American Grand Prize Races
This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Billie Stultz as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.
The American Grand Prize Races historical marker was dedicated in 1955. View the American Grand Prize Races historical marker listing.
1. American Grand Prize Races Historical Marker. Courtesy of Billie Stultz.
2. Photograph of convicts working on the race track, Savannah, Georgia. From the Earl C. Fabritz collection of Savannah Races photographs, MS 2609.
3. Photograph of a driver and his mechanic, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
4. Map of the American Grand Prize Race 1910, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
5. Photograph of David Bruce-Brown in his Benz automobile, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
6. Photograph of the start/finish line and stands of the 1910 American Grand Prize Race, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
7. Photograph of Ferguson Ave, 1910 American Grand Prize Race, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
8. Photograph of overturned stock-car, 1910 American Grand Prize Race, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
9. Photograph of spectator vehicles, 1910 American Grand Prize Race, Savannah, Georgia. From the Julian K Qwattlebaum collection of Savannah Grand Prize Races material, MS 2168.
10. Marker showing the start of Ferguson Avenue in front of the Montgomery Presbyterian Church. Courtesy of Billie Stultz.
11. The fatal corner turn on Shipyard Road and Ferguson Avenue where William H. Sharp lost control of his vehicle. Courtesy of Billie Stultz.
12. The start of Ferguson Avenue where William H. Sharp’s vehicle overturned killing Albert Fuchs. Courtesy of Billie Stultz.
The following essay is by SCAD student Billie Stultz, 2016.
The year 1908 was the beginning of the Grand Prize Races in Savannah, Georgia, starting many traditions of racing that are still known and practiced today. Such traditions include pouring champagne over the winner’s head, beginning and ending the race with a gunshot, and providing militia to patrol the race. The participants of this race drove only stock cars, and it was the first race to convert its city’s jail into an executive suite for a famous spectator (Figure 2).[i] The American Grand Prize Races in Savannah were some of the deadliest races in history, due to the dirt and gravel course that ran along main roads. This made banked turns a dangerous obstacle for the exposed drivers and mechanics participating in the race (Figure 3).
The American Grand Prize Races, 1908:
To many auto racing enthusiasts the Formula One is considered to be the foremost premier racing series in the world. This series is comprised of a yearly Grand Prix held in each country that participates in the event. Prior to the Formula One series, which began in 1950 the premier racing event in the United States was the Vanderbilt Cup. The Vanderbilt Cup races started in 1904 . In 1907 the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island was canceled due to spectator deaths and injuries, and the 1908 race was relocated to Savannah, Georgia. The course in 1908 was lengthened from a 17-mile stock-car course to 25.13 miles that was re-surfaced with oiled gravel (with labor performed by convicts). Furthermore, state militia were sent to Savannah to help local police with crowd control to prevent the losses of life that had occurred in Long Island the year before; around 1,600 state marshals were employed for crowd control. Many famous spectators came to watch the event including Horace Dodge, Henry Ford, and the president of Firestone tires, who requested the city jail converted into an executive suite due to the accommodations in Savannah being filled.[ii]
The American Grand Prize Races, 1910:
In 1910, the race – in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Cup – was set to be held in Long Island again. However, those plans fell through and the series was relocated in Savannah on November 12, 1910. This time the track was shortened back to a 17-mile track (Figure 4) due to having only six weeks to prepare for the race. The race was won by an American, David Bruce-Brown, and more than a half million people flocked to the city to see the race (Figures 5 and 6).[iii]
The American Grand Prize Races and the Vanderbilt Cup, 1911:
1911 was a busy year for the automotive races in Savannah, Georgia as it hosted both the American Grand Prize Races and the Vanderbilt Cup. Again, David Bruce-Brown won the American Grand Prize Race. Unfortunately, Savannah could not furnish the prize money for a third time and the American Grand Prize Race of 1912 moved to Milwaukee. Bruce-Brown was killed on a practice run on the Milwaukee track that ran along the outskirts of the city. However, Bruce-Brown was not the only person to be killed during a practice run of a race track.
William H. Sharp and Albert Fuchs – American Grand Prix, 1910:
In Savannah, two men were involved in a dangerous practice accident on November of 1910: William H. Sharp and his mechanic Albert Fuchs.
Headlines from the New York Times, November 10, 1910, read “Auto Mechanic Killed at Savannah.” According to the article, the accident, involving mechanic Albert Fuchs and driver William H. Sharp, occurred at 12 o’clock noon when Sharp’s car was on its first lap around the circuit track. Mechanics were required to ride along with the driver in the two seated stock car to provide repairs on the track should the vehicle need it. Thus the mechanic was just as vulnerable to injury as the driver. Upon entering a turn after a wide stretch of track on Ferguson Avenue, Sharp lost control of the vehicle before it overturned (Figure 7). Other drivers had stated previously that Sharp was too inexperienced a driver to participate in the grand prize races and urged for his removal from the race. A road worker who was smoothing out the roads watched as the car took a sharp turn off of the shoulder of the track and explained that the front left tire was ripped from the axle and overturned, throwing Sharp from the vehicle and crushing Fuchs underneath (Figure 8). It was reported later by the coroner that Fuchs had been killed instantly and did not suffer from his injuries, which included his spinal column broken at waistline, fractured skull, left arm broken below the shoulder, and right leg broken above the ankle.[iv] Fuchs was killed at the age of 20 and left behind his mother and wife.[v] This inexperience on Sharp’s behalf proved to be an accurate accusation causing the death of his mechanic and eventually his own.
Following Fuchs’s death on November 10, 1910, William H. Sharp succumbed to his injuries on November 14, 1910. The New York Times reported that Sharp died of internal injuries received during his practice accident on November 10, 1910. This occurred after doctors gave him the green light to recovery, so his sudden death was unexpected.[vi] Robert Lee Morrell, who was in charge of the American Grand Prize Race, suspected that Sharp had inhaled deadly Cyanogen gasses during the accident. Upon further investigation the racing committee had required that exhaust pipes were to be changed so that exhaust would not be expelled into the faces and lungs of drivers behind a vehicle. Because of this change in exhaust it created a problem for the automobiles leaving nowhere for the gasses to escape other than under the hood. Due to the circulation of air under the hood of the vehicle the gasses were pushed through the vents of the floorboards and up into the driver’s face. Morrell believes that interference of the gasses is what caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle and cause the initial crash, lending to the death of his mechanic and later himself.[vii] Sharp was the creator of Sharp-Arrow automobiles (1908-1910) and died at the age of 34. He left behind a wife, Della Bowers Sharp, and a son, William H. Sharp.[viii]
The American Grand Prize Races, in combination with the new assembly line production system by Henry Ford, who was a frequent spectator of the American Grand Prize Races, made the automobile accessible to middle-class American families and opened the doors for the development of suburbs outside of the immediate downtown area. This expansion gave way to easier access to jobs and education (Figure 9). Today Savannah’s track is surrounded by residential areas and businesses. The area where the fatal accident occurred now plays host to a church and residential homes. (Figures 10, 11, and 12)
[i] Tanya A Bailey, “Virtual Museum Great Savannah Races” http://www.greatsavannahraces.com
[ii] Art Evans, “History of the United States Grand Prix – Race Profile, Photos.”
[iv] “Auto Mechanic Killed at Savannah,” New York Times, 11 November 1910, p. 11, col. 1.
[v] “Albert C. Fuchs Grave,” Find A Grave – Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials.
[vi] “Sharp, Auto Driver, Dead,” New York Times, 11 November 1910.
[vii] “How Sharp Was Killed,” New York Times, 11 November 1910.
[viii] “William H. Sharp Grave,” Find A Grave – Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr.
“1908 – American Grand Prize,” http://www.firstsuperspeedway.com/articles/1908-american-grand-prize.
“Albert C. Fuchs Grave,” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr.
“Auto Mechanic Killed At Savannah.” New York Times, 11 November 1910, p. 11, col. 1.
Tanya A. Bailey, The First American Grand Prix: The Savannah Auto Races, 1908-1911. Jefferson, MO: McFarland & Company, 2014.
“Breakdowns Spoil Savannah Races,” New York Times, 19 March 1908, p. 8, col. 5.
Amy Brock, “Did You Know That Savannah Is the Birthplace of Grand Prix Racing?” http://blog.visitsavannah.com/outdoor-activities/savannah-the-birthplace-of-grand-prix-racing/.
“Bruce-Brown Wins Grand Prize Race,”New York Times, 13 November 1910, pt. 4, p. 5, col. 7.
Dennis David, “History of Formula 1 – The American Grand Prize – 1908-1916.” http://www.grandprixhistory.org/american_grand_prize.htm.
Art Evans, “Vanderbilt Cup – Race Profile, History, Photos and Information.” Sports Car Digest The Sports Racing and Vintage Car Journal. November 23, 2011. http://www.sportscardigest.com/vanderbilt-cup-race-profile/.
“History of the United States Grand Prix – Race Profile, Photos.” Sports Car Digest The Sports Racing and Vintage Car Journal. May 09, 2012. http://www.sportscardigest.com/history-of-the-united-states-grand-prix/.
“Foreign Car Wins Savannah Race,” New York Times, 20 March 1908, p. 8, col. 3.
“How Sharp Was Killed,” New York Times, 11 November 1910.
Doug Nye, The United States Grand Prix and Grand Prize Races 1908-1977. London: B.T. Batsford LTD, 1978.
Julian K. Quattlebaum, MD, The Great Savannah Races. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1983.
“Ralph Mulford Wins Vanderbilt Race,” New York Times, 28 November 1911, p. 8, col. 1.
J. Russell, “The Original Savannah Races.” The Original Savannah Races. http://www.na- motorsports.com/Journal/1997/3/RussellJ.html.
“Savannah Abandons Classic Auto Races,” New York Times, 9 March 1912.
“Savannah Gets Big Auto Races,” New York Times, 30 May 1911, p. 8, col. 6.
“Savannah Races Astound Motorists Of World,” The Savannah Morning News, 26 November 1908, p. 1, cols. 1-8.
“Sharp, Auto Driver, Dead,” New York Times, 11 November 1910.
Adam Van Brimmer, “Race Against Time.” Savannahnow.com. December 15, 2015. http://savannahnow.com/islands/2008-03-17/race-against-time.
“Vanderbilt Throws Out Benz Entries,” New York Times, 5 October 1910, p. 9, col. 3.
“Virtual Museum – 1911.” Great Savannah Races Museum. http://www.greatsavannahraces.com/virtual-museum—1911.html.
Fred J. Wagner, “Bruce-Brown Wins Grand Prize Race,” New York Times, 1 December 1911, p. 8, col. 1.
Fred J. Wagner,”Race Promoters Fulfill Promises,” New York Times, 10 December 1911, pt. 4, p. 4, col. 3.
“Wagner’s FIAT Wins Gold Cup,” New York Times, 27 November 1908, p. 8, col. 1.
“William H. Sharp Grave,” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr.