February 12 marked 100 years since the launch of the longest and perhaps craziest auto race ever – around the world from New York to Paris. Six cars (seven more never showed up) departed Times Square, at times following the future Lincoln Highway to San Francisco. The American entry, a 1907 4-cylinder Thomas Flyer roadster, would win, driven most of the way by George Schuster, who would later write about his adventures in The Longest Auto Race. The 1965 comedy The Great Race (Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtiss, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk), loosely based on the race, barely touched on the hardships faced by the real racers.
The 1908 race has been honored with a 14-month exhibit at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada, a few blocks off the Lincoln Highway. Through next January, visitors can see the 1,400-pound trophy, the American flag carried the whole way, and most impressively, the restored Thomas Flyer (seen above, in a photo courtesy the museum). Then starting May 30, up to 40 teams will again depart New York City for Paris, covering 22,000 miles, though only half of that driven. A summary of the race and exhibit can be found in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Another group is rebuilding a 1908 White and plans to retrace the route and pffering educational programs, but their hopes to launch the February 12 have been delayed.
Schuster never did get paid the $10,000 (he thought was proper for a half-year’s work) by the Thomas company – they said the race had cost them too much already. And The New York Times delayed paying him the $1,000 prize for 60 years. Schuster, then 95, was appreciative but noted that a grand was not worth nearly as much in 1968 as in 1908.