The First Car Race in America Reached Speeds of 7 Mph

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first car race in america

Holy Toledo. The first car race in America reached average speeds of 7 mph (11 km/h). Although it was over a century ago, it surely must be described as the most mind numbingly boring race event of the last several hundred years.

Going back to the late 19th century, the automobile was a relatively new innovation. For centuries the main mode of transport, apart from ones own legs, was the horse, either riding on its back or in a cart. The introduction of the car completely revolutionized transportation, allowing city folk to join in on different modes of transportation without having to have some form of animal housing. But despite the advent of the automobile, it wasn’t yet ready to replace the dominant horse. Mainly because it was loud, unreliable, and slow, as the participants and spectators were to discover in the first car race in America.

A short two years after the first car was produced in America, the Chicago Times-Herald organized a race, in part to showcase the new vehicle, and also as a way to promote their own newspaper and boost sales. But it wasn’t only for the spectators and the newspaper. The prize for the fastest driver was a staggering $5,000, equivalent to $139,000 today.

When the first car race in America was announced, 83 participants entered their cars for the event. Out of those, only six ended up taking to the starting grid. It was a case of either the cars couldn’t make the trip to the big race, or they just weren’t ready.

The original course was set to run from Chicago to Milwaukee, but due to poor road conditions, it was changed. The new course was reduced in length to 54 miles (87 km) and ran from Chicago to Evanston and back again.

After a staggering seven hours of endurance, the race was won by Charles Duryea, who was also the only entrant with a four wheeled car in the race. The average speed of the race was 7 mph (11 km/h), which is about 170 mph slower than the fastest average speed ever recorded for the Daytona 500.

As a bonus fact, the automobile was coined a motocycle by the Chicago Times-Herald. After much wrangling and discussion as to what to call the new contraption for the first car race in America, the editor of the paper decided to call it a Moto-Cycle race.

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