CHALMERS AUTOMOBILE REGISTRY
The following story is a reprint from the 2006 Great Race Yearbook with the permission of Rally Partners, Inc.
About the author:Jeff Mahl is the Great Grandson of George Schuster Sr., driver of the Thomas Flyer and winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race. For additional information on the 1908 Race and a video clip about the Great Race 2008, please visit: www.TheGreatAutoRace.com WWW.greatrace2008.com WWW.greatrace.com
Can History Repeat Itself?
In 1908 an outlandish concept was discussed; stage an automobile Race from New York City, U.S.A. to Paris, France. The idea was to prove the viability of the recently invented automobile by driving them the full distance across the continents of North America, Asia and Europe. Yes, drive all the way from New York to Paris by crossing the frozen Bering Straits, which meant starting the Race in the dead of winter to insure the ice would be adequate to support them. Was it possible, at a time when according to the London Daily Mail newspaper “the motor car, after a woman, is the most fragile and capricious thing on earth”? For many the around the world Race was quite simply, madness!
In 2008 we will find ourselves at a very similar moment in history with the same challenge. Great Race 2008 will feature twenty “green” automobiles and a like number of vintage classics racing from New York to Paris, over much of the same course taken 100 years ago. The all too familiar tune that these “Green” automobiles are a passing “fad”, suitable only for local travel can once again be heard. After all, for many today the hybrid automobiles and other exotic technologies are still new and untested. The thought of alternative technology having the endurance to make such a journey is once again considered madness.
It will not be easy. The start of the Race on February 12, 2008 in New York will mark the exact centennial moment of the original automobile Race round the world, which began in Times Square at 11:15 AM on a cold February morning. In 1908, 250,000 people filled the Square and Broadway, each trying to catch a glimpse of these new-fangled machines and the competitors in this epic International competition. The teams represented the world superpowers of the day, Germany, France, Italy, and the United States. The American built Thomas Flyer was poised at the starting line. The 2008 competitors will face many of the same challenges the early Racers did. Those of weather, fatigue, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and certainly time
Times Square 1908
In 1908 roads were virtually non-existent, and much of the world’s population had never seen an American much less an automobile. Services we take for granted today like fuel, repairs, communications, even food and lodging for the weary competitors were sparse and often unavailable. The threat of bandits, illness, endless miles of snowdrifts, and bottomless quagmires were just a few of the obstacles they encountered on a daily basis. The original Race had inspired moments of courage, despair, humor, camaraderie, and “Yankee” ingenuity. At one point the German Protos became stuck to the axles in a Siberian bog. The American Thomas Flyer made it around the quagmire and then, with a sense of true sportsmanship, threw the rival German Team a towline pulling them out to resume the Race.
Some of those challenges faced by the early Racers have been improved for the 2008 event, with highways and far better communications. However, in many parts of the world these new Racers will face the same challenges as the original Racers 100 years ago; where will they find the alternative fuels, or specialized parts required for cars with the new exotic technologies? How will they cope with the language barriers, and more importantly the unpredictable weather?
A total of forty intrepid Teams will vie for the title of World Champion. That title is now held by George Schuster Sr., winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race, driving the American Thomas Flyer. The 1908 victory has been unchallenged for the past 100 years. Will someone claim it in 2008? Will the carefully restored vintage classics be up to the challenge of retracing the route of their predecessors? Will the new “green” technology of 2008 equal the rugged endurance of the 1908 automobiles?
1908 Thomas-Flyer Valdez, Alaska
What would the winner of the 1908 Race think about the 2008 competitors? I can anticipate the response of my Great Grandfather George, who with a knowing chuckle, would have said, “Those chaps have a big challenge ahead of them. It will take sheer determination and a bit of luck for them to succeed!” Can history repeat itself?
About the author:
Jeff Mahl is the Great Grandson of George Schuster Sr., driver of the Thomas Flyer and winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race. For additional information on the 1908 Race and a video clip about the Great Race 2008, please visit: www.TheGreatAutoRace.com