The Great Races of 1911
It wasn't exactly the Indianapolis 500. That would start twenty days later. It was more like the Dublin 1.6. It wasn't run on a circular tract, and the participants didn't race each other. They raced against the clock. But, to the thousands of locals and several hundred visitors, they were the first car races, the Great Races of 1911.
Automobiles had not been around long. The first one came to town nine years earlier, fascinating bystanders and terrorizing horses tied to the hitching posts. Five more years passed before Dublin's first automobile dealers set up shop. The thrill of the "horseless carriage" captivated the well to do men of the city. Cars became status symbols. They have always been status symbols. Bigger was better. Faster was even better.
The allure of racing charmed more than seventy five Dubliners who traveled to Savannah in 1908 to watch the international 400 mile car races. Most of the people in Dublin had never see a car race of any kind before. By the time of the 1911 races, there were an estimated 150 cars in the city.
The precursor of the Great Races came in late April 1910, when a group of men staged a hill climbing contest on Turkey Creek Hill near Dudley, from the west side of the creek up to the top of the hill. Charles Eberlein, driving a White Star car, finished first with a 35-second run. Coming in a close second was Noble Marshall, who opened the first Chevrolet franchise in town, and L.W. Miller, who owned the first car dealership in Dublin. Another hill climb was staged on the day before the Great Races, just to get everyone in the mood for speed.
Car afficionados organized themselves as the Dublin Automobile Racing Association, Inc. H.G. Stevens, a hardware store magnate, was elected president. L.J. Bowyer acted as the group's secretary, while W.L. Branch was hired as general manager to run the day to day activities of the company.
Although this racing thing was new to everyone in town, organizers had an idea of what they wanted in a race track. The Laurens County Commissioners of Roads and Revenue agreed to furnish convict labor to grade the track since most of the course was outside the city limits, which at the time extended only to the Coney Street area. Newspapers reported that the organizers "got what they wanted." Boosters claimed their track was equal to any track in the United States.
The 1.6 mile races began near the home of J.R. Robinson on what was then known as "The Chicken Road," an old Indian trail running from Hawkinsville to the Oconee River at Dublin. The racers would cross the finish line at the Carnegie Library (Dublin-Laurens Museum.)
The races were divided into four events. Cars costing less than $650.00 were placed in the "A" Class. Those autos valued at $650.00 to $950.00 were assigned to the "B" Class. All cars above that exorbitant price would race in Class "C." Class "D" would be composed of an open class of cars.
Any good race needs prizes. So the people of Dublin who wanted to see the cars race chipped in. Handsome loving cups were purchased to go along with more useful cash prizes. Winners in Class A were awarded $15.00 in cash and a $25.00 cup up to $75.00 and a $100.00 cup in Class D. Any good race needs revenue too. The race itself was free. But, a special grandstand was built on the Burts property on Bellevue. Box seats cost a dollar a head, while regular grandstand seats went for a silver half-dollar. Entry fees ranged from $5.00 for Class A to $15.00 for the open class cars of Class D.
Races need rules too. Every car was required to be a gasoline-powered stock automobile, although drivers were allowed to remove certain parts to boost their speed. No professional drivers were allowed. Every car underwent an inspection thirty minutes before the starting time.
Cars began to arrive in town on Sunday. During the practice runs, several of the cars nearly topped the 75 mph mark. One racer was so excited he drew the attention of a Dublin police officer. The policeman admonished the driver for being a little too reckless and asked him to ease up a bit. The confident motorist responded, "If you can drive this car slow, you beat me. Get in and let me show you how she can fly!" His invitation was quickly declined.
The Great Races were set for 10:00 o'clock in the morning on Wednesday, May 10. All business houses closed early that morning. School kids got the day off. Inbound trains were crammed with hundreds of enthusiasts. The starting time was moved up to accommodate out of town visitors in meeting their afternoon trains back to their homes in Hawkinsville, Macon and other places. The night before the races, a crew was sent along Bellevue Avenue and the Chicken Road, known today as Bellevue Road, to sprinkle the dusty dirt avenue into ideal racing conditions. The Weather God came through with picture perfect skies. Traffic coming into town from the west was diverted at Captain W.B. Rice's home on the present grounds of the VA Hospital down to the Cotton Mill property on Marion Street. Members of the D.A.R.A. stood guard at every intersection along the track to prevent non-racers from entering the course.
Dublin's John F. Smith fell out of contention a third of the way down the course when his Maxwell blew a piston rod in the first sprint of the day. J.T. Coleman, of Hawkinsville, dropped out when his Buick 16 caught on fire and was completely destroyed.
With an obligatory 100-yard running start given to all contestants, A.M. Kea, of Dublin, driving a Maxwell A, captured first place in Class A, just ahead of J.L. Roberson, also of Dublin, at a slow poke average speed of 37mph. The two virtually equal Ford cars of the Laurens Automobile and Repair Company, driven by T.F. Dunnell and E.L. Porter, traveled 56 mph and finished 1-2 - a single second apart in the second race. Dominating the entire field was Herbert Wilson, of Hagan, Ga., driving his Cole 30 automobile. Wilson finished first in the third round of the day. In the open class, Wilson, traveling at an average speed of 65.6 mph, bested his own time with a course record of 1 minute and 28 seconds. Wilson took his second first place of the day twelve seconds ahead of F.S. Michael, of Baxley, driving a Buick 16, who took second place in the last two races. Thankfully, no one was injured.
The Great Races were an unequivocal success. In the excitement of the moment, men began plans to establish a country club with a circular race track nearby. Every one wanted bigger and better races. It would only be two more months before the races returned on the 4th of July. The excitement proved too much to the public as Dublin Police Chief J.E. Hightower had to buy and use a stopwatch to catch the speeders still on a high from the Great Races of 1911.