Oct 28 2013

Mystery Foto #39 Solved: The Alco Racer Practicing at the Indy 500 Track

Hugh Nutting submitted this week's Mystery Foto, a previously unpublished photo of a race car.

Answers to the Mystery Foto questions:


-Identify the racer:

The Alco Black Beast Racer


-Identify the driver and mechanician

Harry Grant and Frank Lee


-Identify the track. What features helped you to identify the track?

The Indianapolis Speedway. Identified by the brick track and the distinctive grandstands.


-What  month and year was this photograph taken?

Unknown, but possibly September 1910 practicing on the Indy 500 track prior to the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race. See Greg Oreiro's comment below.


Congrats to Greg Oriero, Steve Lucas and Ariegan Bos for identifying the Alco Black Beast at the Indy track. Special kudos to Greg for raising a possible reason why the Alco has the #18 on its hood at the Indy track. 

If you have a suggested Mystery Foto, please send a jpeg to [email protected] .


Howard Kroplick

Harry Grant and Frank Lee in front of the Indy 500 grandstands.

Cars lined up for the parade lap of the 1911 Indy 500. Note the grandstands matches the above photo.

The bricks of the Indy 500 track.

Another mystery: Why was a faded #5 on the front of the Alco? Did the Alco race as #5 in an unrecorded race before or after the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race?


This is a link to the known racing record of the Alco Black Beast. Note prior to the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race, the Alco raced in Indiana for the Elgin National Trophy Race on August 27, 1910.

Indianapolis Speedway Races, September 3 and 5, 1910

Following the Elgin race, a series of races were held at the nearby Indianapolis Speedway. As seen  in the race results published in the Automobile Topics, the Alco did not compete in either the September 3rd or 5th events.

However, as suggested by Ariejan Bos, it may be possible that the Alco practiced on the Indy track prior to the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race to be held on Long Island on October 1, 1910.

After resporting the September 1910 results, Automobile Topics published this article annoucing the race that would become the first Indy 500.

To add to the confusion, this is official Alco photo published for the 1911 Indy 500 race. Note the number 18 on the hood matches the Mystery Foto. Is it possible that this photo was taken in September 1910 at the Indy track before running as #18 at the Vanderbilt Cup Race.

1910 American Grand Prize, November 12, 1910, Savannah, Georgia

As commented below by Greg Oreiro,the Black Beast's  first race after the 1910 Vanderbilt Race (October 1, 1910) and before the 1911 Indy 500 (May 30, 1911) was the 1911 American Grand Prize held on November 12, 1910.

The Alco raced as #7 and finished 12th in a field of 15. Leaving the race after 11 laps due to gear failure.

Entrants in the 1910 American Grand Prize.

The race was won by American David Bruce-Brown in the #15 Benz.

The #19 Alco at the 1911 Indy 500, May 30, 1911, Indianapolis, Indiana

Trade journals published this photo of the #19 Alco on race day during the parade lap.

My Film: "The First Indy 500 Race" (21,603 views!)

This is the only known film of the Alco during a race.

The Alco “Black Beast” in the Inaugural Indy 500 Race

Centennial celebration of the 1911 Indy 500 Race, May 29, 2011

Exclusive Video: Emerson Fittipaldi Driving the Alco Black Beast During the 2011 Indy 500 Parade Lap



Oct 26 2013 Steve Lucas 5:12 PM

Unless I’m way off base, it sure looks like Harry Grant along with mechanician Frank Lee driving the Alco Black Beast during a test run prior to the first Indy 500 in May, 1911. The brick roadway helped with the track ID.

Oct 26 2013 Greg Oreiro 7:04 PM

-Identify the racer
1909 Alco-6 ‘BLACK BEAST’

-Identify the driver and mechanician
Harry Grant & Frank Lee

-Identify the track. What features helped you to identify the track?
Indianapolis Motor Speedway- Gotta be the bricks! Of course the grandstands help with an ID too.

-What month and year was this photograph taken?
Purely a guess, but maybe in September, 1910

Oct 27 2013 Hugh Nutting 12:52 AM

Harry could use some new Non-Skid tread tires.  Interesting shocks originally used.

Oct 27 2013 Ted 10:48 PM

All I can get out of this is that It’s #18 and looks like Hempstead Plains by the way the grandstand looks. The race I think was in 1910 on Oct 1. As for the driver and mechanician,this I"m not sure of either Grant and Lee and I also think they won the race. I might of mixed it up with another race. Probably batting O aren’t I?

Oct 28 2013 Howard Kroplick 11:46 AM

From Ariejan Bos:

It is obvious an Alco at Indianapolis (recognizable by the bricks and the grandstands). Probably we see the Alco before the Inaugural 500 Mile Indianapolis race, held in May 1911. The driver is of course Harry Grant. The mechanician is Frank H. Lee, who joined him in both Vanderbilt Cup races of 1909 and 1910. During the Elgin National Trophy in August 1911, Lee would drive an Alco himself, and Geo Babcock would join Grant (in his last race for Alco) as mechanician. The number 18 apparently is a remnant of the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup race, because the Alco wore number 19 during the Indy race.

The curious thing is that there is an official photo from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway circulating with the Alco wearing number 18 . This photo shows a kind of starting line up, is clearly shot at Indy (the bricks!), but it cannot be the main event because of the number18 (Eddy Hearne on Benz had this number)!?

Oct 28 2013 Greg Oreiro 9:35 PM

I’m a little confused over something…
My guess for the date was based on the ALCO racing first in the Cobe Trophy Race, Indianapolis, Indiana, July 4, 1910, as car #27, and then as car #6 Elgin National Trophy Race, Elgin Road Race Course, Indiana, August 27, 1910.
I incorrectly thought that maybe they were still in Indianapolis in September to practice for the upcoming Vanderbilt Cup Race on October 1,1910 (with the number 18 on the car in preparation for the race)...

I noticed that faded 5 on the radiator also, and it threw me off a bit at first. (Maybe it could have been a radiator from another race car?) But that photo’s caption asks; “Did the Alco race bewteen October 1910 and May 1911?” and there’s where my confusion is, I didn’t assume the photo was practice for the 1911 Indy 500 because according to the Beast’s bio page on VCR, the ALCO raced as car #7 in the American Grand Prize, in Savannah, Georgia, on November 12, 1910. Wouldn’t the ‘remnant’ number left on the car from the previous race be a 7 and not the 18?

Oct 28 2013 Ted 9:45 PM

I didn’t know about the brick and never payed attention to the grandstands at Indy. I also should have realized that it didn’t look like a race

Oct 28 2013 Greg Oreiro 9:53 PM

Further looking at the photos of the car from 1910 VCR and Indy…Are the car numbers removable panels between the hood straps and not the car itself? That would explain my confusion. It would have been easy to remove the protective radiator grill and quickly swap numbers on the hood while at Indy for photo ops.

Oct 28 2013 Ted 10:16 PM

Hay Greg we both got thrown off on that one didn’tt we? We almost had it

Oct 28 2013 Howard Kroplick 10:49 PM

Greg, I am impressed. You have raised some great points. I have revised the post above based on your comments.

Logically, it makes sense that the Alco Black Beast may have been practicing for the Vanderbilt Cup Race on the Indy track in September 1910. It raced in Elgin, Indiana on August 27, 1910 (as #6). It also does not make sense that the racer would have the #18 on its hood in May 1911 since its prior race on November 12, 1910 it ran as #7.

My best guess is the official Alco photo used for the 1911 Indy 500 Race may have been taken while the car was practicing in September 1910. Accordingly, I now agree with your original answers to the Mystery Foto! Kudos!!!

Oct 29 2013 Ted 11:33 AM

I’m never on the computer this early in the day,but I had to this time,there’s just too much here and so informative. You and Greg didn’t give up on this one and certainly found alot that you didn’t know about. If there’s something to be found you always pull thru and find it and let us all know about it. The stuff you find is unbelievable. Now while I’m on here to change the subject is the presentation tonite at the Shelter Rock Library 165 Searingtown Road in Albertson? because it says Holbrook at the top. I’ll be back on about 4pm or give me a call and leave a message. Thanks alot Howard,I would really appreciate it

Oct 29 2013 Howard Kroplick 11:40 AM

Ted, good catch! Roy Jaffe’s presentation is at 7:00 PM at the Sachem Public Library in Holbrook


Oct 29 2013 Howard Kroplick 4:24 PM

From Ariejan Bos:

I must admit that I completely missed the American Grand Prize. After reading your comments I thought that maybe there was a second car. However the resemblance between the AGP car and the Indy mystery car is so strong, that they must be the same car. It puzzled me why this car would practice at Indy until I realized that Indianapolis was on the way between Elgin and Long Island (or the factory at Providence). They had been at Indy in July for the Cobe Trophy and passed there of course again after the Elgin race. On September 3 and 5, 1910 races were held at Indy and there was a nr. 10, Joe Dawson on Marmon. On the official Indy Alco photo you can spot the number 10 on a shield at the back of a car, comparable with Harroun’s number shield on his Marmon in 1911. I do not know how long in advance the starting positions for the Vanderbilt Cup race were known, but apparently already early September. In my opinion the frontal number was painted on the radiator protection shield, which is absent on the mystery photo. So it is my impression now, that they were at Indy early September on their way back to Long Island and were photographed there during the race weekend, just as guests, not as competitors. They were of course famous already after their first Vanderbilt Cup win.
Anyway, Howard, thank you as always for keeping us busy!


Oct 30 2013 Greg Oreiro 2:51 PM

I have another possible theory about the faint #5 on the radiator. In the Lowell Trophy Race, in Massachusetts, on September 8, 1909, The ALCO was #5. In that race, the ALCO did not use the protective grill in front of the radiator and it appears to be the only race from what I see that the ALCO did not use the grill. The number was painted directly on the radiator itself unlike all others where the number was painted on the grill. The faded numeral seems to be the same size and similar font as the black 5 from the Lowell race in 1909.

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