Charles Leerhsen is the author of Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500.
From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:
Q: How soon did auto racing begin after the invention of the car?--Marshal Zeringue
A: The joke goes that the first auto race started as soon as the second car was made. It began as soon as there was something to compete with: "Mine is better than yours."
Q: Were the races very impressive in the beginning?
A: There was a race in Wisconsin, I think in the 1850s, when they used steam-powered buckboards [a kind of wagon]. They raced at 6 miles an hour, and it was a 200-mile race.
It was totally lacking in spectacle. It was such a success that the second race didn't happen for 17 years.
Q: Auto racing picked up in the early 20th century as cars became more common. Did manufacturers make speed part of their sales pitch?
A: There was this idea of competing, and competition was part of marketing the cars. But...[read on]