The 1906 Kite Run in Southern California was the greatest endurance car race in the United States – San Bernardino Sun
In the summer of 1906, Southern Californians eagerly awaited the “Run Around the Kite”, a motor endurance event billed as “the greatest in the history of the automotive world”.
The event would take place on June 29 and 30 and the promoters were boasting that more than 200 cars would take part in the 160 mile challenge.
Automobiles were still new in the early 1900s, and manufacturers, dealers and owners were eager to test their machines and prove their worth in endurance tests or “races.”
Early endurance races were often social events, where the driver / owner would take his wife, family and friends for adventure. Automobiles quickly improved and friendly races evolved into competition, pitting machines and drivers against each other.
The race around the kite was unique because the course would pass through towns in the region, giving residents the opportunity to witness a major motor competition on the city streets and rural roads.
The route followed the Santa Fe Railroad’s “kite-shaped track”, a 160-mile track that formed a giant eight across southern California. The larger loop of the eight was in the west, starting in Los Angeles, and the smaller loop circled the San Bernardino Valley. Santa Fe has used the route as a tourist excursion to promote real estate sales and growth in the area.
Los Angeles car dealership Leon T. Shettler, who designed the “Kite Run” as it was called, became the main promoter and coordinator of the event. The event was sponsored by the Los Angeles Automobile Dealers Association
Shettler became a local folk hero for performing a series of successful, and sometimes wacky, endurance tests and competitions using his dealership’s cars. One of his tests involved driving a Reo light passenger car up the steps of the Los Angeles courthouse to demonstrate his climbing ability.
Course officials prepared the route with special attention to minimizing problems with sandy roads and “dreaded river fords” in the Santa Ana River Canyon, west of Corona. At one of the worst fords, a culvert was installed and the road surface was covered with gravel.
Two hundred and fifty officials were recruited to man checkpoints, carry out inspections, provide fuel and generally manage the participants. Since gas stations were still a thing of the future, event officials had to get 2,500 gallons of gasoline for delivery to Riverside, the only place attendees were allowed to refuel.
When the day of the competition arrived, the promoters were only able to muster 110 participants, which was still considered a huge number of automobiles for such an event.
Endurance events often had a complex set of rules which, if not followed, would result in the loss of points – the Kite Run was no exception.
Each car started the event with 1,000 points, a full tank of gasoline and a full supply of oil and water. The vehicles were weighed so that the exact fuel consumption could be measured at the end. Repairs or adjustments of any kind cost points and wasted time.
The race would start at Eighth and Broadway in Los Angeles at 6:55 a.m., with individual cars released 2 minutes apart. The speed limit was 10 mph in cities, and no more than 20 mph on rural roads. Participants were split into two divisions, with Division 1 stopping for an hour-long lunch in Redlands and Division 2 stopping for an hour-long lunch in Pomona.
In some parts of the course, entire towns have lined up on the course to encourage participants. Locals also helped the drivers with directions along the route.
Both divisions would stop at Riverside for the night, and participants would place their vehicles in a guarded automobile “corral” so that no unregistered repairs or adjustments could be made.
Participants and officials would be accommodated at the Mission Inn and other nearby Riverside hotels.
Shettler’s Reo was the first automobile to leave Los Angeles and the first to arrive at the Riverside checkpoint just after noon. However, he was penalized 24 points for failing to stop at Redlands for the mandatory lunch break.
Then there was RC Hamlin’s Franklin automobile, containing Mr. and Mrs. Hamlin, and Mr. and Mrs. William G. Dandy. The third car to arrive arrived without any point deduction and with a perfect score. It was CS Anthony’s Elmore 1905, which carried Mr. and Mrs. Anthony, their two children and an observer.
The Mission Inn booked the entire hotel for the event and provided extravagant decorations and an extraordinary dinner for the guests. At 10 p.m., a fireworks display was set off on Mount Rubidoux in Riverside.
On Sunday morning, participants collected their cars from the corral and prepared to leave – with the first vehicle leaving at 7 a.m.
Most of the vehicles passed through the Santa Ana River Canyon with minimal trouble, but a few cars had to be dislodged from the soft sand. Leon Shettler broke an axle on his Reo near Santa Ana, and was unable to complete the course.
Miss B. Arnold of Long Beach was the only woman to drive the entire route. She drove a 35 horsepower Tourist automobile. She lost a few points on day one with a friction clutch but got a perfect score on day two.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, each automobile underwent a full inspection, including running on an open muffler so that judges could determine if the machine was firing on all cylinders. The remaining gasoline was measured and the cars were weighed to calculate efficiency. With 41 vehicles scoring perfect, fuel consumption and mechanical condition ultimately determined the winners in all 6 categories.
The kite race was a huge success that promoted the viability of the automobile and attracted the national attention of motorists in Southern California. Only a handful of automobiles failed to complete the full course, and the event was considered a triumph.
Mark Landis is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]