The Salt Beds Of Salduro Part 2:

The Opening of the Speedway, The Gold Brick Scandal and the Debut of the Benz

(By Bret Kepner) – Ernie Moross continued to supervise his contracted racers even while in the employ of the new Indianapolis Motor Parkway and secured a new deal with Benz Motor Cars, (then a separate entity from Mercedes), for Barney Oldfield to purchase one of its exotic Blitzen Benz machines. Meanwhile, Moross was the chief promoter of all events at IMS. When ongoing construction delayed the opening of the 2.5-mile dirt oval track, Moross presented a helium balloon competition as the first event at what would later be known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 5, 1909. It attracted 43,000 spectators. Despite many problems with the oval’s surface, Moross promoted and produced races for both cars and motorcycles which, in total, drew almost 125,000 spectators during the 1909 season at $1 per ticket, (well over $3,000,000 in current value).

The 1909 IMS events were marred, however, by an horrific track surface which contributed to five fatalities during the track’s first auto racing weekend on August 19-21. After losing its sanction from the sport’s leading authority, the American Automobile Association, Fisher and Moross decided to pave the track with 3,200,000 bricks the last of which, a gold-plated brass piece, was laid by Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall on December 19, 1909, to reopen the Speedway.

Ernie Moross was a master of promotion. Since most of the events he produced with Oldfield were “match races” against a single opponent, Moross developed a program of three heat races in which Oldfield would win the first race by a few feet, lose the second battle and then obliterate his competition on the final lap of the last match. In most cases, the other racer was one of Ernie’s team drivers. If the loser was a local competitor, impressive compensation was presented by Moross long before the race ever started. When competing against the clock for a new speed record over any given distance, it was a rarity if Oldfield failed to beat the old mark which may have been set at another town’s fairgrounds only twenty-four hours earlier. Because Moross often acted as promoter, race director and announcer at his own events, the repeated wins and new speed records by Oldfield were seen by some as no small coincidence.

Regardless, nearly every Moross promotion resulted in huge profits and he utilized many of these publicity concepts while managing the Indianapolis facility. Despite the fact the Speedway drew monstrous crowds for auto and airplane races in early 1910, Moross felt he could increase attendance at events which suffered from high heatduring the summer months. He devised a scheme in which the gold-plated brick, (which he had publicized as made of solid gold), would be “stolen” from the racetrack. The information would be released to news reporters and, after a few weeks of searching for the culprit while a huge reward was offered, the brick would be safely returned. Carl Fisher wanted no part of the plan and told Moross to forget the idea. Moross ignored Fisher and publicly reported the brick stolen. Clashes between Fisher and Moross were common during their relationship; Moross actually resigned from the Speedway in October, 1909, when Fisher demanded Moross devote his efforts to the track rather than his personal racing teams but Fisher recanted and allowed Moross to continue his extracurricular activities.  This time, however, Fisher turned the tables and told reporters the details of Ernie’s plan. When the story of deceit was printed on the front page of the July 9, 1910, edition of the Indianapolis Sun newspaper, Moross resigned from the Speedway almost immediately.

While Ernie Moross only held his position at IMS for fourteen months, much changed in auto racing during the period and he remained active in the sport. Far more attention was being paid to attempts on the Land Speed Record for automobiles and each current record holder became a celebrity of global proportions. While Moross previously promoted many events with Oldfield in which the objective was to record the fastest speed over a one-mile or even half-mile distance, auto manufacturers were slowly beginning to develop machines designed strictly for top speed.

A major case in point was the Blitzen Benz Model 200 which Moross procured for Oldfield. One of six manufactured, the car was named for the horsepower output of its enormous 1,311-cubic inch four-cylinder engine designed by Louis DeGroullard. With Frenchman Victor Hemery at the controls, the Benz covered a flying kilometer at 125.946 mph on November 8, 1909, at the Brooklands Circuit in Surrey, England, (arguably the world’s first purpose-built motorsports facility). Ironically, this speed was not the fastest ever recorded. Fred Marriott’s steam-powered Stanley Rocket clocked 127.659 mph on January 26, 1906, (a record for steam-powered machines which would stand for 103 years), and Glenn Curtiss, the later aviation pioneer, rode a home-built motorcycle powered by a 269-cubic inch V8 engine to 136.36 mph on January 24, 1907, (a mark for motorcycles which would remain unchallenged until Great Britain’s Joe Wright used a 60-cubic inch Zenith to hit 137.23 mph in Arpajon, France, on August 31, 1930).

The point of contention was in the sanction of these records. The vast majority of early speed records were set in France and, as interest grew throughout Europe, the need for a governing body became evident. On June 20, 1904, several motoring enthusiast groups met in Paris to create a common set of rules for both conventional racing and Land Speed Record attempts. The summit resulted in the formation of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus, (The International Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs), which immediately set regulations for vehicles and LSR events. By 1922, the AIACR became known as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, (the International Automobile Federation), which, to this day, officiates most of the world’s motorsports as the FIA.

Meanwhile, almost all major United States motorsports activity was governed by the American Automobile Association, (created on March 4, 1901, under almost identical circumstances to the AIACR). The Contest Board of the AAA sanctioned events and validated LSR attempts in all areas of the country.

Initially, the major difference between the two organizations was the measured distance of record attempts. The AIACR accepted only records set over a flying kilometer while the AAA used a timed standard of one mile for speed attempts. Unfortunately, neither group accepted, (nor even recognized), the records of the other.

In 1910, the most important difference between the AIACR and the AAA, however, was technology. While it was the last record to be set in Europe using a single run in only one direction, Hemery’s 125.946 mph record in the Blitzen Benz at Brooklands in late 1909 was the first record set with an electric timing apparatus. The AAA still timed record attempts with two using flags and stopwatches. While eliminating human error from the timing process, the new electric clocks also allowed Hemery to be timed over multiple distances, (the kilometer, the mile, the half-kilometer, etc.), on a single attempt. In fact, Hemery left Brooklands with six records, (including a flying half-mile of 127.502 mph), although only the three marks completed over metric distances were accepted by the AIACR.

Of interest to Ernie Moross was the fact Hemery’s speed over the flying mile was only 119 mph. While still officially managing the Speedway, Moross contacted Oldfield to make sure the Blitzen Benz was still ready for competition and organized a trip to the most favored site of American speed record attempts since April, 1902. They headed to the concrete-hard expanse of sand on Ormond Beach, Florida.

It was on the sand at the little resort town just north of what is now known as Daytona, Florida, where Alexander Winton and Ransom E. Olds first squared off in 1902 for what came to be known the Florida Speed Carnival at what was, for all intents and purposes, the first accepted, (and repeatedly used), site for Land Speed Record attempts on American soil. When no official winner was declared in 1902 after both Olds and Winton clocked 57 mph, Winton stunned the nation during the 1903 event with a 64.285 mph clocking in his first “Bullet” while defeating Olds in a match race of high stakes. The 1904 event was dominated by William “Willie K.” Vanderbilt, (the son of one of the world’s richest men), who, at the helm of a ninety horsepower German Mercedes, clocked 92.307 mph on January 27, 1904, to beat Henry Ford’s 91.370 record set only fifteen days earlier on Michigan’s frozen Lake Sinclair. Also in 1904, Oldfield made his first attempts on Ormond Beach driving Winton’s eight-cylinder “Bullet II” and even the seldom-seen “Bullet III”. Oldfield did set a record early in the week but dropped out of the running with a broken crankshaft.

The beach gave way to multiple 100 mph clockings in 1905,  Marriott set his 127.659 mph auto record at Ormond in 1906 and Glenn Curtiss posted his 136.36 mph motorcycle standard on the sands the following year. Every record beginning with Vanderbilt’s 92 mph mark received nationwide publicity in America but each was blatantly ignored by the AIACR. However, the 1910 Blitzen Benz expedition was run by Moross. When the AAA heard of Oldfield’s attempt, the association contacted Moross and reminded him its sanction would be needed for an official record.  Moross agreed and officials of the AAA, (including chief timer C.H. Warner who had just taken delivery of the AAA’s first reliable and accurate electric clocks), arrived to certify any record attempts. Moross rounded up as many news reporters as possible while Will Pickens canvassed the area with posters announcing the record attempt and inviting spectators. On March 16, 1910, before a sizeable group of onlookers, Oldfield fired up the Benz and, on a single run down the beach, recorded a one-mile speed of 131.723 mph. Immediately after the timers clicked off at 27.33 seconds, the reporters telegraphed the information to newspapers across the country and, once again, the story was front-page news. Pleased with the record, Ernie saw the potential of doubling his profits by staging another record attempt the following week. In front of an exceptional crowd on March 23, Oldfield covered a kilometer at a speed of 131.275 mph and ran two miles at a speed of 128.870 mph during which the second mile was reportedly, (and most likely, inaccurately), clocked at over 142 mph. The AAA made official the earlier one-mile speed and the new kilometer record but denied the 142 mph “second mile”. Of course, the AIACR ignored any of the numbers produced from the trip to Florida. Regardless, Barney Oldfield left Ormond Beach as the Automobile Land Speed Record Holder and Moross made certain the world knew about it. In fact, Moross told reporters the Emperor of Germany, his majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II, had sent a telegraph of congratulations the very day of the record attempt which read, “Congratulations to a daring Yankee on his success with a German car”. Dozens of newspapers ran the article verbatim.

This incredibly rare footage of the 1905 Florida Speed Carnival on Ormond Beach documents the amazing accomplishments during the week of January 24-31, 1905, during which the previously unbroken 100 MPH barrier was dashed twice by two different drivers. Louis Ross, driving his Stanley streamliner powered by twin steam engines, first set the record on January 25 at 94.732 mph. On January 26, Arthur MacDonald’s Napier hit 104.658 mph. On January 31, Henry Bowden’s 120 hp Mercedes ended the event with a tremendous 109.756 mph record:

This short clip identifies the heavyweights among the forty-two entrants of the 1905 Florida Speed Carnival:

Chapter 1: The History Of The First Speed Trials At Bonneville
Chapter II: The Opening of the Speedway, the Gold Brick Scandal and the Debut of the Benz
Chapter III: Barney Oldfield is Banned From Auto Racing While Ernie Moross Creates New Stars and New Records
Chapter IV: “Big Bill” Rishel, William Randolph Hearst, the Lincoln Highway and a place named Salduro
Chapter V: Ernie Moross, Bill Rishel, Teddy Tetzlaff and the Blitzen Benz II arrive on the Salt Beds of Salduro
Chapter VI: One Run by the Blitzen Benz Changes the Course of History for the Salt Beds of Salduro
Chapter VII: The Aftermath – What Became Of The Major Players From The First Speed Trials On The Salt

Land Speed Racing America
This image shows a typical automobile match race held at a fairgrounds horse racing track of the type which Moross promoted, (and in which Oldfield appeared), every week of the year at the turn of the twentieth century.
Land Speed Racing America
The scandal which ended the tenure of Ernie Moross at Indianapolis Motor Speedway appeared on the front page of the Indianapolis Sun on July 9, 1910.
Land Speed Racing America
This was the fastest motorized machine in the world though 1910. Glenn Curtiss, who would later become one of the aviation’s greatest pioneers, clocked 136.36 mph with this homebuilt, air-cooled 269 cubic-inch V8-powered motorcycle to a speed of 136.36 mph on January 24, 1907, at Ormond Beach, Florida.
Land Speed Racing America
As his life became more legend than fact, Barney Oldfield struck this iconic pose during the height of his popularity. (Photo restoration by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
This is one of the original depictions of the magnificent Blitzen Benz Model 200 which Moross procured for Oldfield. One of six manufactured, the car was named for the horsepower output of its enormous 1,311-cubic inch four-cylinder engine designed by Louis DeGroullard.
Land Speed Racing America
Victor Hemery from France was one of the first of the drivers to take a mighty Blitzen Benz into the heat of land speed battle. He owned a bunch of land speed records during the first decade of the 20th century. 
Land Speed Racing America
Barney Oldfield, (seated to the left of the photo in what was a right-hand drive automobile), sets yet another oval track record In front of a packed house of fans who have paid at least one dollar, ($25 in current value), to watch the most popular man in sports drive the most powerful, (200 horsepower), and expensive, ($200,000 in current value), auto to speeds never believed possible.
Land Speed Racing America
This exceptionally rare image captured Oldfield crossing the finish line at Ormond Beach on March 16, 1910, as he set a new speed record of over 131 miles per hour in the Blitzen Benz. (Photo restoration by Charles L. Wilson)
Land Speed Racing America
Shown here on the front page of the March 17, 1910, edition of the Boston Post, virtually every news outlet in the country gave Oldfield’s amazing accomplishment top billing.