Racing in New York State

Ongoing: Wayne & Debra Freihofer Gallery - 2nd Floor

The history of automobile racing in New York State goes back to 1896 when six cars competed in the state’s first auto race. The race covered the distance from New York City to Irvington-on-Hudson and back, averaging 10 miles per hour. Around the turn of the 20th century, New York served as one of the most popular starting or finishing points for cross-country endurance runs. Several of these were won by New York State cars, like the 1908 New York to Paris race, won by the Thomas Flyer built in Buffalo. Another major racing event during the early 20th century was the Vanderbilt Cup.


The Vanderbilt Cup

In 1904, auto enthusiast and shipping mogul William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. organized an auto race on the public roads of Long Island. The prize, a massive silver cup from the Tiffany studio, attracted high-powered racers from Mercedes, Packard and Fiat. These cars tore along the country roads at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. Hundreds of spectators clamored for a glimpse of the racers, usually standing only inches away from the road. In 1906, several spectators were killed when a driver lost control of his car. Quick to respond, Vanderbilt commissioned a new 45-mile private highway for the race. While cup races resumed in 1908, another accident killed more spectators in 1910, causing the organizers to abandon the Long Island course for good. The Vanderbilt Cup returned in 1936 and 1937 at the newly constructed Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, Long Island. The 1937 race is one of the greatest races in the state’s history, featuring the only pre-WWII appearance of the German racing team in the US. Ralph DePalma, the legendary driver, served as the honorary starter for the race. Interestingly enough, the actual starting signal came from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Hyde Park, NY home via Western Union Telegram.


Race Tracks in New York State


Please note: Some cars in the Museum may be removed from exhibit without notice, please call if you are coming to see a specific automobile/motorcycle.