Dec 20 2016

Helck Family Collection: The Story Behind Peter Helck’s Artwork for this Vanderbilt Cup Race Poster

The poster artwork for the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race was created by artist Peter Helck. This rolled-up, untouched poster measuring 40 inches by 28 inches  and printed on high-quality paper was discovered in Peter Helck's archives.

The story of this poster was described by Peter Helck in the July 1, 1982 issue of Bulb Horn.


Howard Kroplick

The 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race Poster and Old 16

By Peter Helck

With the near completion of the fabulous Roosevelt Raceway in the late summer of 1936, George Robertson’s dream of a revival of Vanderbilt racing on the Long Island soil of its inception was assured. Having been thrilled by all of the advance publicity for this extravagant project, and having seen its Vice President and General Manager win the Vanderbilt in 1908, I was anxious to offer my services for posters, programs, and things relating.

 Though I’d never met this boyhood hero, we had corresponded. Anyway, I was cordially received at his office during which brief meeting his interest in my quest was sidetracked. He had not been aware that his 1908 Cup winner was still in existence! I supplied him with all the relevant information. This he jotted down on a memo pad.

As for my work, he suggested I see Steve Hannagan, press agent for the Raceway Corporation and for its Vanderbilt Revival in October. Hannagan wasn’t seeing artists. But a staff member offered the name of a small ad agency that was handling the program. Head man there was Anthony de Bellis. He knew my work. I agreed to do a full color sketch for a potential poster and a couple of small black and whites for the program. The program cover (seen here) had already been commissioned.

My poster sketch was approved. But as there was some indecision as to the full distance of the revived race-300 or 400-miles- I was instructed to proceed with the illustration. The lettering would be added when the uncertainties were settled. In any poster of merit, the lettering is an integral part of the design. Whoever at the last moment added the lettering or printed matter certainly had no such respect for coordinated design.

Howard Kroplick note: Although the German flag with a swastika (adopted as the sole national flag on September 15, 1935) was illustrated on the poster, no German race cars participated in the 1936 race despite Roberton's efforts to recruit Mercedes and Auto Union teams.

 More important than all this was Robertson’s use of his memo pad. Mr. Joseph Sessions of Bristol, Connecticut, owner of the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup winner, graciously loaned it to Robertson for an exhibition lap just prior to the start of the Revival. This delightful prelude linked Cup’s Racing’s past with that of the present. On finishing the tricky 4-mile lap that comprised a conglomerate of curves and esses (known as Robertson’s Pretzel), Big George, plainly fatigued, had cause to wonder how he had managed to manhandle the old 16-litre Loco for 250 miles twenty-eight years before. That his Raceway circuit was indeed tricky is best told by the Revival winner, Nuvolari, whose 65 mph pace was only one-half mph faster than Robertson’s win in 1908.


Dec 21 2016 frank femenias 7:03 AM

Robertson’s pretzel indeed. Just one lap on the new layout with the old machine would’ve been enough for anyone. I often wonder how any driver could sustain and finish the grueling course, 400 miles of it no less. The prizes were well deserved. The avg speed of the racers must’ve been slower compared to the earlier, staiter layouts, regardless of ‘modern’ improvements to the auto. Much fish-tailin’ goin’ on ‘round ‘36.

Dec 25 2016 Ronald Sieber 11:52 AM

Great artwork!

Thanks for sharing. We need to see more of these classic posters from yesteryear.

Success in 2017,

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