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RALPH MULFORD’S performance at the 1911 Indy 500 was no less dramatic than his 1912 achievement (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-2PY for the latter). The 1911 event is also rather more controversial. In fact, this inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 was a shambles.
Organizers had rigged up a complex electric timing apparatus, a wonder for its day. Who would have guessed its foot-high trip wire wouldn’t be damaged by 40 race cars?
As the kids say, “Duh.”
There was a Judging/Timing Stand. However, many of its 200 officials were chosen on criteria of Indianapolis society standing, not racing ken.
Shortly before the race’s midpoint, a car veered back and forth across the track and then headed for the Judging/Timing Stand. The judges and timers headed elsewhere. Other cars collided. Chaos ensued, both on track and in any semblance of official record-keeping.
When the dust settled, a duel ensued between Ralph Mulford, that year in a Lozier, and David Bruce-Brown’s Fiat. Ray Harroun’s Marmon “Wasp” also joined the fray.
The race had, at best, muddled scoring. On what might have been the penultimate lap, the order was Mulford, Bruce-Brown and Harroun. Or maybe not.
Bruce-Brown pitted for a mechanical fix. Mulford took the finish flag, followed by Harroun. Or maybe not. And then things got positively fuzzy.
What with the confused lap counts. the Lozier team sent Mulford around on three “safety” laps. However, Harroun drove the Marmon directly to the victor’s circle and the celebration began.
Lozier protested. Organizers said results wouldn’t be official until the next day, but immediately told the press that Harroun was the winner.
Indianapolis’s Claypool Hotel was the site of that night’s meeting. The next day, officials confirmed the finishing order as Harroun, Mulford and Bruce-Brown.
This time, Bruce-Brown’s team protested, claiming they were 2nd, ahead of Mulford’s Lozier.
The officials reconvened.
There were conflicting arguments: The Judging/Timing Stands had emptied whenever excitement occurred on the track. The electric timing system had a backup that worked. The second meeting’s conclusion, albeit with times adjusted, remained Harroun, Mulford, Bruce-Brown.
After this meeting (conspiracy alert!?), all official timing and scoring sheets were destroyed.
To this day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway view continues to side with the 1911 organizers. So does a recent book by automotive authorities Matt Stone and Preston Lerner.
However, other authorities beg to differ: See “Who Really Won the First Indy 500?” by Russ Catlin, Automobile Quarterly Vol. 8 No. 4 Summer 1970. See also Russell Jaslow’s article in The North American Motorsports Journal, 1997, http://goo.gl/4MzXXr.
Also, another recent book, Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500, adds other research and opinion to these two sources.
In Russ Catlin’s Automobile Quarterly piece, Ralph Mulford, age 85, is quoted as saying “Mr. Harroun was a fine gentleman, a champion driver and a very great development engineer, and I wouldn’t want him to suffer any embarrassment nor the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They have publicly credited me with leading the race and each year send me something as a remembrance and to let me know I have not been forgotten.”
My view? A gentleman throughout all this is Ralph Mulford. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015