Steadily improving economic conditions in Europe made the year 1920 one of considerable promise for the Speedway. Fisher realized the French automotive industry, particularly, appeared to be recovering rapidly from the ravages of war, and early in the autumn of 1919 he announced his willingness to accept the proposed new International Formula limiting Grand Prix cars to a maximum piston displacement of 183 cubic inches.
"We must go along with the French if we expect to keep the Indianapolis race on an international basis," he explained to his associates. "And the sharp reduction in engine size will do even more for the good of racing in this country. It will make all of the pre-war race cars obsolete and assure us of a field made up entirely of brand-new equipment next May. That's the only way we can keep the fans interested after giving them the kind of a show we had this year. More than half of the cars belonged in the junk yard even before the race started."
"Are you sure we'll have enough entries?" asked Newby.
"We should have ten or twelve from Europe," answered Fisher, "and I think we'll have at least twice that many American cars. But even if my guess is a little high, the quality of the cars will more than make up for any shortage in number."
"What about our own cars?" asked Pop.
"I'm in favoring of selling them for whatever we can get out of them," said Fisher. "We can use the money to help pay for a new grandstand up near the head of the main straightaway."
The last of the large wooden structures to be built by the Speedway, Grandstand H, was ready for occupancy when the practice period started in the spring. The field was of high quality although not quite up to Fisher's expectations numerically. An added attraction on the first day of time trials was the twin-engine Duesenberg Tommy Milton had driven to a new world's record for the measured mile a few weeks earlier on the sand at Daytona Beach, Florida, as the dramatic climax to the episode which started the famous Milton-Murphy feud.
Jimmy Murphy was Milton's protégé. Immediately after World War I he served as Tommy's riding mechanic on several victorious occasions, including the 1919 Elgin road race. At Milton's request, Fred Duesenberg permitted Jimmy to start two races as a Duesenberg driver later the same season. Each time Murphy wrecked the car due to overeagerness and lack of experience. But Milton's faith in the youthful Irishman's ability remained unshaken.
Tommy himself was recuperating from a spectacular accident on the board track at Uniontown, Pennsylvania, when the dejected Murphy visited him in the hospital to report his demotion to the status of mechanic following the second crash. Milton, the master, listened without comment until the pupil completed his report in detail. Then he asked one question: "Do you still want to be a race driver?"
"I certainly do," was the reply.
"Cheer up, then. I'll see that he gives you another chance."
"He won't do it. Not even for you."
"If he doesn't, we'll both be driving for someone else next year," declared Milton. "As team captain, I think I'm entitled to a voice on any question concerning drivers. I have enough confidence in you—and in his regard for my ability as a race driver—to tell Fred Duesenberg I'll refuse to rejoin the team unless he puts you back behind the wheel of a car."
With Milton contributing a sizable amount of his own money toward the project, the Duesenberg brothers already were at work on plans for a twin-engine "beach" car to be used by their No. 1 driver the next spring for an assault on DePalma's international land speed record on the Florida sands. This gave Tommy a strategic advantage for delivering his ultimatum, and another car was made available to Murphy for 1920.
Jimmy celebrated the occasion by scoring a spectacular victory in the inaugural 250-mile championship event at the new Beverly Hills board speedway on Feb. 29. Then he headed for Daytona Beach to help Harry Hartz and the Duesenberg brothers complete preliminary tests for Milton's record run.
For once, a Duesenberg car was finished ahead of schedule. The last adjustments were made while Milton, still convalescing from the injuries of the previous fall, was en route to Florida via Havana. Fred Duesenberg, impatient to see whether or not the car was up to his expectations, persuaded Murphy to take it out for a final fast practice run. Eager for the thrill of driving such a powerful piece of machinery, Jimmy needed little urging. With nothing to indicate his actual speed but the tachometer, he roared over the smooth sand faster than man ever before had traveled on land. It was an unofficial run, lacking all the required supervision. But when Milton's boat docked at Key West, one of the first things he saw was a Miami newspaper with bold headlines across the top of page one:
MURPHY BREAKS DEPALMA'S WORLD RECORD AT DAYTONA
Tommy, who all through his convalescence had been looking forward to breaking the record, stormed up the coast to the Duesenberg camp and blistered the ears of everyone with a tongue-lashing still remembered by Hartz as the most violent ever administered by one individual to another. He didn't spare anyone. But Murphy was the principal target.
He not only charged Murphy with being ungrateful but also with being "downright stupid," because the history of record attempts on the beach invariably showed a downward curve the longer they were continued. The effects of the sand and the salt air apparently drained an engine of its power in a steady and relentless manner.
Jimmy tried to explain he was acting under orders, and Fred Duesenberg attempted to shoulder the blame. But Tommy ignored all efforts of reconciliation. Unable to stem the Milton tirade, Murphy suddenly turned his back and walked away alone.
When Milton fell a fraction short of the record on his own practice run the following morning, the breach was widened further by one sports writer's published comment that Duesenberg might be forced to replace the team captain with the "heavy-footed" Murphy if DePalma's mark was to be broken officially. Milton's silent answer was the erection of a canvas-floored tent, sealed against the wind to keep out every grain of sand. Under his personal supervision, the crew—minus Murphy—did a complete teardown right on the beach and reassembled the car with painstaking care. Satisfied that everything was as perfect as human hands could make it, Milton chose April 27 for his official attempt to break DePalma's 1919 mark of 149.875 and Murphy's unofficial clocking of 151-plus.
Under Tommy's superb guidance, the big Dusie thundered through the timing traps at 156.046 miles an hour and continued its rocketlike course along the beach in quest of additional records for distances up to five miles. The car performed as if it were on rails until midway through the third mile, when observers saw it swerve toward the ocean with a trail of black smoke. Gasoline fumes under the hood had burst into flame and ignited the oil in the underpart. With no time to stop the car and jump clear, the coolheaded Milton simply drove it into the sea and extinguished the fire instantly.
To his many honors on the dirt and board tracks of the country, he now could add the title of world's speed king. The most important objective still to be attained was victory on the bricks at Indianapolis. Although anxious to sever his Duesenberg relationship as soon as possible, he hurried to Indianapolis to fulfill his agreement with Fred and Augie for the first "500" of the golden 1920's.
The greatest sports boom in history already was gaining momentum. Other sports had their Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones, Jack Dempsey, and Bill Tilden. Racing had such "youngsters" as Milton and Murphy and Joe Boyer to challenge the veteran contingent headed by DePalma, Thomas, Goux, Wilcox, Mulford, Hearne, and the Chevrolet brothers.
At the instigation of George M. Dickson, president of the National Motor Vehicle Company, the business men of Indianapolis inaugurated the annual Lap Prize Fund of $20,000 to supplement the Speedway's $50,000 purse. This bonus would be paid at the rate of $100 per lap to the leader of the race at the completion of each trip around the course.
Unable to make a creditable showing against the new custom-built racing equipment, the manufacturers of passenger cars refrained from entering. But accessory companies—particularly those in the tire and ignition fields—turned to the Speedway to gain recognition for their products. Competing against Goodyear and Goodrich, Firestone introduced its new Oldfield tire named after the veteran driver who had set many of his records in cars with this sign painted on the hood: MY ONLY LIFE INSURANCE IS FIRESTONE TIRES.
Champion and AC challenged KLG for spark plug supremacy; and the Delco Company startled the entire industry by offering to match the Speedway's prize money for each finishing position—dollar for dollar up to $50,000—for every participant using its new battery ignition system. The offer was withdrawn immediately, however, and replaced with one of only $25,000, at the personal request of Fisher, who was reluctant to approve even that much money for a single accessory firm.
"Everyone connected with racing is happy to have such strong support," declared Carl. "But as long as I have a voice in the matter, the Speedway never will permit one company to offer cash inducements for the use of its products which other companies in the same field may not be able to meet. The Speedway is the best proving ground for the automotive industry, and it must be kept open to everyone with a new product or a new idea."
Early in May, Goux returned from France with new Peugeots for himself, Wilcox, and Boillot. Two Gregoires of similar design were entered by Jean Porporato of Paris. But the chief foreign threat appeared to be three Ballots. Two were factory entries assigned to Thomas, the 1914 winner, who named Jean Chassagne as his teammate. The third was entered personally by DePalma, who had heard glowing accounts of the cars' early tests in Europe and obtained one for his own use without Thomas's knowledge.
Incensed by the factory's failure to consult him on such a move, René vowed to "run DePalma into the ground" during the race. This attitude contributed to a pre-race accident which removed one of the American favorites from the line-up. Trying desperately to prove his superiority over DePalma during an informal brush in practice, Thomas drove too deep into the No. 1 turn on a badly worn tire and was thrown into a wild spin as it blew. Art Chevrolet, in one of the new Frontenacs, couldn't avoid a collision and was injured too critically to answer the starting signal on race day. The remaining seven Frontenacs, including four sponsored by the William Small Company of Indianapolis and called Monroes, shared the role of favorites among the American entries with the four-car Duesenberg team. Several individual American entries rounded out the field, all of them lightly regarded.
C. W. Van Ranst, chief engineer for the Chevrolet brothers, had designed an engine equal in every respect to the now-famous Duesenberg power plants. Two rookies—Bennett Hill and Joe Thomas—had been added to the already impressive driver contingent which included Joe Boyer, Roscoe Sarles, Art Klein, and all three of the Chevrolet brothers. Milton, Murphy, Hearne, and O'Donnell formed the Duesenberg foursome.
At the completion of the practice and qualifying period,16 in compliance with AAA safety regulations new steering arms were installed on every car. But due to a workman's mental lapse in the Frontenac factory, these vital parts were delivered to the track without being properly heat-treated for durability.
From the start, the race was a furious four-car battle. DePalma experienced the misfortune of having his right rear tire punctured by a piece of sharp metal during the pace lap. But an exceptionally quick pit stop enabled him to challenge Boyer for first place before the 100-mile mark was reached, with Gaston Chevrolet and Thomas right on his tail. One by one, the faulty steering arms on the Frontenacs and Monroes began to fail. Four of the cars went out of the race for this reason during the first 300 miles. Boyer, trying desperately to regain the lead from DePalma after a pit stop for tires, finally experienced the same difficulty and hit the wall.
With only 14 laps to go, DePalma appeared to be a certain winner. Then misfortune struck again. His car sputtered and stalled on the back stretch as if it were out of fuel. Not waiting for instructions, the mechanic vaulted from the cockpit and raced across the infield for a sufficient supply of the precious liquid to power the car to the pits. When DePalma removed the fuel tank cap in preparation for the mechanic's return, however, he discovered the tank was only three-fourths empty. A quick check of the engine revealed the trouble actually was caused by the failure of one of his magnetos. The unit for the four front cylinders still was in good working order, but the one for the four rear cylinders was not functioning properly. He managed to get the engine running again, only to have it catch fire almost instantly: improper timing caused the fuel to ignite before the intake valve could close.
With hundreds of dollars in prize money slipping from his grasp every second, he removed the spark plugs from the four rear cylinders to eliminate the possibility of another fire and to reduce the drag on the front half of the engine which still was in running condition. Then, rejoined by his exhausted mechanic, he guided his limping car toward the finish line.
Gaston Chevrolet's Monroe already had received the checkered flag with Thomas's Ballot second and the slower but sturdier Dusies of Milton and Murphy next in order. But DePalma's ingenuity had enabled him to salvage fifth place although he trailed the winner by 27 minutes.
Back in the garage, Van Ranst and two of the Chevrolet brothers—Louis and Gaston—were making a quick estimate of their share of the largest purse17 ever offered up to that time for an automobile race. With some of the lap prize money and the biggest portion of the special cash awards from Delco and Firestone to augment the Speedway's $20,000, the winner's cut would amount to $36,300.
"And we'd be in a position to collect a lot more with our other cars if it hadn't been for someone's stupid mistake in the heat-treating department," said Louis. "Thank God this didn't break, too," he added, giving the steering arm on Gaston's car a disgusted kick.
It snapped off at the knuckle and dropped on the floor. But it had lasted long enough for an American entry to triumph in the "500" for the first time since 1912. It would be 27 long years before another foreign car would lead the field home.
Oldfield tires produced by Firestone had enabled a winning car to go the full 500 miles for the first time without a single change of rubber; and the dependability of Delco battery ignition also was established firmly in the mind of every American motorist.
Batteries no longer are used on race cars at Indianapolis, but every winning car in the "500" since 1920 has been equipped with Firestone tires.
Fulfilling his Duesenberg commitments by midseason, Milton finished the campaign in a car owned by millionaire sportsman Cliff Durant and gained belated recognition as national champion after an official recheck of the point standing. His victories at Uniontown, Pennsylvania, had not been counted in the original tabulation because the AAA Contest Board was under the erroneous impression the promoters had failed to meet the minimum purse requirement of $100 per mile for recognition as a championship event.
For 1921, however, Tommy wanted a car of his own powered by a straight-eight engine embodying some of his personal ideas. Lacking sufficient cash for the entire project, he borrowed a sturdy chassis from Durant and obtained a $5,000 loan from Oldfield to help pay for the engine. Harry Miller, already established as the top carburetion expert of his day, would build it.
Miller had built his first racing engine in 1914 for Burman, whose Peugeot had been cut in two by a broken connecting rod. Realizing a replacement from France was impossible, because World War I was in progress, Burman had gathered up the pieces and delivered them to Miller's carburetor shop in Los Angeles with a request that Harry and Fred Offenhauser use them as a pattern for a duplicate unit. The project was successful in every respect. Three years later Miller had built a similar unit for Oldfield's famous Golden Egg. During the war years he had designed two overhead camshaft engines for aircraft use. Now he was considering the possibility of challenging the Duesenberg and Chevrolet brothers in the field of automotive racing as soon as arrangements could be completed to sell some of his expanded wartime facilities to the Leach Biltwell Motor Car Company.
Milton desired an engine which would combine the best features of the Peugeot—multiple inclined valves and hemispherical combustion chamber—with Duesenberg's design of two camshafts operating directly on the valves. Miller already had the necessary Peugeot patterns and one of Milton's former associates with Duesenberg secretly provided the camshaft blueprints for Leo Goosen of Miller's staff to copy.
Because of Durant's generosity in providing the chassis, the new car would be called a Durant Special. Milton entered it at Indianapolis accordingly, but was forced to withdraw it before the deadline for entries because it couldn't be completed in time. There was an opening on the Frontenac team, however, due to the tragic death of Gaston Chevrolet during a race in California. Tommy agreed to drive one of the two new eight-cylinder cars designed by Van Ranst particularly for Indianapolis; Mulford was at the wheel of the other. Tom Alley, Jules Ellingboe, Percy Ford, and Van Ranst himself were assigned to the year-old four-cylinder Frontenacs.
Other prominent drivers also made good copy for Steve Hannagan—the youthful Hoosier destined to become one of the best-known press agents in the business—as he tackled his first "500" assignment with an enthusiastic freshness welcomed by sports editors throughout the country. He had been recommended by Paul Richey, after a brief apprenticeship with two Hoosier dailies and the Russell M. Seeds agency; and his association with Fisher was to continue until Carl's retirement.
Sarles, Boyer, and Hill had switched to the Duesenbergs as teammates of Murphy, Eddie Miller, and Albert Guyot. Hearne's Revere and Ira Vail's Leach appeared to be other formidable American entries; and six foreign cars swelled the starting line-up to 23. Heading this small group from the Continent was one of the 1920 Ballots with DePalma again at the wheel. Wilcox and Chassagne both had new Peugeots, and Thomas had severed relations with the Ballot factory to head a three-car Sunbeam entry. Of the six, only Ora Haibe's Sunbeam was able to go the route; it finished a poor fifth.
During the practice period, mechanical failures took a heavy toll. Milton worked most of the night before the race to install a complete new set of connecting rod bearings. When the race got under way, with the field starting in three-abreast formation for the first time, instead of four, he couldn't match DePalma's pace of 92-plus miles an hour without risking serious engine trouble. He cruised along at a steady 90 and trailed by only a lap at the 100-mile mark. At no time did he try to run at full throttle until one of his spark plugs fouled. Then he discovered that by pressing the accelerator to the floor he still could maintain his 90-mile-an-hour pace with the missing cylinder acting as a governor which automatically prevented him from exceeding the maximum rpm's he believed the engine capable of attaining safely.
At 250 miles, although two laps behind, he was battling for second place with Sarles. Such prominent rivals as Wilcox and Boyer already were on the side lines after burning up their engines in an effort to match DePalma's early speed. Murphy's Duesenberg also had dropped out of contention and he abandoned it seven laps later to resume the race in Eddie Miller's car of similar make.
Milton's first knowledge that DePalma was in trouble occurred as he caught Sarles in a pocket behind the front-running Ballot when its engine began to falter. Two laps later DePalma was through for the day, due to the same type of bearing failure Tommy had been guarding against so carefully. The Frontenac was in the No. 1 spot to stay.
In order to earn as much lap prize money as possible, Milton delayed his final pit stop—and made it without losing the lead—until after Sarles also had paused for tires and enough fuel to finish. With both at racing speed again, Sarles closed the gap until they could read each other's pit signals. For several laps Tommy was extended to the limit to stay in front as Fred Duesenberg urged Sarles to greater efforts with repeated blackboard signs reading GO, GET MILTON, and FASTER.
In an effort to avoid an all-out speed duel right down to the wire, which probably would result in his defeat, Tommy resorted to an old psychological trick he had learned several years earlier from Mulford. Reducing his speed so slightly that the action was barely noticeable, he gave Sarles enough of an opening to encourage an attempt to pass on the inside as they moved through the No. 3 turn. Sarles took it. But Milton, in better position to accelerate out of the turn at full throttle, flashed a big smile at his less-experienced rival and surged forward again with one hand on the steering wheel and the other patting the tail of his car confidently.
No signal the Duesenbergs were able to devise could cause the tiring Sarles to make another bid for the lead; and Milton finished with an average speed of 89.62 miles an hour to score a victory which he had believed to be virtually impossible at the start of the race.
"You had the faster car. Why didn't you pass him after getting so close?" demanded the elder Duesenberg brother when Sarles rolled to the pits after clinching runner-up honors.
"Hell, Mr. Duesenberg," said Sarles. "I was so bushed I wasn't even sure I could finish. Milton was as fresh as a daisy. Why should I take a chance when I had second-place money all sewed up?"
The entire crew helped the Chevrolets celebrate Milton's victory. Then, within a week, Tommy was hard at work on the task of getting his Durant in perfect running condition. On July 4 he won a 250-mile championship event on the Tacoma course, and he picked up sufficient additional points during the remaining races on the 1921 schedule to capture the national title for the second straight year.
The possibility of scoring another triumph at Indianapolis the following May was extremely bright from Tommy's standpoint. He entered the car officially, with its eight-cylinder Miller engine, as early as December 28. Another victory in California followed. Then the AAA Contest Board suddenly suspended the car with one of the strangest sequences of unexplained reasoning to be found in the records of that organization.
Several months after Milton had named his race car the Durant Special, the Durant passenger car made its first appearance on the market. A Durant dealer, without Milton's knowledge, advertised the victories as being scored in a stock Durant six.
Investigation absolved Tommy of all blame for the incident. But the Contest Board suspended the car for as long as Milton's name would be associated with it as owner or driver.
Justifiably furious because of the untenable position in which this ruling placed him, Milton realized Durant was the one individual in the world who could bail him out without financial loss. Except for the engine, the car still was Durant's property. If Cliff was willing to pay Milton for the amount of cash invested in the engine, the entire car would be owned by the young millionaire in ready-to-run condition. He could enter it at Indianapolis and even continue to call it a Durant Special under AAA rules, which provided any car could be named after its bona fide owner. Durant jumped at the chance to obtain a car of such assured quality and sent Milton a check for double the engine's original cost—to reimburse him for the ideas which went into its construction and for the many hours Tommy had devoted to the job of preparing it for peak performance.
Milton immediately ordered a new "Miller" which he named the Leach Special, but it was delivered too late to be properly tuned for the 1922 race and was eliminated after only 44 laps. This disappointing climax to the troubles heaped upon Tommy by the unfair AAA ruling was a particularly bitter pill for him to swallow because Murphy was the victor in a car powered by a duplicate of the Milton-Miller engine.
Jimmy had registered America's first triumph in a European grand prix event the previous summer, winning at Le Mans with a Duesenberg. Due to Milton's success with his new Miller engine, however, Murphy had purchased the 1921 Dusie after his return from France so that he would be free to install one of the new Miller units in it.
With this combination he captured the No. 1 starting position in the time trials and led the field for all but 46 of the 200 laps on race day. Three ambitious rookies—Harry Hartz, Pete DePaolo, and Leon Duray—provided the only serious opposition, and two of them failed to finish. Duray was eliminated by a broken rear axle while running third. DePaolo, nephew of Ralph DePalma, led briefly near the halfway mark, but hit the wall on lap 111 while trying to regain first place with his Frontenac. Hartz, a former riding mechanic for Hearne, was a contender all of the way in a Duesenberg and finished second—two full laps back—after leading at 300 miles.
Only one European car made anything like a satisfactory showing, Hearne placing a poor third in a Ballot. Goux, who had transferred from Peugeot to Ballot and prepared the French cars for himself and Hearne, was able to complete only 25 laps—despite his high hopes of winning the "500" a second time for the special enjoyment of his Hoosier bride, the former Ruth Davis.
Durant, a better than average driver but never a really topnotch performer, cruised along steadily and completed the full distance for 12th place in the car Milton had put together. Sitting on the side lines following the early elimination of his own car, Tommy was powerless to do anything except look ahead toward the following year for a chance to reassert his supremacy with one of the new 122-cubic-inch cars specified by a further reduction in engine size. The rule requiring all cars to carry riding mechanics had been rescinded at the annual AAA meeting, and every 1923 Indianapolis entry was of single-seat design.
May of 1923 found Milton ready and confident at the wheel of an H.C.S. Special, built by Miller, sponsored by Harry C. Stutz.
The field was formidable. Packard returned to competition with DePalma, Boyer, and Resta as its drivers. Durant went into racing on a big scale with eight Miller-engine cars carrying his colors; Murphy, Hearne, Hartz, Cooper, Leon Duray, and Harlan Fengler were among the stars chosen to drive them. Miller also built a duplicate of Milton's car and put Wilcox behind the wheel for his final Indianapolis race.
Three Frontenacs were in the field, and the original entry list included an equal number of Duesenbergs, although only one was completed in time to earn a starting position. Another American entry, which attracted virtually no pre-race attention except as the butt of many jokes, was the Barber-Warnock Special—a modified Ford with one of the Chevrolet brothers' new Frontenac cylinder heads installed for extra power.
For the first time since the World War, Germany was represented by three Mercedes. The foreign contingent also included a four-car Bugatti team.
When these new and lighter 1923 cars were given their first shakedown runs at the Speedway, they were found to be bucking broncos with poor handling characteristics. But Milton solved this problem quickly with the aid of Tore Franzen, an automotive spring engineer recommended by Fred Moskovics.
Several days prior to the start of time trials, additional help arrived from an entirely unsolicited source. One year earlier, at the specific request of Charles F. Kettering, Milton had experimented with two different types of antiknock compound as a fuel additive. The results were inconclusive, but "Ket" had continued his laboratory work with Tom Midgley and now had a product ready for introduction to the motoring public. The next step was to win public acceptance, and Kettering turned to the Speedway to demonstrate the qualities of this new Ethyl fluid.
"At the moment, the supply is limited," said Kettering. "But we plan to make it available to several of the top-ranking drivers18 and you are at the top of the list. If you are willing to try it, I'm sure you'll find it will enable you to increase your compression a full ratio or more and give you much better acceleration."
Tommy jumped at the opportunity. Thorough inspection of the engine after a quick fuel test revealed no damage, and it also performed flawlessly after compression had been increased from 6.0 to 7.5. He set a new track record of better than 108 miles an hour to win the pole position, far surpassing Murphy's performance of the previous year, and celebrated by purchasing a complete new wardrobe. As a final flourish, he added a pair of tight-fitting white kid gloves for race day, instead of his usual comfortable cotton gloves, and replaced the black friction tape on his steering wheel with white surgical adhesive tape.
In a spotless uniform, complete with new white shoes, he was the perfect picture of a national champion as he stood at attention while the world's largest massed band—1,500 pieces representing 50 different marching units of all description—played the national anthem.
In recognition of its move from Elizabeth, N. J., to its new factory on West Washington Street in Indianapolis, the Duesenberg Company had been accorded the honor of providing the pace car. Fred Duesenberg drove it, and when he swerved on to the pit apron as the starting flag dropped, Milton surged to the head of the pack.
With nothing ahead of him except a clear track, Milton negotiated the first three turns unchallenged. Then, as he swung wide out of the No. 4 corner, another car charged out of the turn and moved ahead of him on the inside. One quick glance was sufficient to identify Murphy's Durant. At long last, more than two years after their bitter parting on the Florida sands, the chips were down with both men driving new cars of comparable quality.
Milton accepted the challenge promptly and eagerly. Before the end of the third lap he was back in front. But Murphy pressed him relentlessly and passed him on four different occasions during the first 38 laps (95 miles). Each time the advantage was short-lived. Milton picked his spots and moved ahead again. He was a master at the art of coming out of a turn at full throttle and Murphy couldn't match the performance except at the cost of greater tire wear.
As the pressure from Murphy eased slightly, Milton reduced his speed accordingly. Wilcox passed both of them and Milton waved him onward, content for the moment with second place as long as he was still in front of Murphy. Jimmy was the first to need new rubber, pitting after 55 laps. Five laps later Wilcox was on the side lines due to clutch trouble. Milton had a commanding lead for the first time and he welcomed the brief respite.
The new gloves seemed to have shrunk on his hands, blistering his palms and causing his fingers to become numb due to improper circulation. The new shoe on his throttle foot was beginning to pinch his toes painfully. Although there was nothing he could do immediately about the shoe, he tore off his gloves and drove barehanded. Ten minutes later he realized he'd made a mistake. The heat and his tight grip on the steering wheel caused the adhesive substance to squeeze out from the under side of the surgical tape and adhere to his blistered hands, stripping the skin from them.
Durant and Hartz chose that particular stage of the race to make their bids for first place. Durant actually led for three laps before Milton reasserted his superiority on the 67th lap. Despite the pain and discomfort, Tommy then proceeded to build up a lead of more than five miles in preparation for his own pit stop shortly after reaching the halfway mark. While the regular crew serviced the car, Wilcox suddenly noticed the condition of Milton's hands.
"Why don't you let me take her for a few laps while you get your hands taped?" he suggested. Realizing the soundness of the offer, although he'd had no thought of relief, Tommy accepted with alacrity. First, he went to his own garage, where he quickly donned an old pair of comfortable shoes. A five-minute stop at the hospital was sufficient to have his hands taped properly and he was ready to finish the long grind. As he returned to trackside, however, the scoreboard showed Hartz in first place and Wilcox was just passing the H.C.S. pit with fuel spouting from a copper tube protruding from the mouth of the fuel tank.
"What the hell happened?" asked Milton.
"When we refueled," explained Mr. Stutz, "the funnel became jammed inside the gasket of the filler cap and it pulled the gasket out. I got an orange from Tom Beal, and pushed a piece of copper tubing through it to act as a vent. Then I wrapped the orange with friction tape to make it the correct size and wedged it into the neck of the tank."
"Why in the world would you vent the tank when you know we're using a pressure system?" demanded Milton. But he didn't waste any time waiting for the mortified president of the H.C.S. company to reply. Turning to George Stiehl, he said, "Come on. We'll get the filler cap from Howdy's car."
"It's riveted on," said Stiehl.
"We'll get it anyway," answered Tommy, grabbing a handful of tools.
Together they drilled out the rivets and found stove bolts which fitted the holes. To make sure his idea would work, Tommy then bolted the unit back on the Wilcox car and removed it again for practice before returning to the pit. Wilcox, back in the lead as the result of Hartz's pit stop, nodded his understanding of the IN signal and braked to a quick stop after one more lap. The installation was made smoothly. Sixty seconds later Milton was climbing behind the wheel while members of his crew completed the job of refilling the tank and he was running again before Hartz could close the gap.
Murphy, battling Hartz for second place, still was a dangerous contender. But Tommy added approximately two seconds a lap to his advantage over both rivals and won going away to become the first two-time winner of the famous "500." It was an accomplishment which would not be equalled for 10 more years.
Murphy, forced to stop for tires again because of his early change of rubber at the end of 55 laps, could finish no better than a distant third—far behind Hartz and more than ten minutes behind Milton. Hearne placed fourth and L. L. Corum received an ovation by copping fifth position in the Barber-Warnock Special with the Frontenac cylinder head on its Ford engine.
Although the race was a tremendous success from every standpoint—and the most profitable of the "500" series up to this time—Fisher looked to the future with little enthusiasm. Diminishing interest on the part of automobile manufacturers and the need for spending approximately $200,000 to refurbish the plant caused him considerable concern. In addition, he was greatly distressed by the antagonistic attitude displayed by some elements of the American Legion during the previous winter.
The movement was not a concerted one. It was spearheaded by Perry Faulkner, the Legion's state commander, who brushed aside all objections from within the organization's own ranks while ramming the Robert L. Moorhead Memorial Day bill through the Indiana legislature. The measure was designed to make the 500-mile race and all "commercialized sports" illegal19 in Indiana on May 30. Faulkner even suspended the charter of the Skidmore-Dean Legion Post when its members went on record as opposed to the bill.
Both houses of the Indiana legislature finally passed it, but Governor Warren McCray vetoed it three days later when Attorney General U. S. Lesh submitted an opinion to the effect it was unconstitutional on the grounds of "class legislation." The senate then upheld the veto by a vote of 33 to 5 on the final night of the session.
On the day after the 1923 race, Fisher let it be known he would accept any reasonable offer for his interest in the track and, if such an offer was not forthcoming, he would recommend sale of the land for other purposes unless the automotive industry definitely wanted the big outdoor proving grounds to remain in operation.
"The Speedway's original purpose was for experimental work intended to improve the automobile," he asserted. "Interest displayed in the 500-mile race as a sport attraction definitely has been regarded as of secondary importance and does not deserve serious consideration now."
Henry Ford and other leaders of the industry rallied quickly to the Speedway's support. Men at the helm of several accessory companies joined them. All doubt concerning the prospects for another race the following year were dispelled.
But Fisher gradually turned over all the future responsibilities of Speedway management to Jim Allison and Pop Meyer. Miami Beach was booming as a winter paradise, and Carl had visions of developing a similar summer playground at Montauk Point on Long Island. To concentrate on these two projects, he relinquished the Speedway presidency20 to Allison and was content to serve only as a director with Frank A. Sweet, who had replaced Wheeler on the board several years earlier. Newby remained active as vice-president. Pop became secretary and treasurer in addition to general manager.
Faced with the possibility of being entirely eclipsed in the racing field by Miller's engineering genius, the Duesenberg brothers worked 14 and 16 hours a day to build three new 1924 racers equipped with the first centrifugal superchargers ever designed for an American car. All three were completed on schedule. Boyer, Corum, and Ernie Ansterberg were signed to drive them. In case the new cars failed to live up to expectations, one of the 1923 Dusies also was entered with Pete DePaolo at the wheel. Fourteen Miller-powered cars, three Barber-Warnock Fronty-Fords, and a Mercedes of doubtful quality completed the starting line-up.
Murphy, Milton, and Hartz formed the front row in quest of prize money which the Speedway had boosted to $60,000. But Boyer's screaming supercharged creation, starting from the inside spot in the second row with Hill and Cooper, passed all three of these rivals before the completion of the first lap. He widened his lead on the second trip around the course, but his engine suddenly lost a great deal of its power as a key sheared off in the supercharger gears. At almost the same instant, Ansterberger hit the wall when a steering knuckle cracked.
The Duesenberg hopes now rested on Corum and DePaolo, two comparatively inexperienced drivers, and neither was able to catch the leaders. Milton also was in trouble with a broken anchor strap on his fuel tank, which required a 12-minute pit stop and eventually caused his elimination. For 250 miles, the race was strictly a Murphy-Cooper duel with Hill, Hartz, and Corum at the head of the second flight. The disconsolate Boyer was watching developments from the pits when the elder Duesenberg brother tapped him on the shoulder.
"Maybe we can still win," said Fred. "Get your goggles so you'll be ready when Corum stops for fuel and tires," he instructed Boyer. "I want you to finish the race in his car."
Twenty minutes later, the entire picture of the contest was changed. Driving with all of the skill and daring which had made him famous, Boyer was in pursuit of the four Millers ahead of him. Quickly he picked off Hill and Hartz. But at the 350-mile mark he still trailed Murphy by 33 seconds and Cooper by an additional 52 seconds. Murphy, trying desperately to get through the turns quicker in order to protect his advantage, skidded slightly and tore a strip of rubber from his right rear tire.
At 400 miles, only Cooper remained to be caught, and his lead had been cut to 44 seconds. Making the most of his superior speed on the straightaways, but ever mindful of tire wear on the turns, Boyer closed in relentlessly. When Cooper finally became aware of this new threat, with 60 miles to go, he was in no position to meet it. He had paced himself well on the basis of early performance. He still had enough rubber to finish at an average of 98 miles an hour. But with Boyer coming like the wind, that speed wasn't sufficient to assure victory.
Heeding the instructions of his pit crew, despite the possibility of tire failure, he drove deeper into the turns in a vain attempt to remain in front. Two laps later he limped to his pit with his right rear tire in shreds. Boyer's wine-colored Dusie, moving at tremendous speed on the long straightaways, zoomed into first place at 104 miles an hour.
Fifty-five miles remained, and Cooper, now trailing by 11 seconds, engaged his younger rival in one of the most sensational two-man battles of Speedway history. With 30 miles to go, Earl closed the gap to a few feet and maneuvered for an opening which would permit him to surge ahead again. But his car went into a slide on the No. 1 turn and the resultant tire failure, although he regained control instantly, made another pit stop mandatory. This time he trailed by 70 seconds when he was running again. Boyer, with his own tires badly worn, eased the pressure on his throttle and won handily.
The supercharger, which must be regarded as one of racing's greatest contributions to the ultimate superiority of American aircraft engines, had passed the test.
Cooper, who still holds the distinction of earning more championship points than any other driver, could do no more than salvage runner-up honors with Murphy third and Hartz fourth.
All three of the Fronty-Fords still were running at the finish, proving their durability to the delight of Mr. Ford in his official role as referee of the race. But even the fastest of the trio had more than 20 miles to go when all of the remaining cars were flagged off the track after 12 had completed the full distance.
The Milton-Murphy feud ended in September of the same year. Murphy crashed to his death during a race on the one-mile dirt track at Syracuse, N. Y.; and Milton, at his own request, was granted the honor of escorting the battered body to California for burial.
"He was one of the greatest," said Tommy, "and the blame for what happened at Daytona certainly wasn't his alone. Had our positions been reversed, I know now that I might have done exactly what he did."
Prior to his fatal accident, however, Murphy had commissioned Miller to build him a new car which would incorporate the front-wheel drive principle. Jimmy believed greater speed could be attained, and the possibility of skidding minimized, by having the engine pull the car through the turns. Durant provided the necessary funds to complete the project and one of Miller's new supercharged engines, designed to compete on even terms with the Duesenbergs, was installed in the car.
Another innovation was Firestone's new gum-dipped balloon tire. After equipping several of the early winners, Firestone had improved its product so greatly after World War I that it overshadowed all competitors. Race drivers preferred to buy Firestones rather than use tires offered by other companies without charge. But Harvey Firestone never was one to rest on his laurels. Additional improvements had been necessary each year to keep at least one step ahead of his rivals and now he was ready to introduce a new low-pressure tire which would revolutionize the industry. In addition to providing much better traction for accelerating and braking, it would add greatly to the comfort of the driver.
The 1925 time trials proved its worth as Cooper, Hartz, DePaolo, and Leon Duray—his real name was James Stewart—all smashed Milton's two-year-old four-lap qualification record, with Duray's speed of 113.196 good for the No. 1 starting position. Of these four, only DePaolo was a member of the Duesenberg team, and the Millers had the Dusies outnumbered in the starting line-up by a 17-to-4 margin. It was DePaolo, however, who jumped into the lead on the first lap when the pace car, a Rickenbacker eight with Captain Rickenbacker driving, swerved onto the pit apron. From then until he made his first pit stop at 260 miles, DePaolo relinquished first place only briefly to "Red" Shafer and Hartz. Norman Batten took the wheel for a few laps, while Pete was having his blistered hands bandaged, and when DePaolo climbed back into the cockpit, Dave Lewis had the front-drive car at the head of the field with Shafer second and Ralph Hepburn third.
Driving one of the finest races of his career, Pete quickly moved to the No. 2 spot, improved his position, and at the 400-mile mark was within striking distance of the lead. Soon the tiring Lewis would make his long-delayed pit stop for tires, and from then on, it would be a "helmet dash" toward the checkered flag.
But the spectacular finish never developed. Due to badly worn brakes and his own fatigue, Lewis overshot his pit. The time he lost there and during his pit stop enabled Pete to take command. When the front-wheeler was running again, with Hill as relief driver, the Duesenberg was a full lap to the good.
DePaolo apparently was not certain of this advantage, however. For several laps he ran almost hub-to-hub with Hill as if they were on the same lap and battling for first place. Many of the spectators, not realizing the true situation, also were on their feet and cheering wildly. But the Duesenberg pit crew finally succeeded in getting Pete to ease the pressure on his throttle with 30 miles to go. At the finish he still enjoyed a 54-second edge and he was the holder of the new "500" record of 101.13 miles an hour—the first winner to average more than 100 mph for the distance.