|The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
|Fatalities - August 19-22, 1909
|William Bourque - driver
Harry Holcomb - mechanic
Claude Kellum - mechanic
James West - spectator
Homer Jolliff - spectator
The Indy 500 officially began in 1911, but the Indianapolis
Motor Speedway opened in 1909.
After having a hot-air balloon race and a motorcycle race
at the track, three days of auto racing was held beginning
on August 20th.
When the track was created, it was not paved with bricks,
but was made up of crushed stone and tar. [This surface
would prove to be insufficient, and the whole 2.5 miles of
track would be paved with 3.2 million red bricks for the
second race in 1909, held on December 17.]
On the first day of the August races, William Bourque,
26, and his mechanic, Harry Holcomb, 22, were the first
to die from injuries received in a crash at the new
Bourque drove for the Knox Company. He had started at
the bottom in the Knox factory, serving his apprenticeship,
and had become a tester. Bourque was an able driver,
with outstanding nerve, judgement, and physical strength.
He had made a local reputation as an amateur bicycle
rider as a youth before entering professional racing in
The week before his crash, Bourque had raced at Richfield
Springs, NY and won four prizes, which were presented to
him by Vice President of the United States James
Bourque had just won the third of the preliminary events on
that first day of racing: five miles for stripped stock cars
of 301-450 c.i. piston displacement. His timing was 0.9
seconds faster than Bob Burman's. Louis Chevrolet
Bourque was again battling Burman (who finally won the
race) for the lead in the 250-mile Prest-O-Lite Trophy
Witnesses to the accident agreed that a quick glance
backwards cost him his life and his mechanic's life.
On lap 58 as Bourque came through turn 4, Holcomb
signalled the approach of a car. Bourque glanced back.
Private Frank Brandoer who was near the accident said
when he looked back, the wheel slipped and the car
swerved slightly, hit a rut and then went into the ditch and
Holcomb was thrown and went flying into a fence post at
75 mph, smashing his head, killing him instantly. He had
two broken arms and and several broken ribs.
Bourque was trapped under the car. Both axles were
thrown from the track and one axle landed toward the
ditch. Bourque suffered a fractured skull, broken legs,
and a punctured lung. He was rushed to the hospital, but
never regained consciousness.
The accident occurred on the front stretch just above the
bridge that spanned a small stream from 1912-1916,
about 250 yards from the judges.
Bob Burman and Louis Chevrolet said that they had
noticed their cars were inclined to skid at this place on the
track and they always hugged close to the inside.
Although hundreds of fans left the stands, the race
continued as physicians and rescuers dodged the
whizzing cars to carry the victims across the track.
Both men were from Sprinfield Massachusetts, where the
Knox factory was located.
Bourque was born in West Farnham, Canada. He had
planned to be married in the fall.
Holcomb, a tester for Knox for two years, had relatives a
few miles away in West Granville. This season was his
first in racing. He had ridden with Bourque earlier in the
year at Crown Point, where the two had finished 2nd.
On August 22nd, the third day of the event, Claude
Kellum, 35, was riding in a National car as the mechanic.
When the car was forced out of the race, Kellum sat
unhappily in the pit.
Robert Lyne, the mechanic for another National car, ran
across the infield from the far side of the track to tell the pit
crew that his driver, Charlie Merz, needed a new battery.
He then collapsed from exhaustion.
Kellum happily came to the rescue with a new battery. He
took the battery over and took over for Lyne as the rdiing
During the race, as they were driving over the bridge over
the stream, their right front tire blew out. The car catapulted
into the air and through the fence into a crowd of
spectators, killing two fans: James West of Indianapolis
and Homer Jolliff of Franklin IN. The car was upside
down, pinning Merz underneath. Kellum was thrown
against a fence post hard enough to knock him out.
An hour later he died.
Claude Kellum was a resident of Indianapolis. He had
worked for the National Company for several years.
He left a wife and two children.
|Wilfred (William) Bourque and Harry Holcomb
The V.P. of Knox had insured the lives of
the two men for $25,000 in favor of their
relatives, without the drivers' knowledge.
(Average yearly income then was $800/
George Crane, a Knox sales rep, said
"This will probably end our racing. We will
probably enter no more cars in automobile
races. It is simply suicide; thats all it is."
The Knox Company, however, continued
The Indianapolis News reported for August
21st: "There were more women in the
crowd than on Thursday and they appeared
to be the most interested of the spectators.
The killing of the two men, it seemed, only
served to increase the excitement."
|The first deaths at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
|Crown Point Cemetery, Kokomo IN
|Spectator James West was killed during the
Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race on the third day of the meet.
|William Bourque passes by judges