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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Elgin Road Race Collection Pre-WWII Racing Topics:  Spencer Wishart


The New York Times
August 23, 1914

Driver and Car Crash Into a Fence When Speeding at 80 Miles an Hour.


Second Victory for Motor Pilot in Two Days—Jenter, Wishart's Mechanician, May Die.

Special to The New York Times.

ELGIN, Ill., Aug. 22.—Spencer Wishart, driver of a Mercer car, was killed here today, and Joe Jenter, Wishart's mechanician, and four spectators were injured in the annual Elgin national road race, which was won by Ralph De Palma in a Mercedes in the fast time of 4:06:18, an average of 73.5 miles per hour.  Eddie Pullen in a Mercer was second in 4:07:28, an average of 73 miles an hour, and Barney Oldfield was third in a Stutz.

The accident ended the career of one of the best and most reckless of road drivers in this country.  The death of Wishart and the probable fatal injury of Jenter quieted the record crowd in the stands and, although the interest was not entirely abated, the spectators felt that a friend had been lost.

Mrs. Wishart, a bride of only two months, was the Mercer camp when she learned of the accident.  She went to the bedside of her dying husband.  He did not regain consciousness until just before he died, when he looked up and recognized her.  "Ruth" was all he could say.  His wife could not restrain her grief, and broke down completely.

Three boards nailed together, apparently a piece of an old barn door, sufficed for the stretcher on which Wishart was carried to the ambulance.  In such fashion he was taken to the hospital, where he died shortly after 2 o'clock.

Standing in the front yard of the Combb homestead at the time of the accident were more than twenty spectators.  It seemed miraculous that many were not killed.  The fact that the car struck a tree before ripping up the fence was all that saved them.

The accident in which Wishart was killed took place at Combb's farm, located at a point about a mile from the second turn.  The automobile he was driving, a big yellow Mercer, was speeding at a rate of 80 miles an hour when the accident happened.

Wishart was leading the race and had covered a distance of 117 miles without making a stop.  On his fourteenth lap he overtook Otto Henning, also in a Mercer.  When near the Combb farm Wishart attempted to pass Henning.  He was overtaking the latter when his front wheels swerved, one of them brushing a rear wheel on Henning's racer.  The slight impact threw the front wheels of Wishart's car into the air.  It bounded to the outside of the course, struck a bump, and shot twenty feet into the air.  While in the air it turned a complete somersault and landed broadside against a tree in front of the Combb house.  It tore up more than 100 feet of wooden fence, grinding palings to splinters.

Eye-witnesses say that the automobile traveled a distance of 100 feet which in the air.  Both Wishart and Jenter were thrown out when the tree was struck.  They were fifty feet apart when they fell, Wishart near the car and Jenter in the ditch.

Near the latter was found the gasoline tank.  It had been torn from the car and thrown along the course, so great was the force with which the machine struck.  The automobile itself was completely wrecked, the rear portion being smashed in and the wheels shattered.

Both Wishart and Jenter were unconscious when they struck the ground.  For at least half an hour, according to the statements of spectators, they lay there, battered and bleeding, before receiving medical attention.

Despite the fact that a physician, Dr. E. A. McCormick, was sent for and arrived soon afterward he was not permitted to cross the track and go to the assistance of the injured.  Illinois guardsmen and special deputies stopped him "because he did not have a badge."

When a Red Cross automobile finally arrived the attention shown Wishart was not of the best.  A stick ripped from the wrecked fence was employed as a splint for his broken leg.

Jenter was thrown 100 feet from where the car overturned.  Militiamen dragged him from the path of the other machines, which were not halted by the tragedy.  He was also taken to the hospital, where it was said tonight his chance of recovery was slight.  His right arm was broken and he suffered internal injuries.

De Palma, when he dashed past the checkered flag, was returned a victor for the second time in the meeting, and his average for today's race was only one-tenth of a mile slower than in yesterday's event.  His victory was due to speedy and consistent driving and sticking to a well-planned race.

Ralph saved his car at the start and did not put his throttle down until he found it absolutely necessary.  His machine responded to his call for speed lap after lap, although he did not take the lead until 200 miles had been covered.

The order of finish follows:

Car and Driver.
Mercedes. (De Palma).........4:06:1873.5
Mercer. (Pullen)4:07:2873.0
Stutz. (Oldfield)4:24:0268.2
Sunbeam. (Morris)4:31:0963.6
Burman. (Hearne)4:35:4763.6

Running when time was called—Maxwell, William Orr, and Mercer, Otto Henning.

The four spectators injured will recover.  They are:

Miss Annie Laura Hopkins, Elgin; knocked down by automobile while it was in the air; bruised about arms and body.

Miss Edith Hoffman, Elgin; struck by automobile; bruised and cut about body.

Alfred Hanson, Elgin; knocked down when machine struck fence; shoulder and leg lacerated and bruised.

George Hinckley, Rockford, Ill.; struck and thrown under automobile when it hit the ground; scalp wound and bruised and cut about head and body.

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