Jun 01 2016

VanderbiltCupRaces.com Exclusive-The Helck Family Memoirs #2: Joe Tracy and the Cotter Pin in 1906

Jerry Helck, former owner of the Old 16 Locomobile and son of the great artist Peter Helck,  has agreed to share family memoirs related to the Vanderbilt Cup Races. The second post in the series provides the story of how driver Joe Tracy and mechanician Al Poole prepared the #12 Locomobile for the 1906 American Elimination Trial.
Howard Kroplick

Jerry Helck: I should tell you more often how much I appreciate receiving your weekly VCR blog and, as a member of a (presumably) small group of race fans who have actually witnessed two Vanderbilt Cup Races, I feel that I ought to contribute from time-to-time. Today I have something to share about Joe Tracy that I think will interest you and your readers, if you choose to publish it. This is from a letter from Al Poole to my father, dated March 19, 1959 (begun the day before Joe died). A.L.Riker, as you probably know, was Chief Engineer at Locomobile, and basically responsible for their racing program.

Al Poole: I recall an occasion, it was in1906, just after the elimination trial & before the race some work had been done on the car involving removal     of the front wheels.  Work had been done during the night by Trolin & Petersen (fine mechanics from Bridgeport) supervised by Riker."  When Joe and I showed up at 5 am for practice there she was ready to go, out in front of the shed which was our repair shop, clean & polished.

 Joe Tracy: "Please remove the front hubcaps"
  A. L. Riker: "What for Joe?"
  Joe Tracy: "I want to see if the cotter pins are there"
  A.L. Riker: "Of course they are, Joe"
  Joe Tracy "I want to see them - please take off the hubcaps"
   A.L. Riker: "But I told you Joe, I saw them put in myself"
  Joe Tracy: "Take off the hubcaps"

At this point it was embarrassing, especially at dawn and not too warm. Petersen had the spanner but could not put it to use.
Al Poole: "If Mr Riker says there in Joe, lets go"
Joe Tracy:"You stay out of this. Take off the hubcaps"
 A.L. Riker: "But I tell you ______ & really mad !
    The caps came off, the pins were there.

 I said to Joe as he dropped into 2nd: "Why in Hell didn't you wait until we got around the corner and I'd have taken them off to see the pins"
 Joe said: "It's our necks and I don't want them to say after it happens, we were SURE the cotter pins were in".

Jerry Helck: Well, that was 1906, so it was 35 years later that I became Joe's apprentice on his visits to Boston Corners to supervise maintenance of Old 16. Either he'd  mellowed significantly, or I was too appreciative of his mentoring to ever question his authority. He was a Founding Member of SAE and was largely responsible for my career choice of Mechanical Engineering.

Howard Kroplick: In this photo from the 1946 Automotive Golden Jubilee in Mineola In the above 1946 Jubiliee photo from the Helck Family Collection, Joe Tracy can be seen behind the wheel of "Old 16", the great artist and "Old 16" owner Peter Helck is on the far left and Peter's son Jerry Helck, the mechanician for the race, is on the far right.

Jerry Helck: As you may know, Joe is buried at Brentwood Cemetery in Brentwood, NY. His gravestone, features what appears to be the 1906 Locomobile racer (and the Cup which eluded him) plus this tribute: RACE DRIVER AND ENGINEER, WOODSMAN AND GOOD FRIEND.

In June 1946, the Veteran Motor Car Club of America sponsored its 50th Anniversary Jubilee featuring a parade of 75 vintage cars and nine races at the Mineola Fairgrounds on Long Island. Courtesy of Walter McCarthy and the Long Island Old Car Club, the highlights of the Jubilee have been captured in this 4-minute film.
The most famous car in the Jubilee was the Old 16 Locomobile, winner of the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race. The racer was owned by the prominent artist Peter Helck, driven by 74-year old veteran Joe Tracy with 15-year old Jerry Helck as his mechanician. The final Jubilee race was won by Old 16 beating a 1911 "Breese of Paris" Racer driven by Bobby Breese by only six inches. This was likely the last race in which Old 16 was driven by Joe Tracy. Old 16 continued to participate in vintage races well into the early 1990s, including the VSCCA Fairmount Park (Philadelphia) Vintage Race


Jun 05 2016 S. Berliner, III 9:39 AM

Wow - that film is an eyeball-buster!  All I could identify in any way, besides 16, was a white ca. 1927 S or 28-30 SS Mercedes (Addams’, before he repainted it?) and a Ford (?) woodie convertible at 1:12-1:14.  What may have been a huge Renault tourer, a curved-dash Olds or similar REO, and possibly a Duesie flashed by in a blur.  Loved it, natheless; thanks, Walter and Howard!  Sam, III

Jun 05 2016 Roger Price 1:07 PM

Wow, what an incredible piece of history!!!  Thanks Howard for including it in this piece.

Jun 05 2016 L.M.K. 3:32 PM

Enjoyed this…..

Feb 03 2018 Brian D McCarthy 3:21 PM

I would’ve never occurred to me that Joe Tracy is resting in peace within The Brentwood Cemetery, NY. I grew up in Brentwood. Would The Helck family know if Brentwood was eventually Joe Tracy’s hometown after emigrating to the USA?
Howard Kroplick

Tracy did not live in Brentwood. His friend had a plot at the Brentwood Cemetery.

Feb 04 2018 Brian D McCarthy 1:48 PM

Thanks Howard. I’ll do a walkthrough there for my own curiousity soon.

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