It’s all about the cars! The big NASCAR races are but the current focus of aficinados of the sport -although for the first time ever the opening of the Daytona 500 was rescheduled due to the heavy rain and dangerous conditions down in Daytona, Florida yesterday. It’s really a pageant, a festival – if you will – wrapped around the races. It harkens back to a different kind of automobile racing when Lowell, Massachusetts hosted its first “automobile carnival and road race” back in 1908. Locals won’t be surprised to learn that the twists and turns of a roadway along the Merrimack River in the Pawtucketville neighborhood created a natural and attractive raceway. Another factor in the Lowell race was that John O. Heinze, president of the Lowell Automobile Club and owner of the Heinze Electric Company that made parts for Detroit car manufacturers was a major advocate for racing. He knew that to have racing sanctioned issues of safety had to be addressed. Lowell was a proving ground for his technology – Lowell partnered again with those in the forefront of new technology.
Auto Racing in Lowell (post card views /UML Center for Lowell History)
In his essay “Race Along the River,” former Lowell Historical Society President and Pawtucketville activist Ray Hoag gives us the “front and back stories” on the 1908 race. While an entertainment for both the drivers and the spectators, as Heinze planned the races were really a testing ground for the emerging technology of the automobile. Just what could these “machines” offer both the racer and the public? What could they withstand on a long trip or for that matter even on a rigorous short trip? Motor car touring was starting to becoming popular and New England with it scenery, charm and challenging roadways was a magnet for these new “tourists.” Back in 1908 – as now – Lowell seemed ripe for marketing as a destination city for tourists – the new motoring tourist back in that day. There is another connecting thread – consider that the American Automobile Association (AAA) celebrating its 110th birthday on March 4, was organized from regional groups in response to a lack of roads and highways suitable for automobiles. AAA was an early sponsor of automobile races later the AAA focus turned more to meeting the needs of the touring and vacationing public. (Learn more here.)
Read his Ray Hoag’s essay here at the UML/ Center for Lowell.
Note: Many early automobile were “Made in Massachusetts” – even here in Lowell:
1908 Lowell-American Runabout (Lowell-American Automobile Company)
See more Massachusetts -made automobiles here: http://www.earlyamericanautomobiles.com/massautos.htm