Part II: The Carnival of Speed

In March of 1903, James F. Hathaway and his Stanley Steamer returned to the endless stretches of sand outside of the Ormond Hotel, the inspiration for his visions of speed the year before. William J. Morgan, the magazine man to whom Hathaway had proclaimed the Ormond’s potential organized the first event in 1903 with help from the managers of the Ormond Hotel, John Anderson and Joseph Price. The group was joined by two pioneer automobile racers, Alexander Winton with his “Bullet #1,” and H.T. Thomas, the Olds Motor Works factory man who was running their machine dubbed “The Pirate.” In addition, the motorists were also accompanied by a young Swedish immigrant, a former bicycle racer who’s knack for tinkering and infatuation with speed was rocketing him to the top of the newly forming motorcycle industry, Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom. 

In late March of 1903 the wealthy aficionados dazzled a crowd of around 3,000 with their daring grit and the rawness of their machines. Winton, Thomas, and Hedstrom each successfully lowered the standing records of the day, despite the somewhat windy conditions. With no specific motorcycle events Hedstrom gave everyone a great show as he bested the automobile men with his lightweight 3HP motorcycle, lowering the one-mile record down to just a shade over 1 minute, 3 seconds. The inaugural event was a success, and in the days, weeks, and months that followed the promoters and local citizens united to form the Florida East Coast Automobile Association, and in doing so initiated plans for an annual Carnival of Speed.

1904 proved to be a big year for Daytona, Ormond Beach, and the returning Carnival of Speed. The event was now gaining international appeal and the area’s infrastructure was expanded to accommodate. The addition of a staging area and machine shop was a welcome project completed in 1904 and the Ormond Garage became the gathering point for gear heads the world over. A clubhouse was also built by the ECAA at the Silver Beach access, on the southern end bordering Daytona and from 1904 on it would serve as the starting line for the festivities. 

As far as the autos were concerned, William K. Vanderbilt Jr. was the toast of the event, collecting all of the records and trophies available with his 90HP Mercedes, losing only the AAA one-mile event to Barney Oldfield after missing a shift. The great-grandson of the “Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, young Willie K's achievements also included the first world land speed record set in America (though not officially recognized) running a flying mile in 39 seconds, a speed of 92.3 mph. The story goes, that an envious Henry Ford attended as a spectator and was so impressed by Vanderbilt’s performance that he immediately sent for his 999 car, though it did not arrive in time. The success and publicity surrounding Vanderbilt’s performance helped him to create America’s first major trophy race just a few months later, the Vanderbilt Cup.

1904 also saw the return of Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom, who had reconfigured the cutdown “Typhoon" pacing machine he had run the year before and fitted it with two of his retooled DeDion-Buton engines. An odd machine indeed, Hedstrom joined two separate engines together at the crankpin creating a cumbersome 5HP beast, an early experiment which effectively created the power of a twin cylinder machine. Glenn H. Curtiss also showed up to Ormond with a twin cylinder machine, though his was a more traditional design which had two cylinders sharing a a single bottom end. Known as “Hurcules”, Curtiss' 5HP belt-drive twin demolished the one mile world land speed record in a time of 59 1/5 seconds. Curtiss’ Hercules twin also set the 10-mile record with an average speed of 67.3 mph, a record that would remain for nearly half a decade. The runner up, Hedstrom hit the mile at 1 minute 4 seconds, roughly 56 mph. Local Daytona Indian broker W.W. Austin also had a go on the sand, rocketing his stock 1 3/4HP “camelback” Indian single to a mile in 1 minute 9 1/5 seconds. Unhappy with the performance of his machine Hedstrom discovered that the crankpin which joined his two engines had stripped on that first run, and though he did take a run on a stock machine he returned home to Springfield early. By the end of 1904, possibly motivated by his frustrations with his failed experimental twin’s performance at Ormond, Hedstrom unveiled his first true Indian twin prototype.

Over the next eight years the Carnival of Speed held on Ormond Beach drew thousands of people to witness the greatest names in automotive and motorcycle history push their machines and themselves to the limit. Manufacturers, engineers, racers, and daredevils alike thrived in their quest to be the fastest between the dunes and the breaks at Ormond Beach. Before Brooklands, before Bonneville, and before Indianapolis, America had given birth to the world’s first capital of speed on the eastern shores of sunny Florida.

Pictured is Glenn H. Curtiss and his 5HP, belt-drive twin known as Hercules.