1916-1922 Universal Film Trophy Races (lost footage of AAA races; 1916-1922)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of fatal motor racing accidents.


The Universal Film Trophy.

Status: Lost

The 1916-1922 Universal Film Trophy Races were an annual series of AAA-sanctioned events that commenced at the Uniontown Speedway in Hopwood, Pennsylvania. The races, whose trophy was sponsored by Universal Films' President Carl Laemmle, were also filmed by Universal and shown in theatres across the United States.

Background[edit | edit source]

The Uniontown Speedway was a wooden board track whose construction began following the banning of the Summit Mountain Hill Climbs.[1] Completed in 1916, it would host 23 AAA-sanctioned races between December 2nd, 1916 to June 17th, 1922.[2] Its first event would be the annual Universal Film Trophy Race, so-called because Carl Laemmle, the President of Universal Films, had donated the $3,000 silver trophy to the Speedway, equivalent to over $80,000 when adjusted for inflation.[3]

Laemmle, alongside Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, received a telegram regarding the construction of a new board track, with the trio conceptualising the annual Universal Film Trophy Race. Despite Laemmle claiming that a silversmith would be able to produce the trophy before the track was completed, this proved to not be the case, with the track's construction taking just two months.[4] As part of the sponsorship, and in an attempt to capitalise on the growing popularity of board track racing, Universal would film all seven Universal Film Trophy races, and showcase them to theatres across the United States.[5] The track's future was thwarted when then-Uniontown Speedway Association President Charlie Johnson disappeared to Cuba with the track proceeds in 1922.[3]

The 1916 Race[edit | edit source]

The first Union Trophy Race occurred on December 2nd, 1916, thus being the inaugural race at the Uniontown Speedway.[6][7][2] The event, a non-championship AAA race,[2] would be won by Louis Chevrolet in a Frontenac, beating out second-place Premier driver Dave Lewis by over two minutes, with Mercedes' Ralph DePalma taking third.[8][6][7] The event is known for being one of the deadliest in motor racing history.[7] During practice on 27th November, driver Charles Heist and his ride-on mechanic Frank Bush attempted a flying lap at around 60 mph when suddenly their car's front axle broke because of crystallisation.[9][10][7] The accident caused the deaths of both men, Heist aged 23 and Bush aged 26.[11][10][9][7]

During the race itself, after 62 laps, Hughey Hughes came across a slowing Pugh driven by Jim Meyer.[6] He had led the first 32 laps, and was in the lead when he was forced to take evasive action, crashing through the guardrail into the infield.[6] He then walked back to the pits, and was present at the press stand being interviewed by a reporter.[12][6] As he was talking, Frank Galvin approached the scene, but lost control of his Premier at around 100 mph.[6][12][7] He ended up crashing into the press stand, instantly killing Hughes and Galvin's mechanic Gaston Weigel.[6][12][7] Additionally, Galvin and several spectators suffered life-threatening injuries.[6][12][7] Ultimately, Hughes, Weigel, and Galvin all died.[6][12][7][10] It is unclear as to the fate of the spectators, as Motorsport Memorial states all survived, Auto Racing Comes of Age claims one died, whereas Automotive History states two perished.[13][7][10]

The 1917-1922 Races[edit | edit source]

The 1917 race, held on 10th May, counted towards the AAA National Championship.[2] Following the fatal accidents of the previous year, the track underwent some safety modifications, including broadening of the safety apron, making turns higher and wider, and installing heavier guardrails.[14] Occurring in front of over 20,000,[14] It was won by William Taylor in a Stutz-Wisconsin, having completed the race at 1:15:38 89.25.[15] Joe Boyer finished second in a Frontenac, with Eddie Hearne taking third in a Duesenberg.[15]

For the 1918 edition, the main race would exclusively consist of the four winners of the Liberty Sweepstakes Heats, all of which occurred on May 16th.[16][2] The heats were won by the Duesenberg of Tommy Milton, and the Frontenacs of Ralph Mulford, Eddie Hearne, and Chevrolet.[17][18][19][20][16] In the 24-lap race, Mulford claimed victory by about 16-seconds from Hearne, with Milton taking third.[21] Chevrolet retired after 18 laps following a flat tyre and a failing engine.[16][21]

In 1919, the race, also known as the Victory Sweep, would be held on May 19th.[22][2] Milton was victorious in a Duesenberg, beating out the Frontenacs of Chevrolet and Mulford by over 20 seconds.[22] The 1920 race, a non-championship event that occurred on 19th June,[23][24][2] initially was controlled by Monroe drivers Gaston Chevrolet and Roscoe Sarles following the completion of the first 100 laps.[23] However, Chevrolet retired following a broken valve spring on lap 118, while Sarles lost ground after being forced to stop for engine adjustments.[23][24] The race, held in front of a packed 50,000, was also won by Milton, with him leading a Duesenberg 1-4 also consisting of Jimmy Murphy, Eddie O'Donnell, and I.P. Fetterman.[24] A few incidents occurred during the race.[23] This included Wade Morton's Meteor turning over into the infield on lap 180, which caused his mechanic, Arthur Kaempf, to be thrown free into the soil, the impact inflicting bruises and burns.[23][24] Milton and Ballot's Ralph DePalma also suffered cuts and sores, because the Uniontown track was breaking up, causing the wood to break free.[23] A resurfacing was therefore required for future races.[23]

The subsequent 1921 race on June 18th would again count towards the AAA Championship,[2] with Roscoe Sarles leading a Duesenberg 1-3, also consisting of Hearne and Eddie Miller in second and third respectively.[25][26] Despite being deemed the favourite to claim his third consecutive Union Trophy Race win, Milton finished ten laps down in eighth.[26][25] Finally, the 1922 race occurred on 17th June, with Murphy winning the pole position in a Duesenberg.[27][2] Milton shot into the lead at the early stages, but a wheel came loose on lap 72, resulting in his car crashing into a grandstand guardrail.[28][29] Murphy took over briefly until he was passed by Harry Hartz, the latter leading in a Duesenberg before being re-passed by Murphy on lap 114.[29] He retired after 165 laps following a broken oil line.[28][29] It therefore enabled Murphy to hold onto the first position for the remaining laps to claim victory, with Mulford taking second in a Frontenac, while Jerry Wonderlich finished third in a Duesenberg.[28][29] Murphy's average speed of 102.2 mph set a Uniontown Speedway record.[28]

Availability[edit | edit source]

While it is known that Universal Films filmed all seven races, no footage of these events is currently publicly available.[30] If they were included as part of Universal's silent film collection, they would have been deliberately destroyed alongside all other silent films Universal held in its vaults in 1948.[31] Nevertheless, various photos of the races have resurfaced.[32]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Union Town Speedway detailing the origins of the track. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 ChampCar Stats listing all Uniontown races sanctioned by AAA, including noting which Universal Film Trophy Races counted towards the AAA Championship. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  3. 3.0 3.1 First Super Speedway detailing the origins behind the Universal Film Trophy Race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  4. Vivian & The Board Track Boys detailing the
  5. Pennsylvania Heritage noting the races were filmed and showcased by Universal Films. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War detailing the 1916 race and the second fatal crash. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Automotive History detailing the first race and its fatal accidents. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  8. ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the 1916 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  9. 9.0 9.1 Motorsport Memorial page for Charles Heist, also detailing what caused Heist and Bush's fatal accident, as well as claiming no spectators died from the second fatal crash. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 The New York Times reporting on the fatal accident that claimed the lives of Heist and Bush. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  11. Motorsport Memorial page for Frank Bush. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 The New York Times reporting on the 1916 crash that claimed the lives of Hughes, Galvin, Weigel, and two spectators. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  13. Auto Racing Comes of Age stating a spectator was killed in the 1916 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  14. 14.0 14.1 Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War summarising the second race and noting the track's safety changes. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  15. 15.0 15.1 ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the 1917 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War detailing the Liberty Sweepstakes races that decided the 1918 winner. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  17. ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the first Liberty Sweepstakes Heat. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  18. ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the second Liberty Sweepstakes Heat. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  19. ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the third Liberty Sweepstakes Heat. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  20. ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the fourth Liberty Sweepstakes Heat. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  21. 21.0 21.1 ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the main 2018 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  22. 22.0 22.1 ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the 1919 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 23.6 Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War detailing the fifth race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the 1920 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  25. 25.0 25.1 ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the 1921 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  26. 26.0 26.1 The Indianapolis Automobile Industry summarising the 1921 race and noting Milton was deemed the favourite to win it. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  27. Auto Sport World noting Murphy won the pole position for the 1922 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 The New York Times reporting on Murphy winning the 1922 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 ChampCar Stats detailing the results of the 1922 race. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  30. Track Forum noting no footage of the races are currently publicly available. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  31. The Atlantic noting Universal destroyed its silent film collection in 1948. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22
  32. Uniontown Speedway Board Track providing photos of various Uniontown Speedway races. Retrieved 3rd Jul '22