Did Altamont beat the Indy 500?

The Black Beast, made by the  American Locomotive Company, won the Vanderbilt Cup in 1909 and ’10 and then ran in the first Indy 500 in 1911, finishing 33rd. “The car has been restored, and runs from time to time in public exhibitions, but I like this shot, as it clearly shows what it must have looked like to spectators as it sped along the roads of Long Island at 75mph plus,” says Paul Malecki.

To the Editor:

Local lore has it that the first automobile race at the Altamont fairgrounds was held in 1910. If true, that was a year before the first Indianapolis 500.

There had to be local interest in an automobile race in 1910, as the famous Alco “Black Beast,” built by the Schenectady locomotive works’ Rhode Island subsidiary, had won the 1909 Vanderbuilt Cup, and was already entered in the 1910 Cup race.

The Aug. 2, 1910 edition of The Altamont Enterprise carried an ad for the “County Fair” to be held Tuesday, Aug. 16, through Friday, Aug. 19. Among the attractions were “First class Harness Racing” and a “Five-mile Automobile race.”

The Schenectady Gazette for Aug. 17 noted that “a feature Thursday afternoon [the 18th] will be the five mile automobile race.” Surely, if the race were actually run, one would expect that this novel event would have been noted in newspaper accounts.

And, while The Enterprise of Aug. 26 noted with enthusiasm that more than 4,000 poultry birds were exhibited at the fair, and the two days of harness racing provided thrilling contests, there was no mention of an automobile race.

The Schenectady Gazette for Friday morning, Aug. 19, 1910, notes only that the day is the last fair day; nothing about an automobile race the previous day. The Gazette for Aug. 20 says nothing about the fair. The Schenectady Daily Union for the same week mentions only exhibits.

It is curious that while both papers reported on all kinds of automobile happenings — near and far — there is no report of what should have been a momentous event in their own backyard.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence in the newspapers that the advertised automobile race took place. We know that there were rain showers at the track late Thursday, so the event may have been cancelled so as not to churn up the horseracing surface.

Or perhaps the organizers could not get two or more cars to commit to a race. The Fair Board minutes never mention it.

But is there a diary, a postcard, or a “Brownie” photograph that would indicate that the race did take place?

If some local resident knows of such proof, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by postal mail at 501 West Lawrence, Albany, NY  12208, or by email at .

If  no such evidence can be found, we can only conclude that, contrary to tradition, there was no automobile race at the Altamont fairgrounds in 1910. But, even if the race is nothing more than folklore, the fairgrounds have a proud history of hosting some of the country’s most famous race-car drivers during a golden era from 1926 through 1955 — an era when “Big Cars” came to a small town.

Paul Malecki


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