Jan 28 2012

George Robertson’s Last Race


After skipping the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race, the 1908 winner George Robertson was preparing for a triumphant return in the 1910 Race driving a Benz. His hopes for a repeat win and his future racing career were dashed with one of the strangest accidents in Vanderbilt Cup Race history.

Enjoy,

Howard Kroplick


Although practice for the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race began Tuesday, September 20 action on the track was light until Friday, September 23. With the Warner timing device in place, Friday had an air of the first official day of practice. About a dozen newspapermen were invited to the course to observe the racers. One reporter, Stephen Reynolds, would play a fateful role in driver George Robertson’s career.

Shortly before 7 a.m. Robertson agreed to take Reynolds on a lap of the course at speed to assist him in writing a story. It proved to be his final act as a race car driver. Entering the dangerous Massapequa Turn just off the Motor Parkway at 70 miles per hour, Reynolds apparently panicked and grabbed the driver. Robertson slipped a wheel off the top of the three-foot embankment and the car rolled over on him. Reynolds was thrown some 30 feet from the wreckage, sustaining injuries so minor he was able to attend a press breakfast little more than an hour afterward.

Reynolds apparently panicked and grabbed the driver. Robertson slipped a wheel off the top of the three-foot embankment and the car rolled over on him. Reynolds was thrown some 30 feet from the wreckage, sustaining injuries so minor he was able to attend a press breakfast little more than an hour afterward.

Years later, Robertson wrote of the incident in the April 1945 issue of Bulb Horn (courtesy of Walter McCarthy):

“It was about 4 A.M. on a Friday that I left my house in Brooklyn to pick up the big Benz for Vanderbilt Cup practice. My wife had, for the first time, asked me to put off that day's practice, as she had a funny feeling about it. I laughed it off, for if all race drivers were to be governed by these so-called funny feelings, competition would be very limited and the race promoters would tear their hair.

On reaching our Long Island racing headquarters, Glen Ethridge, as fine a racing mechanic as was ever born, and I checked and rechecked the car before practice. When the car crew and ourselves had everything shipshape, Glen and I reported to the grandstand for practice and found a news man assigned to me as a riding mechanic, for his morning thrill and to get material for his story.

A good-sized man, all dressed up in a long black overcoat with upturned collar, and completely equipped with goggles and a derby hat forced down over his ears, crawled into the mechanic's seat. In the fresh morning air, his breath was rather on the heavy side. I instructed him in the use of the mechanic's controls and impressed upon him the mechanic's job of looking to the rear for overtaking cars. He mumbled something and that was that.

Down the Parkway we went at our customary speed, easing off on the bad curves and running wide open on the good stretches. It took my amateur mechanic some time for his fright to wear off. He finally ventured a look or two to the rear but he did not enjoy the job very much.

We approached the turn off the Parkway and I motioned him to hold tight to the seat handle. As we went into the turn at a fast clip, something happened and happened fast. My half-dozing mechanic suddenly came to life, saw the turn, and probably terrified at the speed, grabbed me. In the second, I had lost control of the car, the right front wheel had gone over a three-foot bank on the outside. The car rolled over so fast I couldn't get down into the "cellar". I was caught under it as it rolled on me and then off, smashing my back, ribs and right elbow and lacerating my head and face.

As I got to my feet, groggy and about to pass out, I saw my adorable mechanic standing on his feet and his derby hat was not even dented.”

An under-the-weather news man as mechanic, a roll-over and then the hospital, all this seemed to add up to that "funny feeling" my wife mentioned before I left home..."

Although initial reports of Robertson’s condition were optimistic, injuries to his arm proved so severe he could no longer master the big, heavy cars of the day. The man widely recognized as America’s best driver would race no more. Robertson's ride in the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race was replaced by Franz Heim.


Update: January 31, 2012

Bulb Horn Article April 1945.pdf



Comments

Jan 29 2012 Howard Kroplick 10:44 AM

From Robert R:

“Fantastic George Robertson piece! Good job, Howard.”

Jan 31 2012 Peter H. Shriver 8:26 AM

Howard, thanks for the article.  I had read in A. Scott Berg’s bio of Max Perkins, the famous New Yorker editor, that my Grandfather George has taken him for a ride at 60 miles per hour on Long Island and I had always assumed he was the journalist in the accident.  But now I know better!  Is there anyway to get a copy of the Bulb Horn article? Thanks so much for the site!

Jan 31 2012 Howard Kroplick 11:36 AM

Hi Peter:

Thanks for the comment. I have added a pdf of your grandfather’s article above.

Enjoy,

Howard

Feb 01 2012 Peter H. Shriver 2:49 PM

Thanks for the post.  Nice stories!

Jul 22 2012 Jeremy 12:09 PM

Great write up. Cant wait for more.

Leave a Comment