Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
An extremely good book on early American road racing is Real Road Racing; The Santa Monica Road Races, by Harold Osmer and Phil Harms. Osmer began his writing career by compiling the history of various racing tracks in Southern California. His books were short but filled a valuable need. In this book on the history of the Santa Monica road race, he expands the size of the book and looks at just one race and the quality and tone of the book increases considerably. Phil Harms is the co-author and historian. Harms has amassed racing results for over 9000 open wheel events from 1896 to the present. His photographs and knowledge have helped many authors compile first class works on motorsports in the United States.
The collaboration of Osmer and Harms has produced a very good story about an important series of races that began in 1909 and ended in 1919. Real Road Racing; The Santa Monica Road Races is a paperback book with the highest quality waxed paper, measuring 8 ½ inches in height and 11 inches in length. This is a strange size since most bookcases are set up to receive books that are 11 inches in height and 8 ½ inches in length. The cover has a racing car of the era and is suitable to use as a coffee table book. Real Road Racing; The Santa Monica Road Races has 132 pages, two-thirds of which are well researched text about the history of the road race in Santa Monica and its impact on racing. There are 4 color photographs, 12 maps, one drawing of the early Santa Monica City limits and 6 insets of programs and various rules requirements. Because the races took place before color printing, 138 photographs are in black and white but their quality is very good. In addition there are 6 Ads of the era, 8 race result sheets and additional driver information in the index.
Real Road Racing; The Santa Monica Road Races was first published in 1999 by Harold L. Osmer Publishing, P.O. Box 4741, Chatsworth, California 91313. There were only 200 books published in the original printing. To find this book, check with Doug Stokes at Autobooks/Aerobooks at 818-845-0707, and give the ISBN# 0-9659533-1-9. Osmer and Harms also had access to the photographic collections of Chuck Groninga at Red Lion Racing, Brian Blain, Carmen Schroeder, Lindley Bothwell, Herald Examiner Newspaper, Los Angeles Public Library and the Security Pacific Collection. The price is $29.95, but since it is in a limited edition, the book will be valuable as a collector’s item of early auto racing memorabilia. The cover design and artwork is by Neil Nissing. Phil Harms and Harold Osmer wrote the Preface, explaining the origins of auto racing. The Table of Contents breaks the book down into ten sections, with a Prelude and ending with an Afterword. The Prelude to Santa Monica is the first chapter and discusses the road racing that took place in America before the Santa Monica Road Race. The Long Island, New York Road Race was held from 1904-1910 over a length of 30.24 miles. Following that road course race was the Savannah, Georgia Road Course Race that ran from 1908-11. The Santa Monica Road Race began in 1909 and continued on through 1919. The Venice, California Road Race was run from 1910-1916. Other races were held in Milwaukee, San Francisco, Europe and elsewhere. These races were being organized a mere ten years after the invention and marketing of the automobile. The desire of the public to view these new machines became a frenzied mania.
The second chapter is called The First Year 1909. Santa Monica is eager to gain notoriety and the road race is just what the city fathers need. The road course was 8.4 miles long and looked every bit like a modern NASCAR stock car. There was a long straightaway on Wilshire Blvd, which had a wicked turn onto San Vicente Blvd. Three short turns on San Vicente led to a sharp turn onto Ocean Blvd and a mile run before an equally sharp turn back onto Wilshire. Long courses meant little action and crowds would often become restless. Dogs, horses and people would venture onto the road courses, creating obstacles for the drivers to dodge. Harris Hanshue won the 1909 race over 24 laps at an average speed of 64.44mph, a remarkable speed for that day and age. Bert Dingley won the light car race averaging 55.32mph. Chapter Three is entitled Reaching out 1910 and details the race in that year. Four classes raced in 1910, but it was Teddy Tetzlaff who won the top two races with Bert Dingley taking second place in both. Tetzlaff recorded a 73.142mph in his Lozier and won the race by nearly a six-minute margin. Chapter Four is named Coming of Age 1911 and discusses the growth and complexity of the road race. Harvey Herrick set a national record of 74.603mph in winning the top class but his margin of victory dropped to three minutes and the racing became tighter and more exciting. Chapter Five is called The Shriners Come 1912. With the Shriners, a new and improved organization takes over the Santa Monica Road Race. A $5000 purse draws some of the best race drivers in the country. Tetzlaff won his second title in a row at a speed of 78.718mph. While the race proved successful, tensions were brewing between East and West Coast racing associations.
Chapter Six is named One Tough Year 1913. The effort by New York’s AAA to control auto racing resulted in many drivers preferring to go it alone. Barnstorming was a term for racecar drivers and promoters to hold their own unsanctioned races and challenges. It proved highly profitable for drivers like Barney Oldfield. The AAA and other sanctioning bodies truly believed that it was imperative to control auto racing in order to keep down injuries and fatalities. Earl Cooper won the 1913 race and there were no fatalities. So far the Santa Monica Road Race had only gotten bigger and better each year. Chapter Seven is titled Going Bigtime 1914. The AAA transferred the Vanderbilt Cup and the American Grand Prize Road Race to Santa Monica. The promoters now had the premier road-racing event of the year set for Santa Monica. The purse expanded to $15,000. Ralph DePalma won the Vanderbilt Cup Race in his Mercedes with an average speed of 75.49mph over 35 laps. Eddie Pullen won the American Grand Prize Race in his Mercer at an average speed of 77.32. DePalma won $4000 and Pullen won $3000, a fortune in those days. The attendance topped 100,000 people, there were no fatalities and the prize money was upped to $20,000. With everything going right, the city of Santa Monica had the premier auto race.
Chapter Eight is called Back Again 1916. Santa Monica officials lost the Cup and Grand Prize Race to San Francisco and did not put on a race in 1915. The Vanderbilt Cup and American Grand Prize Race returned to Santa Monica in 1916, after a dismal mess at the 1915 races in San Francisco. Dario Resta won the 1916 race in the Vanderbilt Cup and Howard Wilcox in the Grand Prize Race. A tragic accident took the lives of a driver and three spectators and injured three more. The race was suspended due to World War I and there was no racing in 1917-18. Chapter Nine is named Return From The Trenches 1919. The racecourse was shortened by about a mile in length and no longer ran through Ocean Blvd. Cliff Durant won the race with an average speed of 81.27mph. This was the last year a race was held in Santa Monica. Road racing had taken its toll and the town had grown to the point that it was more of an inconvenience than a fun event. Auto racing was exploding all over to newer and bigger venue sites. Chapter Ten is titled the Epilogue. Various drivers are discussed and what happened to them. There are tables and charts with interesting statistics about race drivers and the races they won. A short bibliography and Afterword ends the book. Unfortunately, there is no index. This is such a spectacular book that the absence of an index is very puzzling. Should the authors decide to do more reprintings, they would be well advised to add an index for the use of scholars and fans of auto racing.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.
Autobooks/Aerobooks is at 1-818-845-0707.