On that wintry Manhattan day in 1908, a total of seventeen men – drivers, mechanics and journalists – crowded into the six starting cars. Each with his own story.The Greatest Auto Race on Earth will focus primarily on the teams that traveled furthest and the personalities that got them there.
Antonio Scarfoglio, Captain, Italian Zust
A 21-year-old Italian, Scarfoglio was the youngest racer in the Great Auto Race of 1908. His father, a prominent writer and newspaper editor in Naples, objected to his son entering the car race. So Scarfoglio countered with a plan to drive a motorboat across the Atlantic Ocean. The son won and arrived at the starting line – an instant hero to New York’s six hundred thousand Italian immigrants.
G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray Driver, French De Dion
An aristocratic 36-year-old Frenchman drove the de Dion. St. Chaffray dubbed himself Commissionaire General of the race, claiming responsibility for charting the race route – a claim that was heavily disputed. St. Chaffray specialized in organizing impossible events, including a motorboat race from Marseille to Algiers that resulted in every single boat sinking in the Mediterranean Sea. He would do almost anything to win the Great race – including buying up all the petrol in Vladivostock.
Lt. Hans von Koeppen Captain, German Protos
At the age of 31, von Koeppen was granted a leave of absence from the 15th Prussian Infantry to drive the great new York to Paris race in the German Protos. He’d never been to Siberia but figured he knew what to expect as he’d read every book imaginable on the topic. Driving a car? Well he admitted to knowing nothing about driving but expected to learn by watching his teammates: army engineer Hans Knape and motorcyclist Ernest Maas. Koeppen was the only original team member to wheel into Paris.
George Schuster Mechanic/Driver, American Thomas Flyer
An employee of the Thomas Automobile Factory in Buffalo, Schuster was appointed as mechanic for America’s entry, the Thomas Flyer. Unlike all the other contestants who actively lobbied to participate, Schuster was simply doing his job. He had been working with automobiles since the turn of the century and worked his way up to chief road tester with the Thomas firm, who doubled his salary to fifty dollars a week for the span of the race. But Schuster also understood that his job on the race was to win! In San Francisco he took over as driver of the Thomas Flyer, and finished the race in first place for his boss, E.R. Thomas – and America.
Skipper Williams and George MacAdam
Followed closely by the entire world, the Great Race was front page news. Someone needed to dispatch stories to the event’s sponsors Le Matin and The New York Times, and to the rest of the world. Reporters for the Times, Williams and MacAdam were assigned to ride in the Thomas Flyer. Williams covered the race across America and MacAdam took over in Seattle. Their stories were the only link most people had to the Great Race of 1908.