Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Racer who died at Four Miles per Hour

The Racer Who died at Four Miles Per Hour
     He had the pole position for the first Indianapolis 500 held in 1911.  He had been at the “top of the world”, the best racer of 1908, married to a beautiful actress, but recently his world had crumbled a bit.  Lewis Strang was a daredevil, who routinely drove those primitive vehicles at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour, but he died driving at four miles an hour. 
     Lewis Strang was a direct descendant of Revolutionary war general Israel Putnam, the man who, legend says. told his soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”, and who himself, was a reckless seeker of adventure.  He had fought in the French and Indian War with Rogers’ Rangers, and was famous for Escaping from the British in a horse race in 1779 at the age of 61.


Strang’s winning Isota at the1908 Briarcliff Road Race                                                           Lewis Strang

     Strang always drove full tilt.  In 1908 he won the major races at Savannah, Georgia; Briarcliff, New York and Lowell, Massachusetts.  The same year he married Jennie L. Spalding, who performed as an actress under the name Louise Alexander. The marriage was tempestuous.  When he lost a race she demanded to know why.  Later, on November 17, 1908, when his driving partner Emil Stricker was killed moments after relieving Strang in Birmingham in an attempt to break the 24 hour record at the state fair race course, she changed her mind and pleaded with him to enter a safer business 2.  Though she had promised to give up acting, she left him in 1909 and returned to acting, appearing in Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1910.  Barney Oldfield in discussing Strang recalled: “When it came his turn to bow to the scythe-swinger, Strang wanted to be gripping the wheel of the fastest racing car in the world, with his foot shoving the throttle wide open. He wanted the band to be playing the latest rag, and when the ambulance hauled him to the morgue he wanted the crowd to say as they filed out, “Well, he certainly was going some.” 3
    In 1910 The J. I. Case Company, better known for agricultural machinery, bought the Pierce Motor Company of Racine 1.  They approached Strang about helping them promote their new automobiles by racing them.  He assembled a racing team to compete in their vehicles.  He raced a Case at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911, but none of the three cars entered finished the race.  On June 18, 1911 he crashed his car through a fence in Kenosha, breaking his arm.  Despite that injury he decided to drive the technical review committee car for the Wisconsin Automobile Association’s annual reliability run in July 2.  Steady rains had soaked the ground near Blue River, Wisconsin for days before the reliability run.  On July 20, 1911, as he approached a hill on the muddy road he encountered a farmer with his wagon ascending slowly.  In first gear he carefully began to pass the horse drawn wagon.  His car wheels sunk into the mud on the far side of the road, and the car began to roll.  It slid down the ten foot embankment, rolling over.  Three of the occupants jumped to safety, but Strang held the wheel and was crushed under the car. And so the man who wanted the a crowd at his death to say “Well, he certainly was going some.” died at a speed of probably four miles per hour.  God doesn’t give us the option of choosing the manner of our death, but our lives he allows us to direct for better or worse.  “The sensation of winning and losing and of taking a chance with something is probably the greatest in the world.” He said “It is natural to gamble with what you value. Some men obtain sport through gambling with money. I wouldn’t take a minute’s interest in a money stake. It doesn’t appeal to me. I like to gamble for something else, though. The sensation when you come close to a bad accident and yet don’t ‘get it’ can never be described.”3  He is buried in The Green Hill Cemetery in Amsterdam, New York.
        Advertisement for 1911 Case Touring Car

1.      CASE CAR HISTORY, at: http://www.ironmemories.com/case-car-history
2.      LEWIS STRANG, America's leading driver in 1908, From:   http://www.vanderbiltcupraces.com/drivers/driver/lewis_strang
3.      HOW STRANG MET HIS DEATH,  Hemmings Daily Motor News Blog at:  http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2010/05/31/how-strang-met-his-death/
4.      “OLD PUT”, THE PATRIOT, 2005 by Frederick A. Ober, EBook at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17049/17049-h/17049-h.htm