Dec 21 2009

The 1901 Newport Automobile Races

One of the most exciting American auto races in 1901 was the Newport Automobile Races organized by 23-year old William K. Vanderbilt Jr. and the National Auto Racing Association.

The major automobile trade magazine Horseless Age reported:

"No automobile races held in this country has eleicted as much newspaper comment as the Newport race of August 30. It is not so much the races themseleves that the press has been discussing but the fierce fight between the promotoers thereof and residents of Newport, who objected to seeing Ocean Avenue turned into a race track even for a single day".


After the Newport residents secured an injunction to prevent holding the race on public streets, William K. Vanderbilt Jr, acting as president of the National Automobile Racing Association, relocated it to the oval horse track at Aquidneck Park. Here is the official program for the event.


The races consisted of six classes representing the most common vehicles of 1901:1. Tricycles and Two Wheeled Vehicles 2. Steam Propelled Vehicles 3. Electric Vechicles 4. De Dion 5-HP Voiturettes 5. Gasoline Vehicles not developing 12 Horsepower 6. Gasoline Vehicles developing over 12 Horsepower. The final "division" was for winners of all classes.


The races were an exclusive country club affair of Newport millionaires, like a golf outing or tennis match. Among the participants were William K. Vanderbilt Jr., John Jacob Astor IV, O.H.P Belmont (Willie K's step-father), Reginald Vanderbilt (Willie K's cousin and Anderson Cooper's grandfather) and two of Willie K's friends, Foxhall Keene and James L. Breese.


Overall 16 races were held among the six classes. The most anticpated races for the 3,000 spectators were the last two events; a 5-mile run for gasoline vehicles with over 12-HP and the 10-mile championship for the winners of all six classes.


Both races were won by the crowd favorite William K. Vanderbilt Jr in his 35-hp Mercedes nicknamed the "Red Devil". In the final 10-Mile Race, Willie K out-powered the winners of all the other classes and won the championship, averaging 39.0 miles per hour.


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