Aug 27 2011

A Tribute to the Mechanicians of the Vanderbilt Cup Races

Every race car that participated in the Vanderbilt Cup Races of 1904 to 1910 carried two men, the driver and a riding mechanic called a mechanician. The mechanician assisted with repairs, helped navigate the course, and, when needed, worked a hand pump to maintain fuel pressure. The mechanician was the most dangerous position on the course. Of the four deaths associated with the Long Island Vanderbilt Cup Races, three were mechanicians (one in 1904 and two in 1910) and one was a spectator (1906). This is a tribute to these brave men:

Carl Mensel- The First Person Killed During a Vanderbilt Cup Race


When approaching Elmont on the Hempstead-Jamaica Road during the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup Race, George Arents Mercedes left rear tire blew. The bare rim struck a trolley track, overturning the car. Driver Arents was thrown from the car, suffering a serious head injury from which he eventually fully recovered. Tragically, his mechanician Carl Mensel was pinned under the car and fatally injured.

Al Poole- Mechanician for Joe Tracy in the 1904, 1905 and 1906 Vanderbilt Cups and the 1905 and 1906 American Elimination Trials




Al Poole, the mechanician for driver Joe Tracy, participated in five Vanderbilt Cup Race related races. Poole and Tracy won the 1906 American Elimination Race in a Locomobile

William Luttgen- Mechanician for Foxhall Keene in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup Race


While driving hard on the Albertson "S" Curve at I.U.Willets Road and Willis Avenue, the race would end for driver Foxhall Keene and his mechanican William Luttgen on lap 6. As their Mercedes skidded around the curve, the left wheel clipped a telphone pole and pitched Luttgen under the car. Miraculously, he was not injured..


The accident and the legs of William Luttgen made the front page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, overshadowing the victory by Victor Hemery in the French Darracq.

Eddie Rickenbacker- Mechanician in the 1906 American Elimination Race


Prior to becoming America’s World War I “Ace of Aces”, an aviation industry pioneer, and owner of the Indianapolis Speedway, Eddie was a mechanician and one of the leading drivers in the country. For the 1906 American Elimination Race for the Vanderbilt Cup Race, driver/designer Lee Frayer selected 16-year old Rickenbacker to be his mechanician for a Frayer-Miller car. Unfortunately, their ride lasted only one lap before a piston froze and their car was out of the race.

Franville- Mechanician in the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup Race


One of the stirring moments that built the legend of the Vanderbilt Cup Race occurred at the Hairpin Turn during the 1906 race. A spare tire and rim strapped to the back of the French #18 Lorraine-Dietrich broke loose and began to thrash the gas tank. Riding mechanician Franville clutched the heavy mounted tire and lost his balance. Just as the car skidded through the turn, the driver Arthur Duray handled the tight corner with one hand on the wheel while rescuing his assistant with his left arm.

Glenn Ethridge- Mechanician in the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race


In a classic Vanderbilt Cup Race moment, mechanician Glenn Ethridge and driver George Robertson in the #16 Locomobile stormed through the Westbury Turn on their way to winning the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race.

Frank Lee- Winner of the 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Races



Harry Grant and mechanician Frank Lee in the Alco "Black Beast" are seen taking the Westbury Turn at Old Country Road during the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race. Note the fuel pump in Lee's left hand. Lee and Grant teamed up to win both the 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Races.

Links to related posts on

Archives: Drivers and Mechanicians

The Dangerous Role of the Mechanician

Fatalities Associated with the Vanderbilt Cup Races (1904-1910)

Index: Archives on


Aug 27 2011 Jim Elferdink 10:59 PM

And let’s not forget to mention Carl Mensel, George Arents’ mechanician in the 1904 race.

Aug 28 2011 rich 8:22 AM

much apprieciated tribute howard.

Aug 29 2011 Robert Luttgen 4:01 PM

One of my favorite photo’s is that of William Luttgen in the 1905 race where his was a riding mechanic on Foxhall Keene’s #5 Mercedes.  He was pinned under the Mercedes after it hit a telephone pole, and the resulting photo made the front page of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  As you mentioned in a previous post, that photo of Keene looking down at my Grandfather’s legs sticking out from under his car sort of upstaged the story about the actual winner of the race.

Thanks again Howard for all your work preserving this part of our history.

Aug 29 2011 Dianne Watkins 10:02 PM

Has anyone come across the name of my Grandfather, Andrew C. Balfour, Sr. who was hired by the Whitney’s and Vanderbilts out of New Orleans to be their chauffeur and mechanic in Oyster Bay.  I have a photo of my Grandfather sitting in car 11 of the Vanderbilt Cup Race of 1910.  He knew Theodore Roosevelt, and often had long conversations with him.  Mrs. Edith Roosevelt made my mother’s christening gown…

Aug 30 2011 Howard Kroplick 7:57 PM

Jim and Robert:

I have added Carl Mensel and William Luttgen to the post. Thanks for the suggestions!


I don’t have any information on your grandfather in my collection. Sorry!



Sep 09 2011 Howard Kroplick 10:19 PM

Hi Dianne:

I will keep on searching for information on Andrew Balfour, Sr.


Feb 19 2012 Dianne 8:51 AM

Will you post the copies of the photos that I have in case there is someone in your networks who knows of him? Thank you.

Feb 19 2012 Howard Kroplick 11:28 AM

Sure, send the jpegs to me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jun 18 2015 Simon Stringer 8:08 PM

Hi Howard,
Was this the only race in New York/long Island 1906?
Family stories of my partner say her great grandfather traveled to America from England to work on early petrol cars, he died, as the story has it, while trialing a vehicle at ” the hill” near New York. His name was Thomas Wardle. Would this have been possible?
From Howard Kroplick

I believe there were many races on Long Island and New York in 1906 including hill climbs.

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