A Race Filled with Legends

This marvelous graphic from the November 23, 1924, Pomona Bulletin shows the favorites going into that year’s Thanksgiving Day race at Ascot:

On the left is legendary Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, the inspiration for the Cannonball Run. Baker set many records for cross-country rides in the early years of the 1900s including a 1914 sprint from San Diego to New York, made on Indian motorcycle in just eleven days. For the Ascot race, Baker was driving a stock Jewett. The man in the center, Cliff Bergere, had a side gig as a Hollywood stuntman and participated in 16 Indy 500 races including the 1941 race in which he went the distance without a single pit stop. He also served during World War II and was a major in the US Army upon discharge. Bergere was driving for Deusenberg, and so was the man on the right, Frank Lockhart. Dubbed “The Boy Wonder,” Lockhart was a talented and innovative racer and Indy winner who met a tragic end at Daytona Beach in 1928 while making a run at the land speed record in a Stutz Black Hawk Special. Incredibly, video of the crash, blamed on tire failure, can be found here on YouTube.

There was another familiar name there for that Thanksgiving Day race, and just look at this colorful write-up about him:

There were 43 starters in all that day, driving approximately 250 miles before a crowd of 50,000 that included celebrities like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The victory went to Lockhart who slid into first place on the 31st lap and drove a masterful race, finishing in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds. He made only one stop with 25 miles to go, and that was to lighten his load by ditching his mechanic. This photo of the action appeared in the LA Times:

The caption above the photo reads, “Photo shows Frank Lockhart, driving his No. 27 Duesenberg, coming down one of the sharp turns with C. A. Chamberlain, at the wheel of the No. 25 Chrysler, close behind. Lockhart, whose speed on the turns won him the race, almost got ruined in this particular instance as Chamberlain was hot on his trail. Inset shows “The Boy Wonder” as he finished the race.”

Cannon Ball Baker had tire problems but managed to cross the finish line on a rim exactly four minutes after Lockhart to take second place. Bergere finished ninth. Unfortunately, there was no mention of what happened to Nebraska’s Noel Bullock, but you can read more about him here: Bullock, Garrett, and the Franklin Mile Speedway: The “Real Stuff” of Nebraska Racing History

A Dictator on Ice

So many fun, and occasionally dangerous, advertising gimmicks were utilized in the early years of the automobile industry. This innovative approach from Blue Sunoco Fuel and Studebaker appeared in December of 1933 and featured an ice-covered Studebaker Dictator:

Here in Nebraska, it is not unusual for an automobile to look like an iceberg on wheels when left outside during wintry conditions, but this Studebaker was a brand-new car, driven right off the production line and into the plant’s refrigeration room. There, with Blue Sunoco fuel in the tank and Sunoco motor oil in the crankcase, the car was loaded down with huge cakes of ice. Then the temperature of the room was brought down to 20 degrees below zero and a wind machine, blowing at a rate of 50 mph, sprayed water on the ice-covered car. In this frigid state, the car was left to sit for almost 48 hours.

During the above process, one window of the car was left open. This enabled one Miss Eloise Metz of South Bend, wearing layers of warm clothing, to be placed through the open window along with heating pads and hot coffee. Once she was ensconced in the ice-laden car, that window was sealed tightly with ice. Then the car was towed to the business center of South Bend where a large crowd and several timekeepers had gathered. Miss Metz was told to start that frozen car, and start it did, taking only three-fifths of a second to do so.

That seems like a fairly effective marketing technique. One has to question the approach of christening the car with the distinctly un-American name of “Dictator” in the first place, however. I have heard it said that the term “Dictator” was chosen because it meant that the car was dictating the standard for the industry, but then why were the other cars in the Studebaker stable called the President and the Commander? Also, check out the caption under this 1934 photo:

That relaxed attitude toward authoritarianism did not last long with Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler operating nefariously on the international stage, and people soon realized the Studebaker wasn’t the only dictator that should be put on ice. The Dictator name did not age well, and the Studebaker company quietly retired it a couple of years later.