Nov 23 2015

Mystery Foto #47 Solved: The Two National Racers Entered in the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race

The weekend has passed, so it is time to reveal answers to the Mystery Friday Foto!

Mystery Foto questions:

  • Identify the race cars.

The #10 National and #11 National. The National Motor Vehicle Company manufactured automobiles from 1900 to 1924 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

  • In which Vanderbilt Cup Race did these racers participate?

The 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race.

  • Identify the drivers

Johnny Aitkin drove the #10 National with H.S. Wilcox as his mechanician. The racer finished 12th, losing a wheel during lap 5.

Charles Merz drove the #11 National with John Herr as his mechanician. The racer finished 7th breaking a cylinder during lap 13.

  • Bonus question: Where was this photo likely taken? Provide a rationale.

Although the location is not noted on the photo,  based on the thousands of Vanderbilt Cup Races that I have seen, the background does not appear to be Long Island. Moreover, the headlights indicate the two racers were practicing prior to the race. Accordingly, my best guess is the photo's location was near National's headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Congrats to Ted, Chuck Rudy, Randy Reed, Ariejan Bos and Greg O. for identifying the two Nationals racers. Kudos to the amazing  Ariejan Bos for identifying the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup driver Aitken and Merz.


Howard Kroplick


#10 National

Johnny Aitken was a fine racing driver who was a victim of the strain of influenza that killed so many in 1918, while serving his country in World War 1. His widow, Bessie, went on to live until the age of 102! Fluent in French, he helped Jules Goux to success before World War I. Aitken started a total of 41 races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most of any driver in the track's history.

#11 National

Charles Merz was an early star, especially on road courses. He later became Chief Steward of the Indy 500.


Nov 20 2015 Ted 12:52 AM

I think I do remember these cars.Now to remember when and where.

Nov 21 2015 Ted 2:21 PM

These race are. National. If I only knew the #s of the cars I would do better. I do know something though, the National #8 won the second Indy 500 driven by Joe Dawson in 1912 and these cars raced in 1909,10 and 12

Nov 21 2015 Chuck Rudy 9:20 PM

Well…...I’ll probably make myself look bad, but…...I will guess…...the two cars are National 40’s…...(now this could all be a trick for guys like me but…...) I will guess the drivers are Aiken and Merz as the further away driver does not look like Disbrow.

Both drove in the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup race.  I am guessing this because I seem to recall some later racing Nationals were a dark blue and few later were white.  The dark blue seemed to be the Speedway cars and west coast cars so far as I can recall.

As far as where this is….I’ve no clue, but with headlights on, spares on board it would suggest a point to point race rather than a 24 hour grinder as I’m not sure the added weight with close pit proximity was used on grinders, but I could be wrong.

I know little of NY longer point to point races needing headlamps, but I’ll yield to leave it for others and am looking forward to hearing the locale.

Nov 22 2015 Randy Reed 1:40 PM

National race cars driven by Aitken (#10 finished 3rd) and Disbrow (#31 finished 4th) at Long Island in October 1910. The cars are probably just arriving at their race headquarters because they still have their headlights installed.

Nov 23 2015 Ariejan Bos 5:00 PM

This the National team for the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup race. Driver in the car in front is John Aitken, driver of the other car Charles Merz. Aitken would drive with number 10, Merz with number 11. Aitken lost a wheel after the 4th round and ended up on 12th place, Merz had engine problems and finished on 7th place. I have no clue for the location of the photo.

Nov 23 2015 Greg O. 5:57 PM

Another weekend for me without research time!
I’m going with an educated guess on this one and say these are 2 Nationals from the 1910 VCR driven by Johnny Aiken and Al Livingston.

Nov 23 2015 Greg O. 6:00 PM

I also see Louis Disbrow was one of the possible National drivers as well…

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