Feb 10 2010

The Vanderbilt Cup Race Pits: An American Innovation

One innovation of the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race was the first use of service racing pits in an American automobile race.

The pits were described in the Ocober 1, 1908 issue of The Automobile :


"Spectators on the homestretch will be treated to a noteworthy innovation in the establishment of a depressed official supply stations stretching for 300 feet in front of the grandstand. it will take the form of a pit 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and will be reached by a switch from the main course. Here will be kept tires, oil, water and gasoine. The heads of the mechanics will be visible above the edges of the pit. Not only will the passing of supplies and filing of tanks be seen, but the interesting operation of the quick-changing of tires also. "


In this photo, driver William Luttgen and his mechanician were refueling their Mercedes during the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race in front of the Hempstead Plains (now Levittown) grandstand and the "pits". Note William K. Vanderbilt Jr.standing behind the car carefully observing the car which he owned.


Here Luttgen stopped at the pit for refueling and a change of the right rear tire. The 1908 rules allowed only the driver and mechanician to work on the car . The rules were modified in 1910 to allow two of the pit crew to replenish water, oil and fuel and to assist in replacing tires.


Feb 14 2010 Rog Patterson 7:49 PM

These 1908 pits were a lot more impressive in terms of safety and utility than those we saw at the Bridgehampton road races 43 years later!

Feb 15 2010 Bob Thomas 9:35 AM

So the term “racing pits” was literal in those days. Actually, the pits as they were arranged then were a safety hazard to both the auto and the pit workers with the possibility of a car dropping into the pit when entering the area. Separating the pits and the race course apparently came later.

Feb 15 2010 Richard Simon 10:17 AM

Is that Guy Frost standing next to Willie K. in the photo with “William K. Vanderbilt Jr.standing behind the car carefully observing the car which he owned.”?

Feb 15 2010 Howard Kroplick 5:56 PM

Hi Richard:
That’s pretty funny! The person to Willie K’s right in the photo was Fred Wagner, the starter for the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race and many of the major auto races of the era.


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