The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Fatalities - August 19-22, 1909
William Bourque - driver
Harry Holcomb - mechanic
Claude Kellum - mechanic
James West - spectator
Omar D. Jolliffe - 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 Thursday, August 19th.

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
hill-climbing events.

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 Sherman.

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
Wild Bob Burman.  
Louis Chevrolet was third.

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.
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 flipped over.

Holcomb was thrown and went flying into a fence post,
smashing his head, killing him instantly. He had two
broken arms, a crushed skull 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 also suffered a fractured skull as well as  
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.

Police worked to keep back the crowds.  The race
continued as physicians and rescuers dodged the
whizzing cars to carry the victims away.
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. He
was not married.
William Bourque
Harry Holcomb
On August 22nd, the third day of the event, Claude Stewart
, 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 Omar
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
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
to race.

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 , 39, was killed
during the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy race on
the third day of the meet.  He had a wife and
William Bourque passes by judges
Lickspring Baptist Church Cemetery
Trafalgar, Indiana
INDY 500 MEMORIAL - 1909
The Crashed Knox Race Car
Completed Aerodrome - 1912
Claude Kellum was a resident of Indianapolis. He had
worked for the National Company for several years. He left
a wife and two children.
After the  National car had gone through fence.  Merz being led away after
crawling from under machine.
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