- Historic Sites
The Dawn Of Speed
The Florida Speed Carnivals at Daytona lasted less than a decade, but they saw American motoring grow from rich man’s sport to national obsession
November 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 7
But already there was trouble. Under pressure from the AAA, Charles G. Burgoyne, as the president of the Florida East Coast Automobile Association, declared the 1905 meet would be an open event, not by invitation only, as in 1904. Clearly this was a ploy to remove W. J. Morgan from management. The Senator, who was in New England on business when the decision was announced, was aghast. The invitational status had to be preserved, he exhorted, “so that the entries can be controlled and undesirable drivers and freak machines shut out.” Burgoyne was from Daytona. Morgan was Ormond’s man. Stormy meetings followed, and both sides gave a little. Morgan remained in charge, agreeing to the meet’s being an open one, but with the right to reject any entry. Ormond built a garage to accommodate a hundred cars and “furnish lodging and eating accommodations for the mechanics and chauffeurs who have them in charge.” But Daytona had built a clubhouse for participants, and the races would start from Daytona’s end of the beach.
The week of January 24 was chosen for the 1905 Speed Carnival. Everyone expected another agreeable, accident-free week. One of the appeals of beach competition was its presumed safety. But death arrived in 1905 before the Speed Carnival began.
Frank Croker, a son of the former Tammany Hall boss who was now enjoying life as a country gentleman in England, had traveled to Florida early to practice. His car was a racing version of the S&M Simplex, a high-priced and high-powered automobile recently put on the market and produced in Manhattan. Also arriving early to practice was Newton Stanley, a nephew of the steamer-producing Stanleys and an avid motorcyclist. Both were driving on the beach late on Saturday afternoon, January 21. Apparently not hearing the Simplex approaching from behind, Stanley swerved his motorcycle to avoid a wet spot. The two collided. Stanley was hurled into the sea, and the car careened toward the ocean and overturned. Croker’s mechanic, Alexander Raoul, was killed instantly. Stanley suffered a broken leg. Croker died the next day.
The tragedy doubtless would have cast a pall had it occurred during the Speed Carnival. But happening when it did lessened the impact. A collection was taken up for the widow Raoul and her four children, and on Tuesday, when the racing began, a festive air prevailed. Mrs. Howard Gould made an entrance on the beach as dramatic as she ever had onstage, in a crimson striped dress and a cake-shaped hat punctuated by a large pink rose in front that, appropriately, resembled an automobile headlamp, with white streamers trailing to the ground from the sides.
Henry Ford had no luck that year—his crankshafts kept breaking—and neither did Willie K. Florida’s new celebrities were H. L. Bowden of Boston, who spent nearly a hundred thousand dollars to have his car built, and Louis S. Ross, who worked days in his family’s contracting business in Newtonville, Massachusetts, and built his car evenings in the basement of his home. Both machines were extraordinary. Bowden’s was created by joining two 4-cylinder 60-hp Mercedes engines together in a Mercedes chassis lengthened twenty inches to accommodate them. Ross’s creation used two 10-hp Stanley steam engines in a chassis completely shrouded by a teardrop-shaped body that seemed a precursor of the yet unborn science of automobile aerodynamics.
Bowden’s was by far the more powerful car; indeed, so fierce was the vibration of its 120-hp in full cry that all nuts and bolts on the chassis had to be checked and retightened after each run on the beach. In one of them Bowden sped the mile in 34.2 seconds, a new fastest speed ever.
Ross covered himself in glory, too, winning six of the week’s races, more than any other competitor. In one of his victories he won Sir Thomas Dewar’s trophy, which wags on the beach liked to call the “Scotch Highball Cup.” With so many events on the schedule, there were prizes for almost everybody.
Prize giving was somewhat equivocal. Bowden’s record run, for example, went unrewarded because by AAA regulations his car was four hundred pounds overweight: the victory went to the British Arthur MacDonald in his Napier, which had been a split second slower. Loud boos on the beach following the announcement clearly demonstrated the spectators’ displeasure at Bowden’s disqualification, but the man himself was not upset. Demonstrating the feasibility of eight cylinders in an automobile was his intent, he said, and the thrill of the 105-mph ride was worth the money. Unofficially, too, Bowden won sartorial honors of the meet, press consensus being that his driver’s suit—undressed brown deerskin, cap to match, tight fitting knickerbockers, leather leggings, tan shoes—was “the simplest and most effective costume in evidence and…the envy of the men who know.” A tinge of envy was apparent in Louis Ross’s post race announcement that he had “won glory enough” and would not defend his Dewar Cup the year following. “Some of the other competitors have nothing else to do but buy cars and try them out,” he said plaintively. “They have all the time they need and no business cares to worry them.” Ross sold his car to a New York bookmaker on the beach and went home to work.