Chain your Dogs and
lock up your fowl.
So was heralded the Long Island Vanderbilt Cup races. Many races have been held under the Vanderbilt Cup banner but the initial races from 1904-1910 on the streets of Long Island marked the high point of this series.
Born from the imagination of William "Willie K" Vanderbilt, Jr., great grandson of millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt and a racer in his own right, these races were held despite numerous court orders, public hearings and threats of injunction. The initial course measured 30.24 miles winding for the most part through Nassau County, New York. The rules were simple; each car must be completely manufactured in the country represented, weighing no less than 881 lbs. and no more than 2,204 lbs. The drivers and mechanics themselves had to weigh a minimum of 132 lbs. The American Automobile Association (AAA) a new organization compared to the Automobile Club of America (ACA) sanctioned the events, which would cause problems in the future.
The first race was held on October 8, 1904 and started at 6:00 in the morning. Eighteen entrants were accepted with seventeen making the start. Six cars retired by the second lap. William Wallaces Fiat left the pits after some emergency repairs resumed the race without his mechanic was, slowing; his mechanic was able to jump in only to fall out and promptly was run over. Seeing that the mans dignity had suffered more than his body Wallace enlisted another mechanic from the bystanders. Eventually the race boiled down to two drivers, George Heath in a Panhard and Albert Clement in a Clement-Baynard. On the 9th of the scheduled 10-lap race Heath was able to open a gap of 1-½ minutes which he was able to maintain to the end. When Clement crossed the finish line the crowd of 50,000 began to leave. There soon was a large back-up along the roads leaving the finish line. This of course is a common fact of life for race goers. The only problem was that these very roads formed the circuit and there were still racecars out there competing! Luckily word reached the drivers that the race had been called off without any major incidents.
The following year, 1905 saw the race held on a slightly different course of 28.3 miles. Having gained some international publicity the entrants included several famous European drivers including Camile Jenatzy and Vincenzo Lancia. After the race leader, Lancia clouted a backmarker, thus requiring extensive repairs, the race was won by Victor Hemery in a Darracq.
1906 saw a wealth of marques including a 7.7 liter 50 hp Christie touring car. The driver, Mr. Christie had wrecked his regular racer and rather than having to go home he decided to race his personal car! 250,000 spectators witnessed this race. As with the city to city races in Europe the threat of maimed spectators hung in the air as their favored vantage point seemed to be the middle of the road. One driver the popular Joe Tracy warned the organizers of the problem but others like Lawell (Frayer-Miller) believed the only thing to be done was to "run straight at the people". Inevitably a man was killed when he walked out in front of the Hotchkiss of Elliot Shepard. A Darracq again found its way to the winners circle, this time driven by Louis Wagner. The quality of the field was of the first order as Lancia, Duray, Clement and Jenatzy followed him in turn.
The race was cancelled in 1907 due to the growing danger to man and beast but in 1908 with extra security and the building of the Long Island Motor Parkway, the race returned. The event was becoming more of an American affair as the two continents racing endeavors went in different directions. The AAA chose to ignore the new international regulations of the Automobile Club de France (ACF). The European teams felt that this would handicap their special built Grand Prix cars and signed up for the rival American Grand Prize.
Starting in a drizzle the six leading cars were separated by three minutes. By lap sixth it was down to two, George Robertson in a Locomobile and Herb Lytle in an Isotta. After a late race of course excursion Robertson stormed back to win by 1 min 48 sec. Becoming the first American driver and car to do so.
1909 saw the introduction of production cars (the first stock car racing?) and few international drivers. The circuit was reduced to 12.64 miles and after a peak of 250,000 spectators in 1906 the current crowd numbered approximately 20,000. Billy Knipper was the winner but few cared. The reasons for the poor attendance were many and the organizers set out not to repeat the same mistakes next year.
The crowds were back larger than ever in 1910 and the field was dominated by American entries. Louis Chevrolet at over 70 mph dominated the opening laps. On lap seven his teammate Bob Burman took over the lead. Chevrolet returned to the lead but later lost his steering and crashed killing his mechanic. Joe Dawson was now in the lead but the race would go to the steady Harry F. Grant in an ALCO. Again crowd control was woefully inadequate and the plug was finally pulled on the Long Island races. The Vanderbilt Cup would continue to be held but the focus was now on the American Grand Prize with its recognition of ACF rules and corresponding international field. Both races were now held in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Cup very much the junior member.