Rickenbacker at Narragansett Park Speedway – 1915

On September 18, 1915 Eddie Rickenbacker (America’s top ace in the Great War) won the 100 mile race at Narragansett Park Speedway in Providence, Rhode Island. It was his third win that year.

One internet lap board has his lap leader breakdown as (100 one-mile laps):

Eddie Rickenbacker in a Maxwell: leads laps 1-36
Ralph DePalma in a Stutz: leads laps 37-44
Bob Burman in a Peugeot: leads laps 45-63
Ralph DePalma: leads laps 64-76
Eddie Rickenbacker: leads laps 77-100

See: https://www.racing-reference.info/race-results/1915_Providence_Race/UO/

On the other hand, The Boston Sunday Globe dated September 19, 1915, page 15, has a slightly different account. It says:

“He {Rickenbacker] shot into the lead on the first lap, but was crowded back into third place before the second mile ended. There he held his place watching the speed of the others and always within 50 feet of the leader.

But he had to stop in the 15th lap. He had some carburetor trouble, it was stated. Before he got going the leaders had passed around three laps. So it seemed if it was all over for him…

Rickenbacker cut loose, however, and very soon it was apparent that the little car with 1 on its radiator was coming around very frequently. First it was noticed that it had regained the laps lost to the end of the field. Then when 33 miles had been covered he had won back a lap, the leaders being 33 and Rickenbacker 31….

De Palma had the lead in the 37th mile and from that to the 57th, or a distance of 30 miles, he kept in the van. But every time he and Burman made a mile in 54 or 55 seconds Rickenbacker did it about 50 or under. So he continued to cut down the lead. Before 50 miles had been reached he had circled all the other again and so they were then but one mile ahead of him.

Burman then began to show signs of speed and to tear away from De Palma, having passed into first place on the 58th mile. And each mile, while he was leaving De Palma behind, Rickenbacker was gaining on him. The spectators then began to sit up and shout. And the shouting encouraged Rickenbacker, for he smiles and let his motor car roar its way a little faster.

When 60 miles had been reached, he was swinging around the upper curve with an abandon that seemed reckless, for he appeared to handling the car like a toy. It would whirl around and the rear wheels would start for the sky or the upper edge of the track only to get yanked back like an unruly horse that shied at a street car.

Then it would roar down the track with the driver laughing and nodding to his pit attendants, who help up blackboards telling him how fast he was going, his position, etc. Having evened up matter, it was then his plan to get the lead. De Palma was the first he went after, and when he had swung over the line on the 72nd mile and the cars tore around the first quarter, Rickenbacker went into second place.

It was now Burman only that separated him from first place. Then the real race began. One hardly realized that the Maxwell had passed when it was around again. It came so fast that people mistook it for some other car, and they asked where it was, no knowing it passed. A few times Rickenbacker was pocketed by some of the others, and to see the way he wiggled through without slower up was amazing. 

When the cars came swinging down for the 73rd mile it was seen that Rickenbacher was closing up on Burgamn. The passed over the line five seconds ahead. There was no question then of the outcome, it seemed. On the next lap they tor down side by side and it seemed was if Rickenbacker was playing with Burman.

They crossed the line with Burman four feet in the lead. For two more laps they swung around side by side and then, entering the 77th miles, Rickenbacker seemed to infuse new life into the his car, and he got into the lead. When he went over the line on that mile he was nine seconds ahead of Burman…

So as it neared the 100 mile every one was resigned to Rickenbacker’s win. And he crossed the line amid a great ovation, with 1 minute and 1 second to spare. Burman finished second, Haupt third, De Palma fourth.”

So, the  “race results” internet site only agrees with the newspaper report given at that time on lap 1, laps 37-44, laps 58-63, and laps 77-100. For the majority of the laps, they differ as to who was leading.


Note: The paper refers to him as Rickenbacker, although at this time he spelled his name Rickenbacher. 

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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