1909 race 3

The Portola Road Race was an automobile race held in 1909 and 1911, with the start and finish in Oakland. The races were held as part of the Portola Festival celebrating San Francisco's renewal following the 1906 earthquake. 1

On October 23, 1909, Jack Fleming won at a world record average speed of 64.51 mph. 2 The start and finish was on Foothill Blvd. near 55th Avenue and Fairfax Avenue. The 21.18 mile course was run 12 times, for a total of 254 miles. 1"The course looped, from the Alameda county road between Melrose and Hayward to the Foothill boulevard, through the towns of Melrose, San Leandro, and Hayward." 2 The crowd of approximately 200,000 to 250,000 included mayor Frank K. Mott and California governor James N. Gillette. 8

Two spectators were severely injured, and a dog was killed in different accidents during the race. Otis Johnson was struck by a car that left the course when its steering jammed. Driver Frank Free and his mechanic were thrown from the vehicle and badly bruised. Johnson was paralyzed and expected to die, but survived and in 1910 sued the Reliance automobile company and Free for $20,000. 6 Peter J. McKittrick of Elmhurst had his skull fractured when a tire retaining ring came off the car of H. Michener. 1,4,5 McKittrick died a few weeks later. 7

Note the barn in the background of the 1909 race photo. 2 Painted on the roof and side of the barn is an ad for Martland, Peart and Elkington:

When our Re-Treads
are Worn Out
Their Cost Have Been Forgotten
Martland Peart & Elkington
Diamond Tires

Also note that the cars in the photo are fairly different than those shown in the race photos from the San Francisco Call and Oakland Tribune, and are carrying passengers. It seems likely that the photo is of a race-day event, rather than the race itself.

Second place was car #13, an Apperson, driven by auto dealer Harris Hanshue. He went on to found the Western Air Express in the 1920s, which did early airmail work for the postal service. Western Air Express later became Western Airlines, and part of TWA (Trans World Airlines.)

The 1911 race used a shorter circuit of 10.9 miles, and ran 14 laps, for a little over 150 miles. The endurance part of the race was cancelled at 15 laps because of darkness. 2

October 24, 1909 2

Links and References

1909 program 1

  1. Portola Road Race on Wikipedia
  2. World's Record is Broken in Great Race San Francisco Call October 24, 1909
  3. Automobile race on Foothill Blvd. from the Oakland History Room
  4. Auto Victim Lives with Broken Spine San Francisco Call October 24, 1909
  5. Death Takes Toll in Portola Auto Race Bakersfield Californian October 22, 1903
  6. Auto Race Victim Sues for Damages San Francisco Call August 6, 1910
  7. Victim of Flying Auto Tire Dies San Francisco Call December 15, 1909
  8. Portola Road Race - 1909 on firstsuperspeedway.com