“This is the story about two men, father and son, their racing cars, their lives and the salt flats where they ran their most famous trials. Ab Jenkins was the son of Welsh immigrants, first a carpenter by trade and then a prominent building contractor, who grew up with the automobile and found a new career in driving cars fast but safely.”Continue reading
Earl Cooper, auto racer, taken at the auto races at Salem, New Hampshire. Cooper’s last major victory was here at the Rockingham board track speedway. He won that 200-miler with a front-drive Miller in 1926. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS— Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Nebraska-born in 1886, Earl Cooper became a star just as the Golden Age of auto racing was dawning. Cooper’s illustrious racing career, in which he racked-up three National Championships (1913, 1915 & 1917) and 11 top 10 points finishes, all started in 1904– in an ironic and bittersweet twist.
It was 1904, and Cooper was on the West Coast working as a mechanic at a Maxwell auto dealership. Cooper was bitten by the racing bug, but when he appealed to the Maxwell dealership for sponsorship in a San Francisco race, he was refused. Turns-out his own boss was competing in the same race and did not welcome the friendly competition. So Cooper scoffed at the dealership’s snub, and somehow was able to convince a kind old woman to let him enter her brand new Maxwell in the race. Cooper soundly beat his boss– and just as quick, found himself unemployed. With nothing left to lose, he went on a racing tear, up and down the West Coast, where he was at times unstoppable.
Cooper joined the Stutz racing team in 1912, and just one year later went on to win the National Championship– racking up 2,610 points. Cooper dominated the scene that year, winning five of the eight major road races, along with one 2nd place finish.
Earl Cooper and his riding mechanic in the Stutz car. Picture taken at Indianapolis 500 qualifying in 1919. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo. Noel Allard collection)
In 1913, Cooper’s Hell-bent rival, Barney Oldfield, was driving for the Mercer team. The two battled fast and furiously, matching their skill and will on the racetrack–
Cooper and Oldfield would run head-to-head at the Santa Monica Road Race, held on an eight-mile macadam course near the ocean. Oldfield blasted away from the starter’s flag and held a sizeable lead, but Cooper passed Tetzlaff for second and began running Oldfield down. With a 4-minute lead over Oldfield, one of Cooper’s tires blew out and he had to coast into the pits. As his riding mechanic struggled to get the wheel off, Oldfield roared past. Cooper jumped out of the driver’s seat and wrenched the wheel off, the tire was changed and the car back on the track to begin running down Oldfield once more. In his exuberance to stay ahead, this time Oldfield blew a tire and bumped into the pits as Cooper whisked past and on to the checkered flag as the winner.
On September 9, 1913, Cooper and Oldfield again met head-to-head on a 3-mile paved track that circled the town of Corona, California. Cooper, after experiencing the tire problem at Santa Monica, had cannily practiced on the course to find what maximum speed he could drive in order to not make any tire stops at all. He determined that if he drove 75 mph. for the entire race, he could do just that. Oldfield, hell-bent-for-leather, predicted that the race average would go to 90 mph. Oldfield set the pace from the start, over Cooper, Tetzlaff, DePalma and Spencer Wishart. He clocked an awesome 98 mph on one lap, but the track had started to break up from the pounding it was taking from the heavy cars. Oldfield burst a tire and Cooper inherited the lead. Oldfield was back on the track and again at speed when again, a young spectator ran onto the track in front of him. Oldfield swerved to avoid the lad and crashed heavily, injuring several people and himself. Cooper won again and would go on to take his first AAA National Championship.
Earl Cooper in action at the start of a race in 1925, Laurel, Maryland.
March 9th, 1929, Daytona, FL — Original caption: J.W. White, famous American speed king, standing beside his Triplex machine which he will drive in an attempt to break the world’s automobile speed record. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jim White was a wealthy Philadelphian who desperately wanted to snatch the land speed record from the hands of British racers Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell. Thus, the White Triplex was born. White decided that no single engine would do to challenge the British Napier Lion, so a straight-forward and solid chassis was built, onto which three war-surplus 27-liter Liberty airplane engines were mounted– giving it a total of 36 cylinders, 81 liter displacement, and a staggering 1,500 bhp in all.
The Triplex’s design was a brutish barebones approach– it had no clutch or gearbox, and only a single fixed ratio. Once started by a push start, it had to keep rolling. Driver comforts were minimal to say the least– the forward engine was sheathed in a modest attempt at streamlining, and the two mounted side-by-side in back were totally exposed. The courageous (or crazy) driver was then perched precariously in the middle.
Circa 1928-29– White Triplex land speed record car, showing the three engines. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection. Link
Ray Keech, an experienced Indianapolis racer, and imposing man with flaming red hair, was paid a handsome sum to drive the White Triplex in the first speed record attempt at Daytona Beach, FL. The first trial runs proved to be dangerous indeed– no one had ever been faced with so much massive power, and in such crude form. Keech suffered burns behind the wheel of both runs– first from a burst radiator hose, then by exhaust flames from the front engine.
The overly simplistic design of the White Triplex posed a particular problem for the officials governing the speed record attempt. The regulations required vehicles to have a “means for reversing”, which the White Triplex definitely didn’t. White’s Mechanics first jury-rigged an electric motor and roller drive onto a tire, but it was unable to rotate against the force of the three large engines, which could not be un-clutched. An even more elaborate “solution” was tried. An entire separate rear axle was fitted, held above ground until dropped by a release lever and then driven by a separate driveshaft. The device was ridiculous, and isn’t believed to have been utilized during the actual speed record attempt itself– but it was enough to successfully satisfy the official’s needs.
On April 22nd, 1928, Keech set a new speed record in the White Triplex of 207.55 mph at Daytona Beach.
Circa 1928 — Ray Keech is shown here on the day that he broke the speed record at Daytona Beach, FL. In this image you can clearly see the extra rear axle that was added for record qualification purposes. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
The legendary Dubble Trubble Triumph motorcycle
The Dubble Trubble, built in 1953 by legendary racer Bud Hare, was a beastly Triumph twin-engined motorcycle that dominated the drag strips during the 1950s with a top speed of 142.38 mph. The dual 40 cu. in. displacement engines were fed through a Harley-Davidson hand-shift gearbox with foot clutch. Only two gears are used– second and high. Totally sick. Kids– don’t try this at home.
None other than Von Dutch himself painted the lettering on the legendary Triumph’s tank– which explains the 2 dots above the U’s which weren’t asked for. But then again– Von Dutch was known to kind of do his own thing.
The legendary twin-engined Dubble Trubble Triumph motorcycle