Tuesday, June 2, 2015

INDYCAR: Thy Vanderbilt Cup runneth Over...

The famous Borg Warner trophy on display at the IMS Hall of Fame museum, circa 2010. (The Tomaso Collection)
Yeah, its pretty funny how this all got started, since it had nothing to do with auto racing per sei, instead being triggered by a chapter in a fantastic ‘lil book I’ve harped on ‘bout quite a bit over the past few years here in Nofendersville. Having read I-T at my typical snail’s pace; Hmm? Snail’s, like one certain ‘Juan named Turbo who was going to Indy 'Wayback in 2012 when I began this; Oh Never Mind!

Thus I was reading ‘bout a dude named James Fisk in the book titled They Went That A-Way by Malcolm Forbes; noting that Fisk, reputedly was one of Wall Street’s most audacious raiders back in the day, whom effectively wrassled control of the Erie Railroad away from another tycoon named Cornelius Vanderbilt thru a stock scam aided by another Wall Street scoundrel named Jay Gould during the 1866-68 Erie War which reputedly cost Vanderbilt a whopping $7-million dollar loss!

Hmm? As an once-astute observer of the good ‘Ol CART Dazes, that name immediately rang a bell, as isn’t that what the Championship auto Racing Teams (CART) series handed out at the end of the season as their championship trophy?

And looky 'Thar TG; Err Mum! NO mention 'bout that 'lil thingy forever known as "The Split" scribbled here...

Alas, like a bull in a china shop,  your humble No Fenders Scribe has gone off in search of the Holy Grail regarding America’s premiere Open Wheel Racing trophies, i.e.; the Vanderbilt and Astor Cup respectively, whilst Y'all are probably thinking Borg Warner trophy instead, right? Especially since we're about to see another named added to it...

As I know that at least four facsimiles of these various championship trophies reside somewheres in Nashville, right? And NO; not at the residence of Mr. & Mrs. Oil Pressure, but three doors down at Dashley LePew’s, aka Dario Franchitti; Hooah! (As this tale was begun before Dario & Ashley's divorce and hence, I have NO idea if Dario still resides in Nashville?)

Actually, Mr. "REO Speedwagon" (Dario Franchitti) was the winner of the inaugural 'N prestigious? One 'O a kind "Naked Man on a 'Uni" IndyCar championship trophy in 2010, for which the recently retired Dom 'O IndyCar Bloggers Pressdog  used his  typical wit to lure readers in with another provocative title!

Along with the Unicycle trophy, Dario also holds possession of two Indy Racing League Cup's (2007, 2009) as the Vanderbilt Cup, soon to be retired was being used by a rival series instead! And finally, one facsimile of the rejuvenated Astor Cup (2011) and three "Baby" Borgs...

Vanderbilt Cup
This trophy was created by Vanderbilt family member William Kissam Vanderbilt II, son of William Kissam Vanderbilt, who ironically was founder of the (Coney Island) Jockey Club, which later sold its premises to the Sheepshead Bay Speedway Corporation, where the inaugural Astor Cup races were held at Sheepshead Bay, NY between 1915-16, for which I scribbled labourisly in;

Yet back to the Vanderbilt Cup, reportedly America's first significant racing trophy, first being awarded during the inaugural race held on public roads, primarily dirt, consisting of a 30m course run first in 1904, with the first three races being won by foreign makes & drivers. As the race was inspired by the international Gordon Bennett races.

As the more esteemed Borg Warner trophy, awarded to the winner of the Indianapolis 500 didn't come onto the motor racing scene until 1936 at the bequest of then Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker.

After the death of a spectator in 1906, along  with persistent crowd control issues whilst competing on public roads, the race was canceled for 1907, yet returned a year later as a way to popularize the brand new Long Island Motor Parkway commissioned by "Willy K" (William K. Vanderbilt II) for which portions of this 48-mile purpose built road were used for competition the following three years.

Even better yet, the 1908 race was won by local 'Yank George Robertson aboard an American Locomobile chassis, with a further example finishing third.

Between 1911-15, the race was held in multiple locations: Savannah, Milwaukee,  San Francisco and Santa Monica twice, with such Indy 500 luminaries, and winners Ralph Depalma and Dario Resta each winning two times apiece; Depalma in 1912, 1914 and Resta in 1915-16, before the race ceased due to America's late involvement in the first Great War, aka WWI.

Resta was the third of a total of three drivers to win the race  twice consecutively, the first being rival Indianapolis 500 competitor Harry Grant from 1909-10, who contested the Indy 500 four times from 1911-15, with a best finish of fifth in his final outing.

Yet sadly, and ironically, Grant lost his life during a practice run for the inaugural Astor Cup race in October, 1915...

Grant's "Double" was followed by Depalma in 1912, 1914, as the race wasn't run in '13. As this trio were the most successful winners of Vanderbilt Cup races.

In 1936 the trophy was revived by George Washington Vanderbilt III, nephew of Willy K, along with George Preston Marshall, original owner & president of the NFL's Washington Redskins and Eddie Rickenbacker, at a less than stellar Roosevelt Raceway in the town of Westbury, on Long Island, NY, which once again enticed foreign competitors with its massive prize fund, as Scuderia Ferrari no less participated with three Alfa Romeo's, winning with the revered Tazio Nuvolari at the controls!

The race only lasted two years, due largely to its uninteresting layout, with the second and final edition won by Bernd Rosemeyer aboard the all conquering Auto Union, with the Cup going dormant for 23yrs.

In 1960, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV revived the race, although this time as a Formula Junior race once again held at Roosevelt Raceway before ceasing another four years.

And finally, albeit relegated to Sports Car status, the Cup was awarded to the winner of the Bridgehampton Raceway USRRC  Sports Car race, held in Sag Harbor, NY between 1965-68.

The final Vanderbilt Cup races were won  by such luminary names as Jim Hall, aboard his Chaparral, Jerry Grant, (Lola T70-Ford) Mark Donohue and Skip Scott, both piloting the potent Lola  T-70 Chevrolet's...

The original Vanderbilt Cup made out of sterling silver resides in the Smithsonian and is not available to the public, measuring a height of two and one-half feet - it features an image of William Kissam Vanderbilt II  driving his Mercedes at Ormond Beach, Florida, being 'Uber fond of motor racing and fast cars. As Willy K used the same vehicle to set a land speed record on Daytona Beach's Road Course in 1904!

Yet William's life wasn't all luxury, as his father put him and his brother Harold Stirling Vanderbilt to work, becoming the last Vanderbilt's to work in their families Railroad Empire, where William rose to president of the New York Central Railroad prior to his death in 1944.

Ironically, Harold, who took over for his deceased brother, was to see the railroad wrestled from his control in a hostile takeover in 1954 by financial tycoon Robert R. Young, who subsequently committed suicide in 1958 during a bout of depression!

As the fate of the  once mighty NYC Railroad makes me think of Cornelius Vanderbilt, William' & Harold's Great Grandfather had  suffered summarily 'Wayback in 1868...

(Photo Courtesy of No Fenders ‘Offical Photographer ‘CARPETS)