The 1899 (Automobile) Tour de France

Picture of competitor in the original Tour de France

The Tour de France was conceived by the French publication, Le Matin.  The race took place between July 16 and July 24, in 1899.  The race was to be approximately 1,350 miles and stands as one of the longer automotive races of all time.  The first bicycle Tour de France did not take place until 1903, which makes this the true original.

The regulations for the July 1899 race were published in April in Le Matin.  There are two sets of regulations of note.  First, there were “new rules affecting the disposal of cars during the nights between stages.”  These rules provided that the cars could generally not be worked on outside of certain periods before and after a stage.  In other words, parc fermé regulations date back to early racing.  Second, flags were introduced at this race.  A yellow flag indicated “attention.”  A red flag was the symbol to stop.

There were three categories of cars.  The first category was for “cars having at least two places side by side, carrying two passengers.”  The fact that cars were required to have two seats seems to indicate that, even this early in the development of motorsport, there was a fear of alienating public interest in the sport by creating too great a divide between the thoroughbred racer and the regular touring car.  The second category was for motorcycles.  To meet the main category, the motorcycles had to weigh less than 150 kilograms.  Finally, there was a third catch-all category for vehicles not fitting into the first two categories.

The stages were as follows:

  • Stage 1 (July 16): Paris to Nancy = 180.1 miles
  • Stage 2 (July 17): Nancy to Aix-les-bains = 227.3 miles
  • Rest Day (July 18)
  • Stage 3 (July 19): Aix-les-bains to Vichy = 237.2 miles
  • Rest Day (July 20)
  • Stage 4 (July 21): Vichy to Perigueux = 187.7 miles
  • Stage 5 (July 22): Perigueux to Nantes = 212.4 miles
  • Stage 6 (July 23): Nantes to Cabourg = 216.1 miles
  • Stage 7 (July 24): Cabourg to Paris = 119.2

The gross racing distance was 1,378 miles . Due to a few excepted sections, the net racing distance was 1,350 miles.

A Few Notes on the Cars

Out of the multitude of competitors in the three classes, there were 19 cars, which started the race.  Of those 19, eight were Panhard et Levassors.  Interestingly, there were 7 cars with horizontal engines (Vallée, Bolide, Richard, and the Bollées); however, only one of these cars managed to finish.

The Bollées

These were low hung cars, with “wind cutting fronts” and a long wheelbase.  If nothing else, they looked racey.  The Bollées were driven by drivers including Castelnau, Giraud, Avis, and Jamin.

The Panhard et Levassors

Fernand Charron and René de Knyff each had the very new 16 horsepower models.  According to Gerald Rose, “The six other Panhards were all 12 H.P. vehicles.”

The Mors

These entries were the first proper racers built by the firm.  This was only their second race.  Previously, the Mors had done quite well in the 1899 Paris to Bordeaux.  Mors were driven by Levegh, Jenatzy, and Antony.

The Vallée

This was described as a “truly remarkable vehicle.  It was fitted with a horizontal engine having four cylinders with a 100 mm bore and a 200 mm stroke.  Transmission was by means of a single belt.  Unfortunately, the belt slipped and Dr. Lehwess withdrew this car on the very first stage.

The Bolide

The Bolide was an odd car.  The horizontal engine was under the main bodywork of the car; it did not really have a traditional hood.  According to Rose, “the radiator, a vertical tubular one, stood straight up in front of the driver, and gave the car a curious fore-shortened appearance, as the seats were practically mid-way between the wheels.”

Stage 1: Paris to Nancy (180.1 miles)

The race started at 8:00 am on Sunday, July 16, 1899.  As was the usual practice, this was an an interval race, where the cars were released in thirty second intervals.  19 cars. 4 voiturettes, and 25 motorcycles started the race.

Tires were a persistent problem for the duration of the race.  Pneumatic tires were still in their very early development in 1899.  Flash, driving a Vollée had “immediate and persistent” tire problems.  In fact, a blowout caused him to collide with a post, which damaged his car.  Although he arrived at the destination too late to be timed, he did continue on for the remainder of the race, albeit untimed.

Charron’s time (6:05:42) was particularly slow owing to problems with his water piping.  The top three times, and thus leaders of the race, were as follows:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 5:19:27
  • Girardot (Panhard): 5:35:47
  • Pinson (Panhard): 5:44:24

Stage 2: Nancy to Aix-les-bains (227.3 miles)

Spectators from the nearby “Ecole Professionelle” (Professional School) were already outside and waiting around 4:30 am.  The cars were off starting at 6:00 am.  There was an allowance for some rough roads on the first part of the stage.

Antony, Broc, and Lefebvre each dropped out; however, the reasons why have been lost to history.  Girardot lost a wheel.  However, he managed to replace it with an ordinary cart wheel and continue on.  Although Charron arrived first, both front springs were broken, due to gripping the grain a bit hard for the extremely rough roads.

The next day was a rest day.  There was some excitement when the town’s major hotel spontaneously and accidentally burned to the ground.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 2:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 7:15:21
  • Charron (Panhard): 6:50:52
  • Jamin (Bollée): 7:16:25

Stage 3: Aix-les-bains to Vichy (237.2 miles)

By only about 10 miles, this was the longest stage of the tour.  At the start, there were 35 total competitors running from the three different classes.  Giraud made his way to the front of this stage.  However, he was soon passed by the Count de Chasseloup, who recently raced Camille Jenatzy for the fastest over a flying kilometer.  Then, at Montbrison, the Count was overtaken by Fernand Charron and then René de Knyff.  The day was filled with incidents.  Seeing as these were the first cars any dogs had ever come across, they were a perpetual problem.  It had to be amusing to be among the first to realize dogs are all but pre-programmed to chase cars.

There was another rest day following this lengthy stage.  The Bollées were already getting pretty weak, in that they were starting to fall back and drop out.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 3:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 8:28:48
  • Charron (Panhard): 8:12:12
  • Pinson (Panard): 8:51:07

Stage 4: Vichy to Perigeuex (187.7 miles)

This was said to be the most trying stage of all.  The competitors were passing through the mountainous area of Auvergne.  In fact, this route was so trying that it was later used for the 1905 Gordon Bennett trophy.

Again, according to Gerald Rose:

The hill up La Baraque to the top of the Col de la Moreno was the last straw to some of the weary [motor] cyclists.

Remember, these early motorcycles often required assistance from the rider by pedaling.  In fact, a couple cyclists, such as Rigal and Osment, simply gave up on the hill.

For the cars, the four mile hill section gives a good indication of the relative strength of some of the top remaining cars.  De Knyff and Charron covered the section in 15 minutes.  Pinion took 18 minutes.  Girardot took 19 minutes to complete the section.

The Count de Chasseloup-Laubat burst both of his rear tired trying to avoid a dog.  De Knyff led the stage from start to finish.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 4:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 6:44:55
  • Charron (Panhard): 7:10:52
  • Pinson (Panhard): 7:25:00

Stage 5: Perigueux to Nantes (212.4 miles)

At this point, there were only 23 of the original 48 competitors.  All 23 completed this relatively uneventful stage.  Count de Chasseloup-Laubat was the surprise fastest time of the day.  However, he drove the entire distance with his toolbox open, causing him to lose every single spare tire that he was carrying.  He also lost his jack.  Giraud was unable to even start the stage. As such, there was only one Bollée remaining.  Girardot overtook Pinson for third place, overall.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 5:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 6:53:45
  • Charron (Panhard: 7:16:15
  • Girardot (Panhard): 7:07:52

Stage 6: Nantes to Cabourg (216.1 miles)

There was a bit of rain on this stage.  However, the roads were not overly affected.  Charron, who had been running in second, overall, since the second stage, ran into trouble.  He broke the aluminum cap of the bearing between the gearbox and the bevel drive on the sprocket shaft.  This left him with the ability to drive only in reverse.  He, in fact, did just that for 25 miles, before giving up.  He tried to forge a replacement part with Clément; however, it failed.  Charron was out of the race for good.  It must have been crushing for him to have to abandon hope of winning such an epic race.

The fastest time of the day was from Levegh (6:26:44).  Yet, this was largely inconsequential as he was quite far back in the overall order.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 6:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 6:48:03
  • Girardot (Panhard): 7:00:25
  • Count de Chasseloup-Laubat (Panhard): 6:34:21

Stage 7: Cabourg to Paris (119.2 miles)

An honorable mention goes to Camille Jenatzy for absolute dogged persistence in the face of “innumerable incidents and perpetual troubles.”

The stage was largely uneventful as the drivers raced all-out to win this epic tour of France.  there was a massive crowd at the finish line.  De Knyff was the first in at around 4:15 pm.  Girardot was second at around 4:20.  Due to the time differential, Girardot waited on pins and needles for enough time to go by to assure him second ahead of the Count de Chasseloup-Laubat.

The Panhard et Levassors were absolutely dominate throughout the race.  Clearly, these were the mounts to have.

In the end, De Knyff carried the day from the beginning to the end of the race.  Girardot and the Count had a close battle, once Charron dropped out.  Pinson and Castelnau were the best of the rest.

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 30.2 mph
  • Girardot (Panhard): 27.2 mph
  • Count de Chasseloup-Laubat (Panhard): 27.1 mph
  • Pinson (Panard): 25.6 mph
  • Castelnau (Bollée): 25.2 mph

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/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).

100 Years of the Tour de France, Motorsport Magazine (July 1999).

The 1898 Racing Season Concludes.

The last race I covered, the 1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris race, ended on July 13th.  At the end of the month, on July 22, 1898, the standing 100 kilometer record was broken.  Jamin set the new record at 1:53:15.  In doing so, he beat the previous 100 km record by three minutes and thirty seconds.

According to Gerald Rose, about a week later, there was a race from Lille to Calais.  It was only “remarkable for the large mortality in live-stock which occurred at the same time.”  Then, on August 21, 1898, the last major race of the year took place.

1898 Bordeaux to Biarritz

On August 21, 1898, the Bordeaux to Biarritz race marked the final major race of the 1898 racing season.  The route, starting in Bordeaux, went through Le Réole, Marmande, Casteljaloux, and Mont de Marsan.  The race was set for 180 miles.

The race was “tropically hot” according to Gerald Rose.  The competitors, and particularly the motorcyclists were exhausted after the 180 mile race.

Giraud started in a Bollée.  He was soon passed by Lemaitre, a participant in the 1894 race from Paris to Rouen.

Lemaitre was in the lead until he came up on a gated bridge at Marmande.  As he approached, the bridge-keeper through the gate closed, forcing Lemaitre to slam on his breaks.  In doing so, Lemaitre destroyed the rear-end mechanicals of his Peugeot.  Lemaitre and bridge-keeper got in a heated argument lasting until the townspeople threatened to throw the bridge-keeper into the river, below.

There was also some sort of cattle affair, which the drivers has to get special permission to drive through.

In the end, Loyel’s Bollée was first in 6:48:00, at an average speed of 26.7 miles per hour.  Mr. Koechlin, of the tiny suit shenanigan from the last post, was second.  He finished in 7 hours and 36 minutes.

Lemaitre, in a Peugeot, was third, in spite of his run in with the bridge-keeper.  He completed the course in 8 hours and four minutes.  There were no other timed finishers.

1898 Saint Germain to Vernon to Saint Germain.

This was a minor city to city race.  It took place on October 20, 1898, and was only for the make, “Mors.”  Tires, and especially the puncture thereof, continued to be problematic.  Otherwise, the race was rather uneventful.  It was certainly only a minor, one-make, late-season race, decades before the days of a championship.

And so, the 1898 season came to a close.  The seasons are still very loosely structured.  Paris remains the center of the racing world.  However, the tentacles of influence of the grassroots motoring movement are reaching farther and farther into continental Europe.  Moreover, the regular racing is causing cars to develop at a comparatively rapid rate.

A Brief Commentary.

Altogether, these late season races, and really all of the 1898 races exemplify the problems of the “great” city to city races.  Essentially, unforeseen obstacles inevitably are both dangerous and dispositive to the race outgoing.  In other words, externalities were causing drivers to lose, when they were otherwise fastest and most reliable.  For example, Lemaitre would have done much better had he not needed to deal with the bridge-keeper.  I, for one, will champion the advent of proper circuit-based racing.

On a separate note, as the creator and author of GPevolved.com, I question what is the useful scope of this blog.  A gather this is a problem forced upon most any non-fiction writer.  How microscopic must you be to tell a story accurately?  At what point do you lose the forest through the trees.

Certainly, there is no need to go into every hillclimb and speed trial.  Well, even that cannot be made a rule to govern the scope of this project.  For, if it did, I would miss the entire story of La Jamais Content.  So, perhaps, it is a matter of judgment.  In any event, stay tuned for the next story about Camille Jenatzy and the electric racer that made him the first person to average faster than a mile a minute.

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Source:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908 (1949).

1898 Paris to Bordeaux

Only 11 cars entered.  Of those, only nine made it to the starting line.  This race was, in a way, a throwback to the great 1895 race.  Tours was the stopping point for the two day race.  The race took place on May 11th and 12th of 1898.

Nationalist colors, that many of us associate with the early races, were not yet in vogue.  Instead, De Knyff was in a blue car.  Charron’s car was white.  Girardot’s car was red.  It was a simultaneous start, of sorts.

De Knyff took the early lead.  He also led to Tours.  90 minutes later, Charron arrived in second.  Eight cars finished.  6 motorcycles also finished in a concurrent race.  On the second day, there was a “tremendous storm of wind and rain.”

De Knyff led steadily.  He gradually increased his distance to Levegh, who was a relative on the Levegh involved in the tragic 1955 Le Mans crash.  In the end, de Knyff won with a two hour lead.

The Origins of British Motoring, Pt. I

“Without any deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

-Frank Zappa

Motoring in Great Britain was, in essence, illegal until 1896.  Emancipation Day, a cold and rainy November day, saw the run from London to Brighton, following the passage of less restrictive legislation.  This run stands as the legal start to motoring in Great Britain.

Motoring is Banned.

English: Symington steam coach of 1784
English: Symington steam coach of 1784 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Motoring was banned in Great Britain before the motor act even existed.  An essay by John Henry Knight notes that 70 years before 1906, just as railroads were being introduces, “there were scores of steam coaches and steam carriages running on [British] roads.”  He recites the great pioneers of the steam coach and steam carriage such as Hancock, Gurney, and Summers.

However, according to Knight, :”but the opposition of the Turnpike Trustees, the coach proprietors, and the railway companies nipped in the bud a promising industry by the imposition of excessive tolls and adverse Acts of Parliament.”

That Act of Parliament included the The Locomotives Act, 1865, provided “it shall not be lawful to drive any locomotive along any turnpike road or public highway at a greater speed than 4 miles per hour, or through any city, cotton , or village at a greater speed than 2 miles per hour.”  These few words quashed most progress in the motoring arts until 1896.

It is important to realize that The Locomotives Act of 1865 never contemplated the petrol/gasoline powered vehicle.  According to Mr. R. E. Moore, writing in 1906:

Of course, the truth of the matter is, that when these regulations were first imposed, the Legislature had in contemplation only such cumbrous and unwieldy machines as the old-fashioned steam traction engine, and it never occurred to any of those responsible for framing that it would ever be possible for anyone to place on the road such a striking example of engineering skill and applied science as the modern light motor-car.”

John Henry Knight driving his own creation &qu...
John Henry Knight driving his own creation “The first petroleum carriage for two people made in England” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Society was hesitant to accept similar technologies.  According to John Henry Knight, “Even when the bicycle appeared about 1869, it was viewed with displeasure and suspicion; horses would shy at it, and several accidents occurred from this cause.”

It wasn’t exactly “fast and furious” yet; however, there was a London underground motoring scene before the passage of an amendment to The Locomotives Act in 1896.  For example, Sir David Solomons, Bart., built an electric automobile in 1874,  The wealthy were quietly importing motoring vehicles for on the use on private property.  However, these privately imported vehicles were few and far between.

Public Opinion Opposed Motoring in Britain.

English: Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Bar...
English: Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (Photo credit: Wikipedia).  Editor of the collection of essays from which this GPevolved post relies upon.

According to Lord Northcliffe, in Montagu’s compilation of essays, “We had first enthusiasm and curiosity, causing cheering crowds to assemble when we arrived in a town; then, when it began to be seen that horses were frightened (and in those days every horse was frightened), the populace became wrathful.

Sir David Solomons, Bart., was an early proponent of legalized motoring.  According to  him., “the first step would be to interest the public, if only by way of curiosity, secondly to obtain the opinion of the press, and thirdly to influence parliament by a powerful and impartial combination…”

Although simply stated, this small grassroots movement faced overwhelming opposition.  Sir David Solomons planned to change it.

The Tunbridge Wells Demonstration.

Organized by Solomons, himself, a demonstration of several cars occurred on October 15, 1895.  According to C. L. Freeston, “it was then that the public realized for the first time that a new means of locomotion had been brought into being.”

However, the success of the event was not left to chance.  Solomons had over 10,000 invitations mailed out to this event.  It was a general success.  The press covered the event and this, presumably, helped to sway the opinion of the members of parliament.

Parliament Debates Motoring.

The comments summarizing the July 30, 1896 parliamentary debate give a sense of inevitability.  There was a feeling that the legislation would pass; it was just a matter of hammering out the particulars.  The car had to carry lights at night.  It had to have a bell.  Breaking any part of the proposed amendment would result in a fine of up to 10 pounds.

Debate heated up on the topic of “rate of speed.”  It is clear than an unlimited speed limit would never have gained parliamentary support.  The debate started off with discussion of a ten mile per hour speed limit.  They were concerned about protecting against “furious driving.”

Others objected to imposition of a strict liability statute, that it would be better to set standards depending on condition.  This suggestion, while noble, was quickly shot down.  In the end, the speed limit was increased to 14 miles per hour, from the original suggestion of 10 miles per hour.  However, in getting the increase, the proponents of motorsport gave in to language to allow every city, town, and municipality, to reduce this speed in any manner they saw fit.

And in doing so, Lord Solomon, Lord Montagu, and other proponents of motoring succeeded in changing the law of the land.  However, the act would not go into effect

The celebration of the emancipation of the motor vehicle was celebrated by a run from London to Brighton, covered in a forthcoming post.

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved

Sources:

A History of the First Ten Years of Automobilism, Lord Montagu (a collection of essays published in 1906).

Locomotives on Highways Bill [H.L.] (Hansard, 30 July 1896) (summarizing the parliamentary debate)

The 1897 Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie Race

In The Squire’s Tale, Chaucer tells us “Men love of propre kynde newefangelnesse.”  Echoing these very sentiments, Dr. Dre tells us “I love the new technology….New challenges mean you have to keep up, you know?”  The 1897 motorsport season, and I use the term loosely, demonstrates that the newest thing can still cause challenges and even problems.  Simply put, the petrol/gasoline engine was still lagging in power, as compared to the coal-powered steam engine.  However, a new class of driver was quickly becoming fascinated with the relatively newer technology of internal combustion.  These drivers would help foster the enthusiasm that propelled engines far beyond anything ever achieved by the steam engine.

A New Class of Driver.

Thus far, in these early years of motorsport, racing was reserved for the aristocracy.  This is logical.  Automobiles were expensive and not yet mass produced.  As such, one needed considerable wealth to afford an automobile.  However, some interesting names start to show up in the 1897 results charts.  Gentleman such as René de Knyff and Fernand Charron represent the early hints of a professional class of drivers.  In this regard, the sport was starting to get a little more serious in that it was contemplating (even if silently) a move beyond sheer amateurism,

Rene de Knyff

A great entry in my Encyclopedia of Auto Racing Greats sets the stage for René de Knyff:

A familiar figure of the period was a big man with a bushy black beard.  As the years wore on, the beard grayed, but the man remained as erect as ever, until, at the age of 90 in 1955, René de Knyff, a Belgian but a Chevalier of France, died.

René de Knyff was born in 1864.  He was an early director of Panhard and Levassor.  But, at the heart of this great man was a passion for motorsport.  In time, he became the chairman of the Automobile Club de France.  His record, as a racer, was relatively short compared to modern standards, but it was certainly distinguished as the forthcoming posts will most certainly detail.

At a base level, however, de Knyff represents those who were racing out of pure desire and love of the game.  Relevant accounts suggest that his directorship at Panhard was merely incidental to his love of racing.  In this regard, he represents one of the very earliest “drivers.”  A driver, for our purposes, is the one that burns inside to be ultimately quickest.

Fernand Charron

Fernand Charron, to a lesser degree as compared to De Knyff, was also an early example of someone consistently participating in motor races.  Charron was born in 1866.  He would later die in 1928.  Like many racers of the day, he was a champion bicycler long before his involvement with the so-called “autocar.”  Even though his first race, as detailed below, nearly ended in fatal disaster, he stayed with it.  In so doing, he became one of the original notable figures in motor racing history.

Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie: The Race Report.

A Brief Contextual Note.

Technology is funny.  We love the progress and benefits of new technology, as humans.  However, as humans, we also have a tendency to resist change.  This dichotomy is at play during the 1897 racing season.  For example, one Mr. Meyan was critical in arguing against pure racing cars.  He contended that only touring cars should even be manufactured to assure the sport remained an amateur endeavor.  As another example, an article in La France Automobile railed against a rumored “special racing monster of 8 h.p.”

It retrospect, it is comical that 8 horsepower caused such a stir.  But, at the heart of these criticisms, it seems, was unabated fear of change.  In an odd way, this evidences the very deep connection we, as human beings, have with our automobiles.

The January 1897 Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie Race.

On a personal note, these early races were staged races in which the competitors set off at regular intervals.  In short, it is difficult to conjure an exciting report some such indirect racing.  However, this does not abate my two-fold conviction that: (1) these early races are historically important; and (2) their details are being lost to time’s cruel march forward.

In any event, it appears that the competitors were released, in random order, at one minute intervals.  The “interval thing” was an intentional effort to decrease the need for passing, on account of narrow roads.

Early in the race, Charron was gripping the grain, as it were, around a 90-degree bend.  The wheels dug in and everything in the car, including his riding mechanic, was thrown out.  However, Charron, managed to stay in the somersaulting vehicle.  Observers suggested that the accident could easily have been fatal to Fernand Charron; however, he escaped with only moderate injuries to his arm.

The first day, of the three day, 149 mile race, concluded in Fréjus, a distance of 96.3 miles.  The Count de Chasseloup Laubat was first, completing the distance in 4:47:14.  An entry under the name off Prévost was second, at 5:12:11.  Lemaitre was third trailing by only a few seconds off Prévost.  My man, de Knyff, was fourth.

The second day was a shorter stint from Fréjus to Nice, a distance of 42.2 miles.  Prévost managed to run over two dogs.  Another competitor, managed to run over his mechanic.  The record is silent on the well-being of either the mechanic or the dogs.

The Count de Chasseloup Laubat won the second day as well.  He was trailed by Lemaitre and Prévost.  The final day, in this January race, was quite colder than the prior race, in spite of the fact that they were approaching the mediterranean setting of La Turbie, which sets just above Monaco and down the road from Nice, France.

This route was only 10.5 miles, owing to the historically winding nature of these roads. The Count de Chasseloup Laubat again prevailed.  But, his victory was somewhat surprising.  He was rolling hard in a steam engine.  Yet again, the petrol engines were defeated.

Nevertheless, the superiority of the steam engines was waning.  Development and progress were increasing rapidly.  The next car, of Lemaitre, in terms of overall finishing time, averaged 18.3 miles per hour.  Each race seems to be resulting in an increase in overall speed, regardless of the weather or course.  In other words, significant progress was being made.  In just a few short years, petrol engines would relegate steam power, in vehicles, to a thing of the past.

 

By Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

 

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Sources:

Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915, Robert Dick (2005).

Encyclopedia of Auto Racing Greats, Cutter and Fendell (1973).

A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).