MICHAEL R. ARGETSINGER SYMPOSIUM
ON INTERNATIONAL MOTOR RACING HISTORY
Thursday, November 9th was the kickoff of a three-day automotive history conference co-sponsored and organized by the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) and the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) International Motor racing History section held in Watkins Glen, New York. This year was the third annual Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History named in honor of the late, Michael Reynolds Argetsinger, son of Watkins Glen International motor sports racing circuit founder Cameron Argetsinger.
The purpose of each year’s Symposium is gather expert automotive historians from around the world to share their Symposium theme information, discuss and present papers on various subject related to the diverse nature of motorsports racing. This year’s Symposium theme was based around diversity and “The Cultural Turn Meets the First Turn.”
Michael Argetsinger was a respected automotive historian, author and sports car racing driver in his own right. Unfortunately for all of us Michael passed away on July 7th, 2015. Michael and his family continued to wholeheartedly and unselfishly support all forms of racing; events at “The Glen” as the racing facility is internationally known; the IMRRC, the city and encompassing Schuyler County.
Many fascinating subjects and papers were presented. Dr. Elsa Nystrom, Professor Emeritus of History, American Studies Department, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia was the keynote speaker. Dr. Nystrom presented a paper on early American female racer Joan Newton Cuneo based upon her book “Mad for Speed: The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo.”
Attendees were met by a somewhat unseasonably cold series of days however attendance numbers were up and robust. The event opened with the screening of the evocative film “Havana Motor Club” that highlighted the struggle of Cuban street racers to have their sport officially state permitted and recognized, if not sanctioned.
Due to the goods and services embargo of the John F. Kennedy era Cuban automobile owners and racing enthusiasts have been restrained from acquiring new modern vehicles and even replacement parts for their old late Classic car era vehicles. The film pulls the veil back on the underground racing scene and their passion to race no matter what!
This film served as the perfect backdrop for Thomas Adamich, Visiting Librarian Service of New Philadelphia, Ohio. Tom’s presentation theme was “Primer Plano Cubano de la Carrera de la Calle – Cuban Street Racing Closeup: A Critical Analysis of the Documentary Movie ‘Havana Motor Club.”
Tom’s study makes clear the ravenous passion held by Cuba’s automobile and racing fans despite threat of arrest and other sanctions. Mr. Luis Martinez, who lived in Cuba, validated Tom’s research and findings supplemented his presentation.
Dr. Mark D. Howell, Professor of Communications, Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan and Author of “From Moonshine To Madison Avenue: Cultural History Of The NASCAR Winston Cup Series,” also a former NASCAR team crew member delivered a stirring “insider’s” perspective on NASCAR’s current sponsorship, attendance and revenue concerns. His presentation, titled “It is Alive! Monster Energy’s Attempt to Revitalize NASCAR’s Top Touring Series” prompted a lot of audience questions and discussion during as well as after the presentation’s conclusion.
Following Dr. Howell was last year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel J. Simone, Curator of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Charlotte, North Carolina. Dan’s presentation focused on the racing history that took place in California during the early 1960s. “Invaders and Invasions: The Motor Trend 500” examined the East Coast – West Coast driver rivalries and area racer dominance on certain tracks.
As Dan explained West Coast racing tended to be dominated by the local racers who rarely traveled East to compete on circuits there and visa versa. In 1963 the esteemed stock car racing organization was then the Grand National. Guys like Dan Gurney, AJ Foyt and Parnelli Jones were the men to beat on the left coast while Richard Petty and Bobby Allison were tops on the right coast. Few left their regions and those that did tried to muscle their way into the others “home” tracks.
Much of that same mentality remained largely in place well into the 1990s as originally California-based driver Jeff Gordon burst onto the professional stock car racing circuit winning the 1995, 1997, 1998 (and 2001) NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championships after winning the 1990 USAC Silver Crown Series Championship and rivaling legendary great Champion Dale Earnhardt.
Much of the supposed geographical rivalry did not exist among the top drivers even though everyone wants to win and particularly do so on “home tracks.” However as television exposure, new product, sponsorship and audience markets were available in the West along with a well of fresh new talent that actually could compete on he ovals NASCAR management warmed to the idea of expanding the circuits to be run in their regular season premier series Sprint Cars.
On Saturday Dr. Elton G. “Skip” McGoun, William H. Dunkak Professor of Finance, College of Management, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania opened the final days sessions at 10:00 a.m. to discuss “Win on Sunday & Sell Fifty Years Later: The Strange Competitive and Commercial Saga of Bentley.”
Not actually commercially produced until 1921 Bentley automobiles possessed large 3 litre displacement engines. Many of the cars found racing duty in hill climb events and dedicated motor sports racing circuits like Brooklands in Surrey, England, United Kingdom. Boxer and Bentley racing enthusiast Captain Woolf Barnato appreciate his Bentley and the company so much that he invested some £100,000 that the company used to pay its bills, costs and save the business. Barnato then became the company’s majority stockholder and therein its owner. Now able to more readily produce cars Bentleys found favor with British racing enthusiasts known as the “Bentley Boys.”
Bentley cars competed in 24-hours of Le Mans races throughout the 1920s with a fair amount of outright success – 1st Place Finishes in 1924, ‘27, ‘28, ’29 and ’30 and with other cars having top 15 place finishes in 1923 (4th), ’27 (15th & 17), ’28 (5th) and ’30 (2nd).
Unfortunately the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the high cost of the very expensive cars left the company and its investors unable to pay certain bills there in forcing receivership.
Dr. Paul Baxa, Associate Professor, Chair of the History Department, Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, Florida spoke on “A Moving Museum: Tourism, Pilgrimage, and the Iconic Route of the Mille Miglia.” The Mille Miglia or 1,000 mile touring car endurance race got its start in 1927 Italy and ran on road courses through the country side from Brescia to Rome and back.
For the most part the series was dominated by Alfa Romeo Brand Italian cars from 1927 to 1938 with the exception of the initial race (when an OM or “Officine Meccaniche” won the race) and 1931 (when a Mercedes won).
The Mille Miglia was revived in the 1980s and has been run ever since in celebrated fashion spurring tremendous tourism among automobilist and racing fans and now has its own Museum. People love the historic course and various competitive cars of different eras and displacement classes making it virtually a “bucket list” event and destination.
All the way from Ross, New Zealand came Trevor A. Lister, Editor of Classic Motor Racing Club Newsletter who miraculously figured out the correct way to specifically identify early Maserati racecars particularly for authentication purposes. Trevor’s research and findings presentation began with a photo of him as a very young lad in the late 1950s/early 1960s watching a race trackside and nearly on it!
Trevor’s paper and presentation titled “Cultural Confusions: Maserati Serial Numbers” demonstrated his diligent efforts to make sense of the Maserati racing program’s misleading racecar identification method. As Trevor so aptly pointed out vehicles intended for racing purposes are rarely kept intact as when they left the factory experiencing a myriad of component changes and alterations often immediately and throughout its successive operational lifecycle.
For authentication purposes what components came with which engine and/or chassis has been particularly difficult for Maserati racecars that sometimes tracked cars by chassis number and other times by engine numbers. Trevor has broken ground by figuring out how to identify which racing car chassis left the factory with which particular engine so now vintage Maserati auto racecar collectors, restorers and historians can know the clearly understood information that he shared with those of us in attendance and paying attention.
Dr. Elsa Nystrom, Professor Emeritus of History, American Studies Department of Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia was the Symposium’s keynote speaker. Dr. Nystrom author of the book “Mad for Speed: The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo” and the research undertaken to write it formed the basis for her address and presentation.
As Dr. Nystrom explained Joan Newton Cuneo was an American woman of some means that had a serious penchant to go fast and compete in new fangled motorcar machines.
Joan was the first woman and American female to race motorcars and actively participate in races as a driver. Joan asserted her right to enter the 1905 Glidden Tour test of an automobile manufacturer’s vehicle durability and endurance despite attempts to exclude her by the organizing and sanctioning body. And, although the diminutive 5’ 02” “tomboy’s” White Brand automobile did not finish that tour race her racing prowess, courage and tenacity caught the attention of the press and public.
Joan used that opportunity to race her self-maintained cars and those loaned to her by supportive male competitors and compete on a variety of surfaces and tracks.
In 1908 Joan, having made a bit of a name for herself as a competent racecar driver entered that year’s Glidden Tour event. Joan and her car finished the tour and with a perfect score. She went on to effectively compete against top male speedway racecar drivers such as Bob Burman, Ralph DePalma and George Robertson.
Disliking all the attention paid to this audacious female upstart and otherwise just not wanting women to compete in this “man’s sport” the American Automobile Association (AAA) instituted a ban against women racing in their sanctioned events. Although she could no longer race in AAA sanctioned events she channeled her energies and efforts into being a prominent advocate for the Good Roads movement aided charities to help orphans in New York State and championed the cause of permitting women to race.
The Joan Newton Cuneo’s (later Joan Newton Cuneo Sickman after remarrying) is a fascinating story and Dr. Nystrom’s book well worth the effort to acquire and read.
MotometerCentral’s™ founder Francis G. Clax next took the stage to speak about the racing career of French female auto racer Anne Cecile Rose-Itier presenting the biography on her that he independently researched and wrote. Francis’ paper and presentation titled “Anne Cecile Rose-Itier: Overcoming Gender Barriers and Earning Legitimacy by Competing and Winning.”
Though not the earliest female auto racer in history Anne was one of the best during the mid 1920s through the 1930s. She endured unfounded disparaging statements about her as a driver (and possibly as a woman) and attempts to exclude women from the burgeoning sport of automobile racing to rather frequently place high in the final race result standings whether in hillclimb or Grand Prix events.
Anne effectively drove “light” class or smaller engine displacement Bugatti racecars in Grand Prix racers. The Voiturette Class was generally for engines displacing up to 1100cc.
Other women did race cars in European at mostly French racing events though primarily only in women-only classes during the same general period as did Anne, however she primarily raced against the men. Unfortunately, this and certain female driver’s connections resulted in their receiving far greater attention and than the purpose focused Anne and her accolades.
Anne wound down her active racecar driving experience by competing in a then record five 24-hour of Le Mans races from 1935 to ’39. Anne went on to work during WWII for the French Resistance to the NAZI invasion in effort to save French children and later found organizations to make racing easier for women.
Francis also discussed the history of the very earliest female racing drivers who in the years prior to Anne’s came exclusively from extremely wealthy aristocratic backgrounds.
Smithsonian Museum Curator of the Aeronautics Department, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D. C. Dr. Jeremy R. Kinney covered a lot of ground in discussing “Speed through a Man’s World: Women Sports Car racers in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Jeremy, Francis and Dr. Nystrom joined Symposium Co-organizer and Moderator Dr. Patricia “Pat” Yongue, Professor Emeritus of English, English Department, University of Houston as the panel for a group (and audience) discussion on “Women in Racing.”
The panel discussion pressed on despite undergoing a major geographic power loss in the vicinity of the IMRRC Watkins Glen and the Arc of Schuyler school facility. The school’s backup power generators proved their worth and saved the waning moments of the Michael R. Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History. The event formally concluded with a dinner at the local Upper Deck Grill in downtown Watkins Glen. All of the speakers and their guest really enjoy this final opportunity to socialize among colleagues and close friends. Speakers usually take their own initiative to remain in touch with each other immediately after the event and throughout the year.
The Symposium was live streamed on the IMRRC’s www.racingarchives.org website and the IMRRC will post individual presentations on their YouTube web channel.