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Iowa History Daily: August 7 - The First 300

Iowa History Daily: On August 7, 1915, the first 300-mile auto race in history took place on a wood track in Valley Junction. Two people died as over 7,000 people turned out to watch Ralph Mulford best Indy 500 Champion Ralph DePalma and collect a $10,000 prize.

Although local limits on automobile speeds peaked at 10 mph during the early 1900s in Valley Junction, in 1915 work started on a racetrack which would allow drivers to reach 100 mph. Designed by Englishman Jack Prince, the one-mile oval track featured 890,000 feet of 2x4s laid on edge. One of 24 similar tracks constructed nationwide, the Valley Junction track was ready for racing by early August.

With a stacked field drawn in by the large purse of prize money, thousands turned out from the surrounding area to witness the spectacle. However, spectators got more than they bargained for when Joe Cooper’s car blew a tire and sent the driver over the rail to an instant death. Later in the race, another wheel failure, this time for driver Billy Chandler, caused him to lose control and veer into the infield where mechanic Maurice Keeler was fatally injured.

The race continued, and Mulford eventually chased down the checkered flag by a narrow margin over DePalma. The shocked crowd struggled to get the ghastly images of the race from their minds, and attendance lagged at subsequent events. Only two years later the track shut down, and locals scavenged the wooden track to construct buildings still standing in historic Valley Junction. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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