With all of the hoopla regarding the opening auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909, sometimes it is easy to forget that long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest at Crown Point and Lowell, Indiana in June 1909.
Under the direction of Ira M. Cobe, the Chicago Automobile Club planned and organized a two-day speed festival, including the Indiana Trophy Race and the Cobe Cup Race. The two events, scheduled for June 18 and 19, constituted the Western Stock Chassis Championship sanctioned by the American Automobile Association Contest Board.
Howard Wheeler of Crown Point was among those who planned the 23.37-mile race course from Crown Point to Cedar Lake, on to Lowell, and then returning to Crown Point. The route featured only three towns, no railroad crossings, and was paved with tar macadam roads, which were high-tech for the day.
Cobe Cup Poster
Grandstands were built at Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Creston, and two sites in Lowell. One location on North Clark St. was advertised “to be safe from the cars and the racers could be seen for two miles on the fastest part of the course.” The other stand was across the street from the Civil War Monument on Commercial Ave.
Despite being advertised as a stock chassis race, rather liberal modifications were permitted for the contests. Gas and oil capacity could be increased; lighter rear springs were permitted; any size wheel and tire could be used; auxiliary oil pumps were allowed; and steering columns were lowered.
The first event was the 10-lap Indiana Trophy Race for cars limited to 300-cubic-inch displacement, on Friday, June 18, with cars made by Buick, Chalmers-Detroit, Corbin, Fal-Car, Locomobile, Marion, Moon, and Stoddard-Dayton.
At 7 am, National Guardsmen took control of the course to prepare for the start. Box seat holders included Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ira Cobe, the Studebaker brothers, and W. E. Metzger from Detroit.
Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy Race
Joe Matson took the checkered flag in four hours, 31 minutes, and 21 seconds in his Chalmers-Detroit with an average speed of 52.2 miles per hour. The remaining finishers were George Robertson – Locomoblie, second; Adolph Monsen -Marion, third; Jim Florida – Locomobile, fourth; and Fred Wiseman Stoddard-Dayton, fifth.
Saturday’s 17-lap, 395.65-mile Cobe Cup Race was for cars limited to 525-cubic-inch displacement with entries from Apperson, Buick, Fiat, Knox, Locomobile, and Stoddard-Dayton.
Louis Chevrolet in his Buick
Louis Chevrolet won in eight hours, one minute, and 39 seconds with a 65 second margin driving a Buick with an average speed of 49.26 miles per hour. What makes Chevrolet’s finish so incredible is that on the 11th lap his engine broke a valve in the cylinder head and he was forced to drive the rest of the race running on three cylinders. By the 14th lap, he captured the lead, which he held to the end. The remaining finishers were W. Bourque – Knox, second; George Robertson – Locomoblie, third; E. A. Hearne – Fiat, fourth; C. A. Englebeck – Stoddard-Dayton, fifth; and Louis Strang – Buick, sixth.
Ira Cobe left his box seat with the big trophy and motored to Crown Point’s public square. On the courthouse steps he presented the trophy to Chevrolet and worshipping fans carried the winner and trophy, on their shoulders to his car.
In 1910, the Cobe Cup Race shifted to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Lake County race course returned to the somnolent quiet of a sleepy Indiana countryside.