The First Automobile Race in Houston

Introduction

First race in Houston Automobile dealers (or agencies as they were called at the time) were always on the lookout for novel ways to promote the speed, quality or luxury of the brands they were selling.

Local fairs and celebrations were also about providing unique attractions to boost attendance.

It was no accident that G. W. Hawkins, an automobile dealer, led the committee on organizing the first automobile races in Houston as one of the attractions in Houston's week long Carnival celebration in 1903.

Racing was a great way to promote interest in the automobile. The attendees that watched the races had stories to tell their friends and the local newspapers covered the event and spread the word even farther. Hopefully, all the word of mouth stories and media attention would translate into selling more automobiles!

Houston, We Have Race Day!

It was Tuesday, November 24, 1903.

The Houston Post newspaper played up the event with grandiose Roman imagery! The headline read: "The Auto Races - To Transcend Chariot Races of Nero's Time" and "Visions of Rome in ye olden time are conjured up in a contemplation of the automobile races for this afternoon."

A parade to the race track was scheduled to depart at 2:00 PM.

The track was set up on Harrisburg road (Harrisburg Boulevard, today).

The races were to begin promptly at 3:00 PM.

Mr. G. W. Hawkins, leader of the racing event committee, was instrumental in organizing Houston's first big race. Also on the committee were M. J. Lossing and S. H. Hart.

Everything was superbly planned. The Houston Post wrote "The Houston Electric Company furnished ample facilities for the accomodation of the crowd."

The race attracted the attention of automobile owners outside of Houston. Among all the owners that entered the race about half were from Houston and the others were from San Antonio, Beaumont, Dallas and Galveston.

Race Action and Results

The races went off without a hitch except for a few malfunctions and a minor accident.

The officials were:

  • Judges, J. S. Bowsher, Dr. J. R. Stuart and Dr. E. J. Hamilton;
  • Timers, F. H. Stewart, W. R. Howard;
  • Marshal and Announcer, A. L. Toles;
  • Starter, Dr. King Cutler.

There were a total of five races:

  • Five miles - Light Machines (stripped down vehicles)
  • Five miles - Stock Machines
  • Five miles - Free to All (open)
  • Three miles - Steam Machines
  • Australian Pursuit

1) Five miles - Light Machines (stripped down vehicles)

The first event was a five mile race for light machines. These vehicles were purposely stripped of parts, such as fenders and engine covers, to decrease the weight of the vehicle.

There was a slight mishap in this race on the first lap. A. J. Saliers of Houston, driver for G. W. Hawkins, hit a bird dog and ran off the road into a curb. The Olds suffered a bent axle and was out of the race. Unfortunately the dog didn't survive.

The winner of this race went to Parlin and Orendorff of Dallas, driving a Cadillac. Second place went to C. W. Fletcher of Beaumont driving a Cleveland roadster.

2) Five miles - Stock Machines

The second event was a five mile race for stock machines, 1500 lbs. and under with body on. Basically, you couldn't get rid of the big heavy body parts to lighten the automobile.

One account [Horseless Age 1903] said that the Cadillac and the Richard-Brazier were allowed to run in the stock class even though they were stripped down automobiles. This was probably due to the fact that they only had a couple of vehicles signed up for this race and they were almost guaranteed a trophy unless they broke down or wrecked.

The winner of this race went to Parlin and Orendorff of Dallas, driving a Cadillac. Second place went to L. Birdsong of San Antonio.

3) Five miles - Free to All (open)

The third event was a five mile "free to all" race. Any automobile, whether steam powered or gasoline powered, racer or stock could compete in the race.

The winner of this race went to J. D. Anderson of San Antonio. Second place went to L. Birdsong of San Antonio.

4) Three miles - Steam Machines

The fourth race was a three mile race for steam machines only.

This race only had two participants. However, one article from the Galveston Daily News mentioned that J. W. Munn had a White steamer and that it broke down before the "fifth" race started. I believe the article was in error and they meant to say "fourth" race. Another source, The Houston Post, confirmed that J. W. Munn was scheduled to run the White steamer in this race.

The absence of a third car seemed to disappoint the crowd as the Galveston Daily News reported "This was a real disappointment to automobilists, as there was a general desire to see his machine in the race."

The winner of this race went to Ed Connor of Houston. Second place went to C. E. Erickson of Houston.

5) Australian Pursuit

The fourth race was Australian Pursuit. An Australian pursuit race is where all cars on the track are positioned one behind the other. The cars are moving and maintain an equal space between each other. When the green flag drops the race begins. Whenever one driver passes another, the passed driver is out of the race. The race continues until the last pass and one driver is left.

Although the Parlin & Orendorff Cadillac won the first two races, this last race tested its limits and it "burst a cylinder" during the race.

The winner of this race went to J. D. Anderson of San Antonio. Second place went to L. Birdsong of San Antonio.

People Mentioned in Article

There were many people mentioned in this article. Some of them might be your relatives!

Out of all the people listed there are several names that stand out historically.

As mentioned in this article, G. W. Hawkins was the organizer of this race and also a Houston automobile dealer. You can learn more about GW Hawkins in this article.

J. W. Munn of Galveston was the president of the Galveston automobile club and a skilled racecar driver. You'll definitely be hearing more about J. W. Munn in future articles.

L. Birdsong and J. D. Anderson were from San Antonio. Both were members of the San Antonio automobile club founded in October 1903, just one month prior to this race!

Summary

The first automobile race in Houston was occurred on Tuesday, November 24, 1903. It was part of the annual Carnival week long. G. W. Hawkins, an early Houston automobile dealer, was the head of the racing committee. The races were quite successful and attracted drivers from San Antonio, Beaumont, Dallas and Galveston.

Also in 1903

Parlin and Orendorff Implement Company got the Cadillac agency for the state.

The San Antonio Automobile Club was formed.

The Texas Good Roads Association was organized.

Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company.

Horatio Nelson Jackson was the first person to drive coast to coast in an automobile.

The Wright Brothers fly the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Credits

The image included in this article is not an actual image of the Houston race, however I think it works quite well! The photo is from an article in a 1903 Horseless Age magazine. The automobile is a Peerless and the driver was Louis De Rango. He was the winner of an event in Elyria, Ohio sponsored by two automobile clubs.

Race Entries and Results

Below is a list of races, owners, drivers, automobiles and a note if they finished first or second place.

Race 1 - Five miles - Light Machines (stripped down vehicles)

  • Parlin and Orendorff, Dallas. Driver Mr. Hurlburt. Cadillac. 1st.
  • C. W. Fletcher, Beaumont. Driver owner. Cleveland roadster. 2nd.
  • G. W. Hawkins, Houston. Driver A. J. Saliers. Oldsmobile. DNF
  • Dr. Price, Beaumont. Driver Eugene Ligon. Olds racer.

Race 2 - Five miles - Stock Machines

  • Parlin & Orendorff, Dallas. Driver E. J. Russell. Cadillac. 1st
  • L. Birdsong, San Antonio. Driver owner. Curved Dash Oldsmobile. 2nd.
  • J. D. Anderson, San Antonio. Drive owner. Richard-Brazier.
  • Hawkins Automobile Company, Houston. Driver George B. Nye. Oldsmobile.

Race 3 - Five miles - Free to All (open)

  • J. D. Anderson, San Antonio. Driver owner. Richard-Brazier. 1st.
  • L. Birdsong, San Antonio. Driver owner. Curved Dash Oldsmobile. 2nd.
  • J. W. Munn, Galveston. Driver owner. White steamer.
  • C. W. Fletcher, Beaumont. Driver owner. Cleveland roadster.
  • Dr. Price, Beaumont. Driver Eugene Ligon. Olds racer.
  • G. W. Hawkins, Houston. Driver A. J. Saliers. Oldsmobile.
  • Parlin & Orendorff, Dallas. Driver E. J. Russell. Cadillac.
  • Hawkins Automobile Company, Houston. Driver George B. Nye. Oldsmobile.


Race 4 - Three miles - Steam Machines

  • Ed Connor, Houston. Driver. Mobile steamer. 1st.
  • C. E. Erickson, Houston. Driver owner. Conrad steamer. 2nd.

Race 5 - Australian Pursuit

  • J. D. Anderson, San Antonio. Drive owner. Richard-Brazier. 1st.
  • L. Birdsong, San Antonio. Driver owner. Curved Dash Oldsmobile. 2nd.
  • C. W. Fletcher, Beaumont. Driver owner. Cleveland roadster.
  • Hawkins Automobile Company, Houston. Driver George B. Nye. Oldsmobile.
  • C. E. Erickson, Houston. Driver owner. Conrad steamer.
  • J. W. Munn, Galveston. Driver owner. White steamer.
  • Dr. Price, Beaumont. Driver Eugene Ligon. Olds racer.
  • Parlin & Orendorff, Dallas. Driver E. J. Russell. Cadillac.
  • G. W. Hawkins, Houston. Driver A. J. Saliers. Oldsmobile.

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