I tell you, this automobile fad might catch on. About 4,000 spectators crowded the Santa Rosa racetrack in 1908 to watch the fastest cars on the West Coast zoom around the dirt track at the inconceivable speed of 60 MPH.
Some details of the races appeared here earlier in the profile of Fred J. Wiseman, who won the “Santa Rosa Cup” in the Sunday 25 mile race. At one terrifying point, it appeared that an accident had occurred. The Santa Rosa Republican reported: “While the Stearns machine was in the lead, one of the hind tires blew out, causing the machine to skid close to the fence while coming around the three-quarter mile pole, and the machine hit the [inner] fence. The machine skidded across the track directly in front of Wiseman’s machine, and in the clouds of dust it seemed that a collision had occurred. When Wiseman emerged from the dust everybody breathed easier.” When the Stearns auto limped across the finish line, part of the fence was still hanging on the car.
Although this wasn’t the first auto race at Santa Rosa (there was a small exhibition race in 1906), it was the first time the town was packed with tourists since before the Great Earthquake. “It was a gala scene,” enthused the Press Democrat. “Several hundred automobiles, each with its merry crowd, were lined up on both sides of the track. In addition there were scores of characters. It was a well behaved, courteous crowd. Among those present were many of the prominent people of San Francisco and the bay cities. In fact, all roads lead to Santa Rosa on Sunday. The hotels were crowded on both Saturday and Sunday.”
Not everyone welcomed the influx of racing fans, however. On the day of the big race, police officers in Petaluma stopped and arrested several drivers for speeding, and quickly word spread in Sonoma and Marin Counties to “Beware of Petaluma.” Amid griping that the business for the town’s restaurants and hotels had suffered because of the crackdown, the Petaluma Argus sniped, “Now that the city authorities have made an example of several outside automobilists, it would be well to punish half a dozen local mahouts who daily violate the speed ordinance.” (Like “chauffeur,” “mahout” was slang for anyone driving an automobile.)
The Petaluma Courier also worried that motorists would boycott the town in the future, and they probably had some cause to worry. Many examples have appeared here of the auto clique resenting any restrictions placed upon them, from speed limits to the requirement of headlights after dark.
But an incident later in 1908 found the newly-formed Sonoma County Automobile Club acting in a newly responsible manner, offering a $25 reward for information leading to the ID of a reckless driver. Near Kenwood, a horse frightened by the car reared back and broke its neck, also injuring the man driving the attached buggy or wagon. The auto drove on without stopping. “Such conduct as related on the part of the chauffeur is inhuman and should not be tolerated,” the club announced in a statement.
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ATTEND THE SANTA ROSA AUTOMOBILE RACES
“Comet” Wins Four of the Events Yesterday
Automobile racing is a great sport and it arouses much enthusiasm. This was demonstrated at the track on Saturday at the first days races under the auspices of the some Sonoma County Automobile Association. There was a great assemblage of people, men, women and children, and they all entered heartily into the sport. The grand stand was filled and along the fences on both sides of the stretch there wer scores of automobiles, each car crowded with spectators, while hundreds of other people sat or stood and mingled discussing the respective merits of the machines tearing off the fast miles in the various events.
A new track record was established for Santa Rose on Saturday by the White Steamer, driven by Fred Dundee, which reeled off a mile in 1:01. The previous track record was driven by Al Pipenberg at 1:02.
[..]– Press Democrat, August 23, 1908
4,000 PEOPLE WITNESS THE AUTO RACES SUNDAY
Fred J. Wiseman Wins The 25 Mile Free-For-All
The greatest crowd of people ever gathered at the Santa Rosa race track, conservatively estimated at 4,000 people, witnessed on Sunday afternoon some of the best automobile racing ever given on this Pacific Coast. They saw two spectacular miles by the little Comet, in which the car broke the Coast record. Each of the miles was reeled off in 58 seconds. They saw a magnificent contest in a 25 mile free-for-all as well as the most amusing novelty race, in addition to the other equally interesting events.
Any question as to the popularity of automobile races was removed on Sunday afternoon by that vast crowd of men, women and children, all keenly interested in the sport. The track, grandstand and all places of vantage were occupied. It was a gala scene. Several hundred automobiles, each with its merry crowd, were lined up on both sides of the track. In addition there were scores of characters. It was a well behaved, courteous crowd. Among those present were many of the prominent people of San Francisco and the bay cities. In fact, all roads lead to Santa Rosa on Sunday. The hotels were crowded on both Saturday and Sunday. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the outing and the sport.
The Stoddard-Dayton car proved the victor in the 25 mile free-for-all, after one of the best contested and most spectacular races ever held in the state.
Six cars lined up for the start and the Stearns went out in front at the first turn. Before a mile had been traversed the Comet, the car which made a sensation on Saturday by capturing four events and which had already won two races Saturday, went to the front with the phenomenal burst of speed, and at the end of this first mile it was 30 yards to the good. In the second round it had to stop and the Stearns again went to the front. With the Stoddard-Dayton hanging on an eighth of a mile behind, the Stearns reeled off the miles at a 1:02 clip. In the twelfth mile the Stoddard-Dayton began to creep up and a thrilling race ensued for six miles.
In the fifteenth mile the two cars came down the stretch together, but the Stearns had the pole and held the lead until the eighteenth. Coming into the home stretch Bonney, who had been driving a splendid race, cut the corner too fine and the car crashed into the inner fence, tearing away a part of the fence, and swerving across the track. The spectators held their breaths as the Stoddard, which had turned wide, swept along and escaped hitting the Stearns by what seemed from the stand to be a few inches. Bonney had to stop and the Stoddard-Dayton kept on by itself and won a popular victory, as Fred J. Wiseman, its driver, is a Santa Rosa man. The Comet injected a lot of excitement into the race by resuming after it had lost six miles. The little car went at a wonderful clip and was timed several miles in one minute flat. It gained on its rivals, but the lost ground could not be recovered.
The ten mile race for autos listed at $1,500 resolved itself into an exciting duel between the Comet and the Buick and the spectators were kept in a high-state of excitement as the cars raced around close together; first one and then the other took the lead. The Comet went to the front in the ninth mile and going very fast in the last half won out by a hundred yards.
A great race was expected in the ten mile event for cars listed at $2,500 and over, but it proved to be a procession with the Stearns acting as the band wagon all the way. Four cars lined up for the start– the Stearns, Peerless, White Twenty and Stoddard Dayton. The White Thirty was entered, but did not start. Bonney, in the Stearns, drew the pole and immediately took the lead, and in the first three miles he opened up a gap of half a mile. The Stearns reeled off the first five miles in 5:19, which equals the state record made by the same machine a year ago. The Stearns ran smoothly all the way and finished over half a mile ahead of the White Twenty.
In the novelty race in which of the drivers had to run 100 yards, drove their car a mile and then run another hundred, Frank Free, in the Comet, easily took the honors. The drivers were lustily cheered during their sprint and seemed to like the sport equally as well as the spectators.
[..]– Press Democrat, August 25, 1908
AUTO DRIVERS ARRESTED IN PETALUMA
Regarding the arrest of auto drivers in Petaluma on Sunday, the Courier of Monday night says:
Vigorous complaint has been made by the Petaluma business people today over the action of the local authorities in holding up automobiles Sunday.
The ground assumed is as follows: They say it is notorious that local automobiles are often driven at a great pace without interference.
The action Sunday has been construed as discrimination against strangers who should have been merely stopped, warned and allowed to proceed.
Those who were detained telephoned to Santa Rosa and the county seat was posted with notices. “Beware of Petaluma.” The result was that fully 150 autos avoided Petaluma and there was considerable loss to Petaluma hotel and restaurant people. It is feared that Petaluma will be avoided by strangers in the future.
The news was also flashed San Rafael way, for Harry Smith receive a warning while down there.
Steiger Bros. sent out their auto to warn the autoists. Loss of revenue to the town was the chief complaint.
The Petaluma Argus says:
Now that the city authorities have made an example of several outside automobilists, it would be well to punish half a dozen local mahouts who daily violate the speed ordinance. Names do not have to be mentioned. Everyone knows them.– Press Democrat, August 25, 1908
INHUMAN DRIVERS BETTER BEWARE
Reward of $25 Offered for Discovery of the Identity of the Careless Chauffeur Near Kenwood
The Sonoma County Automobile Club will not stand for careless and inhuman conduct of chauffeurs in driving of machines, the kind who after causing an accident drive ahead and do not stop to see whether anyone has been hurt or whether help is needed. They will stand back of the prosecution of such offenders.
After reading the reports of the accident on the canyon road leading to Warm Springs, near Kenwood, the other day, in which Mr. Dugan of Kenwood was rendered insensible and the horse he was driving killed by the animal taking fright at an approaching automobile, and rearing back, breaking its neck, after which the chauffeur drove on without stopping to see what damage had resulted. President J. Rollo Leppo of the Sonoma County Automobile Club and Director S. S. Bogle held a consultation.
The result of the conference between the president and local director of the club was the offering on Saturday night of a reward of $25 for the discovery of the identity of the chauffeur, and the promise that the club would stand back of the prosecution of an action for damages.
“Assuming that the facts of the accident as reported are correct, will you please state for the Sonoma County Automobile Club that we hereby offer a reward for the discovery of the identity of the chauffeur, and state further that the club will stand back of the prosecution of such cases. Such conduct as related on the part of the chauffeur is inhuman and should not be tolerated. The club will not uphold it, I can assure you.”
Any information regarding the subject matter mentioned leading to the identity of the chauffeur can be forwarded to District Attorney Lea, President Leppo, Director Bogle or Secretary Don C. Prentiss. The public will undoubtedly approve of the action of the president and directors of the Automobile Club.– Press Democrat, November 29, 1908