Although Henry Ford's 1901 race is touted by Ford for its importance, it wasn't actually the first American car race. That actually occured 115 years ago today in Illinois — in the middle of a blizzard.
If the creators of the first American Car Race could see the level to which car racing has evolved to today, they might not believe it. It is unlikely that many people who were in attendance on November 28, 1895 thought that this was the next great spectator sport. Not only was the race held in the middle of a blizzard, but because of the conditions only 6 of the 89 vehicles originally intended to compete showed up at the starting line ready to race.
The race, sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald, was intended to be a showcase of what American cars at the time had to offer. All entries were required to have at least three wheels and be capable of carrying a driver and an umpire to make sure there wasn't any cheating. Can you imagine if race officials still had to travel with race car drivers?
The six cars that actually made it to the start line on that snowy day for what was called, simply, the American Car Race, were an American Duryea Motor Car, three cars produced by German Karl Benz, a car sponsored by Macy's department store, and two electric cars. The Duryea won, completing the 50 mile course between Chicago and Evanston, Ill in a little over ten hours. Only one other car actually finished and it completed the course two hours after the Duryea. The race wasn't exactly a photo finish.
The winner Frank Duryea and his brother (seen at left) took the $2000 won from the race and started selling the race-winning Duryea Motor Car. The Duryea is now remembered as the first commercially successful American car ever produced. Equally important, it is from this humble beginning of questionable success that American auto racing was born.
Photo Credit: buldg216