How three people died in the first Indianapolis motor car race in 1909

Indianapolis Motor Speedway 1909 (1)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


New course at Indianapolis deals death (1909)

3 killed in motor car race: More lives sacrificed at speed carnival — Officials of meet declare contest called off

Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, Calif.) August 22, 1909

How three people died in the first Indianapolis motor car race in 1909

The first Indianapolis motor car race: List of those killed at new auto race track numbers seven – two contestants also seriously injured

Indianapolis, Aug. 21 [1909] – Three more lives were sacrificed today in the speed carnival that has marked the opening of the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One mechanician and two spectators were today’s death toll, when a National car, driven by Charles Merz in the 300-mile race, lost a tire and crashed through a fence into a group of spectators. The dead:

  • Claude Kellum of Indianapolis, mechanician.
  • Homer Joleffe of Trafalgar, Ind.
  • James West, 29 years old, Indianapolis; meat cutter.

Besides the three deaths there were two persons seriously injured during the day.

Henry Tapking of Indianapolis suffered a compound fracture of the right arm, a broken nose and several scalp wounds in the wreck of the National car.

Bruce Keene, driving a Marmon car in the same race, crashed into a post a short time after the wreck of the National car and was cut seriously about the neck and head.

After the second accident, the officials decided to call off the race. The leading car — a Jackson car, with Lee Lynch driving — had then covered 235 miles.

Ralph de Palma, in a Fiat, was second, and Stillman, in a Marmon, was third.

MORE: Looking back to when Jim Clark won the Indianapolis 500 race in a rear-engined car (1965)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway poster (1909)

MORE: Race car driver Janet Guthrie broke the gender barrier back in 1977 by qualifying for the Indianapolis 500

Race declared no contest

The race will be declared no contest, and the Indianapolis speedway trophy will be raced for again.

Merz miraculously escaped from the wreck of his car with hardly a scratch. He fell under the machine when it turned a somersault through the air and came down into a gully near the side of the track. He seemed in imminent danger of being burned to death, but managed to shut off the engine, and thus save himself.

Kellum was hurled out of the car and landed in the gully some distance away.

The three deaths today raises the Speedway fatalities to seven. William Boroque and his mechanician, Harry Holcomb, were killed in an accident in the 250-mile race Thursday.

Cliff Litterell, a Stoddard-Dayton mechanician, was killed by being hit by a big racing machine while on the way to the Speedway.

Thursday Elmer Gramplon, a 6-year-old boy, was killed by the automobile of Dr Clarke Day of this city while the latter was on his way to the races.

The meeting, therefore, has closed in gloom, the glory of broken speed records being dimmed by the tragic attendant circumstances.

NOW SEE THIS: Classic Cars Adult Coloring Book #1: Early American Automobiles (1895-1919)

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.