The 1912 Milwaukee Races


Joel Finn

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The Vanderbilt Cup and Grand Prize races that took place at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October 1912, came at a pivotal moment for racing on American public roads. Triumph and tragedy marked the races. Bad weather wreaked havoc with the schedule and added huge expense to the event. The races proved to be a difficult undertaking from the beginning and it took enormous perseverance on the part of the organizers and the city of Milwaukee to pull it off.

The Vanderbilt Cup and Grand Prize races were the largest sporting events in the country by 1912. The Milwaukee promoters believed that spectators anxious to see the daring stars and powerful cars in action would generate a profit and would also enhance the prestige of the city. The races attracted an enormous crowd, but the organizers, nevertheless, incurred a large financial loss.

All the American driving stars came to Milwaukee to compete, driving the best and fastest competition cars of the time. The races were hard-fought and thrilling from start to finish. Unfortunately, the organizers discovered the lesson that plagued those who sponsored racing on public roads in the United States: making a profit was very difficult. In Milwaukee, that problem was exacerbated by a weather disaster that forced a two-week delay in the races and greatly increased the expenses of the event.

Had it not been for bad luck, the Milwaukee races surely would have taken their place in the history of the sport as a wildly successful event and would almost certainly have been repeated. As it was, there would be no second chance for road racing in Milwaukee.