― Reprinted from Touring Topics, October 1914, page 13-14.
Innovations that will result in increased interest in the yearly Los Angeles to Phoenix race will characterize the seventh annual automobile contest between the Coast city and the Arizona capital which is scheduled for early November. A new route, longer by two hundred miles than any previous course, will be followed and two night controls will be established for the race in place of the one that has served to break the constant driving of previous races.
The route this year will follow the course of the National Old Trails Highway from Los Angeles through Barstow, Bagdad, Needles and Kingman to Ash Fork. At this latter point the cars will turn southward and climb over the mountains to Prescott and then descend through Wickenberg and into Phoenix. The course as at present laid out is approximately seven hundred and ten miles in length. The sand and difficult desert going of former years are eliminated in this route although there is a considerable mileage of rough roads that will be encountered. The start this year will follow last year’s departure from Los Angeles-Phoenix races of previous years in that the cars will be sent away at daylight instead of at midnight. The first day’s run will end at Needles, three hundred miles from Los Angeles, where the first night control is established. The second day’s run is from Needles to Prescott, a total distance of approximately two hundred and seventy miles and here is located the second night control. The cars that remain in the race at this point will be sent away in a bunch on the morning of the third day of racing. The final dash into Phoenix, which is one hundred and thirty-two miles from Prescott, should furnish some racing thrills that have been lacking from the other Phoenix races, for in practically every one of these contests the leading car has finished the long grind so far ahead of its nearest competitor as to rob the finish of any excitement.
It is expected that a much higher rate of speed will be maintained in the 1914 Los Angeles-Phoenix race than has been recorded in any of the other desert contests. A better roadway is provided by the new route than was afforded in previous years and the absence of deep sand that has heretofore cut down the speed of the racers to a snail’s pace will permit the cars to maintain more nearly a constant rate of speed than was possible in any of the prior contests. Practically all of the route is through a sparsely settled country where speed-limits are unknown and except for that portion of the course that lies in Los Angeles County the racers will be able to make as fast time as they desire without fear of interference on the part of the authorities. The towns along the course of the route have evinced unusual enthusiasm for the speed contest and have donated generously for the $5000 purse that will reward the winning drivers. With the exception of Pomona and San Bernardino, none of the towns through which the racers will pass has been located on any of the courses previously followed in this annual contest and each of the little cities that are designated as checking stations has manifested its co-operation, not only by the donation of funds but also by pledges to improve the roads as much as possible before the date of the race.
The Los Angeles to Phoenix race was first held in 1908. Those were the days when steam cars were much in evidence and the contest was won from a field of thirteen starters by a White Steamer, driven by Colonel Fenner of Los Angeles. The course totaled four hundred and eighteen miles and led from Los Angeles through Pomona, San Bernardino, Banning, Mecca, Chuckawalla and Ehrenburg in California, thence across the Colorado River into Arizona and through Quartzite, Salome and Buckeye into Phoenix. None of the roads over which the cars were driven then can be compared with the splendid boulevards and good gravel roads that have since been built and the sand that was encountered in that first race proved a much greater obstacle to the comparatively low-powered cars than they present to the powerful automobiles of today. The elapsed running time of the White in the first race was slightly more than twenty-four hours, or an average speed of approximately seventeen and one-half miles per hour.
The races of 1909 and 1910 were held over the same course that was covered in 1908. The first of these two contests was won by a Buick with Joe and Louis Nickrent driving and the time of the previous race was lowered by about four miles per hour. The Nickrent brothers covered the distance between Los Angeles and Phoenix in nineteen hours and forty-one minutes, which gives an average of about twenty-one miles per hour. The 1910 race went to the KisselKar driven by Harvey Herrick, who lowered the running time by approximately four hours, covering the four hundred and eighteen mile course in fifteen hours and forty-four minutes of actual racing. This time gave Herrick an average speed of about twenty-six and one half miles per hour and, taken together with the fact that others of the racers finished in less time than the winners of the previous contests had negotiated the course, indicates the progress that had been made in automobile construction. The winning KisselKar won a prize of approximately $1300 out of the total purse of $2000.
In the fourth race, held in 1911, the course was lengthened to five hundred and forty-two miles and the route was changed to follow the Coast Road to San Diego and thence eastward through Campo, El Centro and Calexico in California with a detour through northern Mexico and back into California at Yuma. At this point the Colorado River was crossed and the route into Phoenix led through Dome, Middle Wells, Arlington and Buckeye. Herrick was again victorious but this time was at the wheel of a National. His elapsed running time was twenty-four hours and twenty-two minutes, or an average of twenty-two miles an hour, the loss in speed from the previous year being due principally to the fact that the course was more than twenty-five per cent longer than the former route and over equally difficult roads. Herrick’s winnings in this race totaled nearly $4000.
The fifth annual Los Angeles to Phoenix race was won by Ralph Hamlin in a Franklin in an elapsed running time of eighteen hours and ten minutes, an average speed of slightly less than twenty-seven miles per hour. The course in 1912 was changed to follow the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway by way of Colton, Banning, Mecca, Brawley, and Mammoth to Yuma and thence over the course of the prior year through Middle Wells and Buckeye into Phoenix. The distance covered was five hundred and eleven miles and was one of the most difficult of the race routes that had been chosen. The cars were particularly troubled by the deep, drifting sand in Mammoth Wash and a severe rain storm in Arizona made the roads in that state dangerous to travel over at high speed. The same year San Diego held a race to Phoenix that was contested on the same day and the racers from that city met with the same difficulties that attended the Los Angeles contingent, their winning car covering the four hundred miles between the two cities in the running time of sixteen hours and forty-six minutes.
The sixth race between Los Angeles and Phoenix was held on November 3rd and 4th, 1913, and was won by a Locomobile driven by Olin Davis. The distance covered totaled five hundred and seventy-four miles and was made by the winner in eighteen hours and fifty minutes of running time, an average speed of slightly more than thirty miles per hour. The course followed the Coast Route to San Diego thence through El Centro, Brawley, Mammoth Wash to Yuma and over the same course in Arizona that was covered in the races of the two previous years. The time that was made was much faster than any previous record for the race despite the fact that the distance was longer than that of any former contest. The largest field of starters that had ever taken part in a Los Angeles to Phoenix race was entered and a greater proportion of cars finished at Phoenix within the time limit than ever before.
The purses for both the 1912 and 1913 races approximated $5000 each and this amount will probably be the award to the winning drivers in the present year’s race. The date set for the contest is nearly six weeks distant and at present only a few cars have been formally entered. The better route and the better racing conditions that characterize this year’s contest will undoubtedly bring out a record field of starters and there is every reason to believe that even faster time will be made in this year’s Los Angeles-Phoenix race than was made in 1913.