born February 23, 1884, died March 31, 1956. Italian-American. Winner of the first Milwaukee Mile championship race in 1911. Led the Indy 500 in his Mercedes in 1912 until 2 laps from the finish when a cracked piston sidelined him. He and his riding mechanic pushed the car over the finish line for 2nd place. Won 1912 and 1914 Elgin National Trophy and the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup. Won the 1915 Indy 500.  Set a measured mile speed record in 1919, driving a Packard to a record 149.875 mph at Daytona Beach. Competed in 12 Indy 500s. Drove a Mercedes in 1915 AAA races.

Captions for Minneapolis 500 photos

1. Drawing of the Twin City Motor Speedway. Illustration from 1915 periodical. (Thunder in the North booklet. Gale Frost)

2. Bird’s eye view line art file (same as A)

3. Reservation chart for 1915 Minneapolis 500 at TCMS. (Reservation brochure (Metropolitan Airports Commission, Minneapolis)

4. Reservation chart part 2.

5. Reservation chart part 3

6. Reservation chart part 4

7. Brooklands Motor Speedway. England. The first banked concrete high-speed racetrack in Europe. Can be seen in its 1960s form in the movie, Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines. (The History of America’s Speedways. Allen E. Brown)

8. Barney Oldfield, the Ford “999” and Marmon automobile, a 1927 box office still from the movie The First Auto, starring Oldfield himself. (Noel Allard collection)

9. TCMS under construction in 1915. (Thunder in the North. Gale Frost)

10. Minneapolis 500 race practice. (Bob Adelmann photo. Noel Allard collection)

11. Lineup of drivers for the Minneapolis 500, September 4, 1915, Part 1. The person in the white uniform in the middle is the colorful Barney Oldfield. To his right is his co-driver, Eddie Rickenbacker. Note they both have cigars. The rest of the drivers are unidentified. Assemble one wide-angle photo by placing all five lineup photos together, this one at the left. (Minneapolis Tribune photos. Noel Allard collection)

12. Lineup – part 2

13. Lineup – part 3

14. Lineup - part 4

15. Lineup – part 5

16. Speedway Field. 1919. Aerial view of the abandoned Twin City Motor Speedway looking SE. Still visible are the tunnels, the positions of the grandstands (torn down in 1917) and 34th Avenue that runs north-south at the lower right. Also visible on the right-hand (home) straightaway is the hangar of the fixed base operation of Security Aircraft Company, the first aviation business to locate at now-named Speedway Field. (Minnesota Historical Society – MHS.3W p.46 #25736)

17. View of Speedway Field 1920, looking to the SW. (Bob Lemm collection)

18. Speedway Field circa 1921. The 109th Minnesota Air Guard’s hangars are at upper left inside the track. The 1920 airmail hangar is in the middle of the field. Visible are the tunnels, the sandy area at the right inside the circle, the Security Aircraft Company and the old speedway garages on 34th Avenue. 66th Street runs perpendicular to 34th Avenue at the lower right. (Jim Borden collection)

19. Vertical 1920 view of the area of the Security Aircraft Company showing the remaining white cement blocks that supported the home stretch grandstands and the tunnel under the track that had been used for letting spectators into the racetrack infield. (Minnesota Air National Guard photo)

21. Another view of Speedway Field 1921 looking mostly East. (Larry Hammond photo through Deno Sotos. Noel Allard collection)

22. Closeup view of the Minnesota 109th Air Guard Observation Squadron’s hangars in the NE corner of the racetrack. These hangars were constructed in 1921 by the State of Minnesota for the new Air Guard unit. (Vern Georgia. Noel Allard collection)

23. Another view of the Air Guard 109th Observation Squadron area on Speedway Field, circa 1922. (Vern Georgia. Noel Allard collection)

24. Speedway Field circa 1922. Looking over the Air Guard hangars to the far SE end of the racetrack. Note cars of joyriders running on the track. (Jim Borden collection)

25. Circa 1922 view of the NE curve of the racetrack as it sweeps behind the Air Guard hangars. (Vern Georgia. Noel Allard collection)

26. 1922 aerial photo of the 109th Observation Squadron’s summer encampment at Speedway Field. (Augustus Whittier Nelson photo. Noel Allard collection)

27. 1922 view of Speedway Field NE corner. The parachute in the center of the picture is that of Charles “Speed” Holman, providing a thrill for a crowd gathered on a weekend afternoon to watch aerial flights by Air Guard aircraft and other barnstorming events. Holman would become Northwest Airline’s first pilot and Operations Manager in 1926. (Bob Lemm photo)

28. Dedication of Speedway Field as Wold-Chamberlain Field, 1923. Eddie Rickenbacker, at this time WWI aerial Ace of Aces, was guest of honor. Note the construction of the Veteran’s Hospital is well under way in the background. (Joe Quigley photo)

29. Wold-Chamberlain Field, August 23, 1927. Morning of the visit of Charles A. Lindbergh on his round-the-country tour following the flight to Paris. An alley way is open to the Air Guard hangars where he was to hangar the Spirit of St. Louis. Crowds closed in forcing CAL to quickly stash the plane in the safety of the Air Mail hangar, out of sight to the left in this view. (Minnesota Air National Guard photo)

30. View of Wold-Chamberlain field circa 1928. Looking North along 34th Avenue. The Security Aircraft Company is long gone, hangars of Universal Air Lines lineup with the space where the first airport terminal will be built at the position of the old racetrack between them. The concrete pads at lower left remain from the old speedway garages. (Roger Poore photo)

31. 1930 view of Wold-Chamberlain Field shows construction of the terminal building along 34th Avenue as well as the Universal Air Lines hangars and Northwest Airways hangar at far left on the ramp. The entire west side of the racetrack has been removed. Note the buildup of housing in the Richfield suburb of the Twin Cities at the left of the picture. Also note the Navy hangar to the left of the Air Guard hangars. (Metropolitan Airports Commission photo)

32. Speedway Field in winter circa 1928. Visible are two rolled landing strips in the form of an “X” in the infield of the old track. (Noel Allard collection)

33. Circa 1931 view of Wold-Chamberlain Field. The terminal building is finished. The old airmail hangar has been moved from the center of the field to a position to the right of the Air Guard hangars. No trace of the racetrack remains on the west side of the field. (Noel Allard collection)

34. Dario Resta and his riding mechanic at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1916. He was the winner that year at Indy. Drove in the 1915 Minneapolis 500 in this Peugeot car.  (O’Dell Shields photo. Noel Allard collection)

35. Earl Cooper and his riding mechanic in the Stutz car. Picture taken at Indianapolis 500 qualifying in 1919. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo. Noel Allard collection)

36. Jules Goux, 1913 Indianapolis winner in this Peugeot car. (O’Dell Shields photo. Noel Allard collection)

37. Ralph DePalma working on his Mercer car in the Indianapolis garages in 1913. He participated in the Minneapolis 500. (Artimus Images IMSC 0081 #13840)

38. Ralph DePalma and his riding mechanic at Indianapolis 1915 in his Mercedes, the year he won the 500 there. He is the one in side view. He participated in the Minneapolis 500. (Artimus Images IMSC 0046 #10695)

39. Ralph Mulford and his riding mechanic in his Frontenac car, taken at Indianapolis in 1919. He participated in the Minneapolis 500. (Artimus Images 0074 #10697)

40. Rene Thomas on the left and his riding mechanic in a Delage auto. Thomas won the 1914 Indy 500. (Artimus Images 0087 #10694)

41. Barney Oldfield watches tire change during a pit stop in practice for the 1916 Indy 500 in his Delage car. Oldfield was a participant in the Minneapolis 500. (Artimus Images 0097 #13978)

42. Ray Harroun in the Marmon Wasp, designed by himself, winning the inaugural 1911 Indy 500.  (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo. Noel Allard collection)

43. Candler Field, Atlanta, Georgia, circa 1910. The field is now the site of Hartsfield International Airport. (Noel Allard collection)

44. Airport Development plan July 18, 1927. Shows the use of the racetrack to define the runway lengths and planned lighting of the new Wold-Chamberlain Airport. (Metropolitan Airports Commission)

45. Airport Development plan May 6, 1928. Planners using the circular track as guide for positioning for hangars and commercial buildings. (Metropolitan Airports Commission)

46. Airport Development plan. December 31, 1929. (Noel Allard collection)

47. Airport Development plan for December 31, 1930. Plans finally allow for extension of the field not restricted by the presence of the old racetrack. (Noel Allard collection)


MINNESOTA STATE FAIRGROUNDS RACETRACK

The attached photos are from the original collection of Bob Lemm of St. Paul, now the collection of Noel Allard, Menahga, MN 2007

Photographer George Miles Ryan. Minneapolis. Date 1937.

Photographer George Miles Ryan. Minneapolis 1937.

 

Photographer Kenneth M. Wright Studios, St. Paul. Circa 1948.

 

Minnesota State Fairgrounds and University of Minnesota Farm Campus. Circa 1939. Photographer unknown.

 

Photographer unknown. Circa 1939.

 

J.E. Quigley Aerial Photographs, Minneapolis. 1933 or 1934. Note two railroad engines facing each other on short track in infield. These both of these two years, a head-on locomotive collision was one of the grandstand features.

 

Photographer unknown. The mile track is gone and all that remains is the half-mile dirt track. 1959. Note that a large stage has been constructed in the infield across from the grandstands for evening entertainment.

Noel Allard

Park Rapids, Minnesota 2007

nallard@unitelc.com