The Greatest Race – 1908 New York to Paris Page Two
On February 12, 1908, all six cars lined up in Times Square. At 11:15 a.m., a shot from a gold-plated pistol started the race witnessed by more than 250,000 spectators. The cars proceeded north, but before reaching Albany, the Sizaire-Naudin, which had competed in the 1907 Targa Florio, broke its rear axle and dropped out near Peekskill, New York, leaving five. Because of a blizzard, it took eight days to reach Chicago. Proceeding west on what is now the route of the Lincoln Highway, they were supposed to reach Cheyenne, Wyoming, no later than March 6. Only the Thomas Flyer made it on time. On some stretches where there were no roads, the cars drove on railroad tracks. The rules forbid using the rails themselves, so they bumped along on the ties with special tires.
The Thomas flew across the continent reaching San Francisco on March 24 having taken 41 days, 8 hours and 15 minutes. It was the first time a car had crossed the U.S. in the winter. (The summer record then was 15 days, 2 hours and 15 minutes set by a Franklin.) The Motobloc broke down in Carroll, Iowa. The rest of the pack was still either in Utah or Wyoming. During the trip, Montague Roberts had had to drop out due to a legal problem, so eventually George Schuster took over.
In Utah, the Protos had engine problems and on-the-spot repairs proved not possible. Lt. Koeppen asked the committee if he could ship the car to Seattle. Without an official ruling, he took the car on the train. In so doing, the Protos skipped 1,000 miles of difficult terrain. This would become an important factor in deciding the winner. When the Protos arrived in Seattle, Koeppen explained that the Protos had to be sent to Vladivostok where a new engine could be installed. The Protos as well as the DeDion were shipped directly to Vladivostok. The rules committee assessed a 15-day penalty on each and placed another 15-day penalty on the Protos for missing the 1,000 miles in the U.S.
From Seattle, they were supposed to drive north to Nome, Alaska. The going proved impossible, however, as there were no roads. Remember, the Alcan Highway wasn’t completed until 1942. Even today, it’s not paved all the way. So they were taken by ship to Valdez, Alaska, and from there, on to Japan where they drove across, the first time a car had done so. The DeDion was withdrawn from the competition during the crossing.