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Vanderbilt Cup: Start your engines for history

James W. Foote, dressed as Theodore Roosevelt, steers

James W. Foote, dressed as Theodore Roosevelt, steers a 1909 Alco-6 Racer in celebration of the late president's birthday and the 100th anniversary of the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race. The "Black Beast" is on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. (October 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Photo by Jesse Newman

Long before NASCAR, they came out in droves for the Vanderbilt Cup Races.

The races were held from 1904 to 1910, not inside a raceway, but on Nassau County public roads. They drew massive crowds and attention to the then relatively new automobile. And they also disappointed hometown fans because the trophy, a 10-gallon, 30-pound Tiffany and Company silver cup, was carted off by European racers for the first three years.

But, eventually, the Americans prevailed. The centennial of their third and final victory is expected to draw about 100 vintage and new racing vehicles, and hundreds of racing fans, to a celebration both commemorative and educational.

"I want to show 100 years of automotive evolution," says Guy Frost, executive director of Vanderbilt Cup Races.

HISTORY OF A RACE

The Vanderbilt Cup Race is all but forgotten except by enthusiasts, but a century ago it was a national obsession. "It was the first international road race in the United States," says Long Island historian Howard Kroplick of East Hills.

In 1904, William K. Vanderbilt Jr. had challenged Europe's finest automakers to participate in America's first international motor race. The races continued to be held on public roads despite a tragic accident in 1906, when a spectator was killed by a race car on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola. However, the tragedy led Vanderbilt to construct the Long Island Motor Parkway, the first road built for autos in America. In 1908, 1909 and again in 1910, an American team kept the cup in the United States.

A VICTORY LAP

The vehicle that won the race in 1909 and 1910 will be among cars on display in the Museum Row lot and in the museum atrium. The 1909 Alco-6 Racer known as the "Black Beast," is owned by Kroplick. "It's priceless. There's only one Alco race car existing, and this is it, it's one of one" Kroplick says. A number of other vintage cars including a 1909 REO Gentleman's Roadster on loan from the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum are also expected.

RIDING AROUND IN CARS

Some of these shiny racers won't just sit in a parking spaces, as they do in the summer car cruises. Owners of historic and otherwise unique vehicles will be invited to try their hands at timed demonstration runs. They will be held on an autocross course set up at the adjacent Nassau Community College parking lot. Race car drivers will navigate one at a time through a course marked by traffic cones. Some are expected to offer rides to spectators.

MS. SPEED RACER

The guest of honor, Janet Guthrie, was in 1977 the first woman to earn a starting spot in the Daytona 500. In 1980, she was one of the original nine athletes (along with tennis star Billie Jean King and aviator Amelia Earhart) inducted into the Long Island-based International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. Guthrie will autograph her autobiography, "Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle" (SportClassic Books).

Vanderbilt Cup Race Centennial & Vintage Car Exhibit

WHEN | WHERE: 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Cradle of Aviation, East Garden City

INFO: 516-572-4111

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