The First Automobile Races in Texas

By: jwilder

The First Texas Race Event

first-race-texas-dallas-fair-park-postcard In 1899, E.H. Green brought the first automobile to Texas.

Less than two years later, on July 4, 1901, the first notable automobile race in Texas took place at Fair Park in Dallas.

Details are very sketchy about this race but it appeared to be between two locals, L.S. Thorne and H.D. Raff. H.D. Thorne was the victor and was awarded a gold medal. I bet that medal is still around somewhere. It's hard to lose gold!

Like E.H. Green, L.S. Thorne was a railroad man. He was a vice president and general manager of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. But unlike Green, who generated a lot of press for years, I didn't find many details about Thorne beyond this race.

As for H.D. Raff, he might have been a director and superintendent of the Texas Portland cement company. But that's an assumption. Again, I didn't find any details about Raff beyond this race.

The photo in this section is a postcard with the text "Automobile Races, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas." The date is unknown but it might be around 1910.

Fisher vs Graham at the 1901 State Fair

The next automobile races occurred during the 1901 State Fair which ran from September 28th to October 13th.

At least two automobile races were run during the fair. One race was on October 6th and the other was on October 13th. Both races were basically a duel between Carl Fisher of Indianapolis and Jack Graham of Chicago.

This was Carl Fisher's automobile racing debut. He drove a custom race car produced by the Winton automobile company.

There were a few tales about this race recorded in a 1914 Automobile magazine article about Carl Fisher. One of the tales was on the morning of the race call Fisher was in need of some gasoline but was unsuccessful in finding any. The only thing he came up with was some coal oil with paraffin. The car would not start so he took a blowtorch and heat up the heads of the engine until they were hot enough to ignite the mixture. When the mixture ignited there was a significant backfire causing calamity on the track. The horses on the track reared up and ran, knocking over wagons and causing people to flee in all directions.

*The other tale involved the unusual feature of the race - car against horse. When the race started the car in horse took off together. However, the horse questioned the purpose of the race because he didn't see another horse, and well, decided to stop. The jockey tried, but could not keep the horse going. It took a few tries before the horse figured out that he was racing against an automobile and not another horse.

Call Fisher and Jack Graham spent several years touring the United States putting on race exhibitions at county fairs.

* Horse vs Automobile. The source of this story (a 1914 account of a 1901 event) might have gotten it wrong. Other accounts say Fisher used a motorcycle to race against the horse.

The Texas and Indianapolis Speedway Connection

first race texas Carl Fisher As mentioned in the previous section, Carl Fisher made his automobile racing debut at Fair Park in Dallas. If you're not familiar with the name Carl Fisher, you will be.

Call Fisher was an entrepreneur and savvy business man. His most famous venture was creating the Indianapolis Speedway in 1910. It was the first speedway in the United States.

Carl Fisher was unmistakably a visionary. Not only did he create the Indianapolis Speedway, he also came up with the idea of the 500 mile race, just two years after the opening of the speedway. He did something else unheard of, the 500 mile race would be the only major race at the speedway each year.

His vision was not just for racing. He saw that the automobile was key to the future. A future where highways crisscrossed the country and anyone could travel anywhere by automobile.

He championed the building of the nation's first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln highway.

He owned a U.S. patent for acetylene headlights and manufactured them through his company, Prest-O-Lite.

He also envisioned and built a town called Speedway, near Indianapolis. A place where automobiles reigned and horses were prohibited. It was also a location for his manufacturing business. This town still exists today.

Also in 1901

The first automobile arrived in Houston in April 1901. It was an Oldsmobile purchased by the Left Hand Fishing Club. Yes, I'm curious about the name too. Can anyone from Houston shed some light on this cheeky name?

The first gasoline powered car arrived in San Antonio. It was a Haynes Apperson purchased by J.D. Anderson, a wealthy banker. The car cost $1,795.00.

Ransom E. Olds, founder of Olds Motor Works, designed the legendary curved dash Oldsmobile. It was the first car produced on an assembly line. It sold for $650.


Carl Fisher
By Taken by a Chicago Daily News photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fair Park Postcard

James Wilder

James Wilder is the owner, writer, photographer, designer, and developer for MOTOR Texas.


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