Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The Great Race by Gary Blackwood
The Great Race: The Amazing Round-The-World Auto Race of 1908 is a non-fiction book by Gary Blackwood, the author of the well-known books, The Shakespeare Stealer and The Year of the Hangman.
Imagine Spring Break is approaching but your parents have taken you out of school a few days early. Yes! You've taken an airplane to New York City and now you're taking in the sights when all of a sudden they interupt everything for a surprise announcement. They have decided that for the rest of the vacation they're taking you on a non-stop coast to coast trip in a SUV from New York City to San Francisco.
It will be a tough trip, but it's doable. But let me change a few of the conditions. Let's imagine it is 1908 instead of 2008. (Before the Model T was even developed.)The car is about the same weight, but everything else is much different. Instead of a 300 horse-power engine you only have a 30. Instead of a windshield you only have a leather screen that comes up to your chin. Instead of getting 20mpg you will be lucky to get 8mpg. I suppose the price of gas will be cheaper, but not when you factor in that there aren't any gas stations on your route-you will have to pay the price of shipping all your gas ahead of you by railroad in order to refuel. What if I take away the repair shops and parts suppliers? How about if I said none of the roads are paved and sometimes railroad tracks will be taken because the roads are in such awful shape? (Can you imagine the shaking?) One more- instead of 3,000 miles coast to coast, you will travel 22,000 miles, from New York to Paris.
In 1907 some newspapers offered a challenge to car racers around the world: a long distance automobile race from New York to Paris (22,000 miles). There was a lot of interest. Some would do it for the money. Some would do it for the fame. Some would do it because no one else had dared to before.
(Public challenges are still sometimes announced even today. For example, John McCain, who is running for President against Barak Obama proposed this summer a $300 million dollar prize be given to the winner of the Clean Car Challenge. He wants to give this prize to anyone who can develop a battery that a car can run on better than any that current technology has to offer.)
Well, news of the 1908 challenge also sparked interest in some of the leading automobile makers at the time. Many of those interested in the race-around-the-world were not as concerned about the prize money as as much as they desired the glory and attention they would receive by winning such a race. Some of the racers didn't think of themselves as heroes or pioneers-just crazy adventurers who wanted to see if they could do it. Some of these adventurers actually thought they could cross the frozen Bering Strait (the body of water that separates Alaska from Russia) by car.
Did they actually cross the Pacific Ocean via the Bering Stait by car? How many racers and cars would actually finish the race? How often did the cars break down, and if they did would the racers help each other? Get the details about the personalities, the drivers, and the mishaps from Gary Blackwood's fascinating re-telling of this true story.
You can also find out more at:
The Greatest Auto Race on Earth
The Great Auto Race
2008 re-enactment (postponed to 2009)
On a similar note, the year 1909, the year after the Great Race, would mark another important year for automobile adventures. Alice Ramsey would become the first woman to cross the continent of North America by car. Learn about her car and the route she took at: aliceramsey.org.
Posted by Mr. S @ BC at 3:04 PM