Packard® Motor Car
Providing for the Future
Leon Duray sets the world speed record.
In the early years of automotive production, companies such as Winton, Ford, Oldsmobile, and Packard took stock cars from production, tinkered with the engines and bodies and raced them around oval dirt tracks. Later, they found the sand beaches of Ormond-Daytona, Florida were perfect for speed trials. As one of the last acts before the company moved to Detroit, James Ward Packard had a race car built in Warren, Ohio that was given the name of The Gray Wolf. In 1904 The Gray Wolf was raced on the sands in Florida and set a record speed of 77.6 mph. A track at Indianapolis, Indiana was built by Carl Fisher (a prominent local Packard dealer) in 1909, paved with bricks in 1910, and soon became a favorite place to race and conduct speed trials. The first 500 (mile) race was held on Memorial day, May 30, 1911. In 1915, Fisher paced the Indy 500 with his own Packard, Jesse Vincent paced the 1919 race with a Packard Twin Six, and the 1936 race was paced with a Packard 120 convertible coupe. Packard Twin Six development, that led to the famous Liberty aircraft engine of World War I, led to some testing in a boat-tail roadster at Indianapolis where a lap of over 100 mph was first achieved, and the same car set records at Brooklands (England) before being retired after a dismal showing at the 1919 Indy 500.
1936 Packard 120 convertible Indy 500 pace car with Tommy Milton at the wheel.
As a company, Packard was not particularly interested in racing since the clientele they were interested in attracting was looking for quality, luxury, and reliability. So, when Packard built a 2.5 mile oval test track at their new Utica, Michigan proving grounds it was designed to be the finest, state-of-the-art oval in the world, and to be used mainly for testing and proving the finest car in the world, the Packard. On June 14, 1928, a dedication ceremony was held at the Proving Grounds and as part of the ceremony, Leon Duray and Norman Batton were invited to bring their Miller Special race cars to try out the new track.
Leon Duray making adjustments at the Proving Grounds. Norman Batton with his Miller Special at the 1926 Indy 500.
Leon Duray had, just a few weeks before, set a record at the Indianapolis track of over 124 mph. So it made sense to invite Leon and another well-known driver, Norman Batton, to bring their cars to the Proving Grounds dedication where they were clocked at over 140 mph. In another pass, Leon Duray was clocked at over 148 mph. This was a record for a closed oval track that stood for 24 years. Of interest is the fact that the guard rails were not yet installed, but this did not deter them. The track was so perfectly banked at each end that a driver could take his hands off of the wheel and the roadway would steer the car around the curve perfectly. Experienced drivers loved to initiate novices by taking their hands off of the wheel at high speeds at the ends. This feature was experienced by many Packard Club members who were fortunate enough to drive the track at various club meetings held at the Proving Grounds over the years.
Leon Duray and Norman Batton breaking 140+ mph on June 14, 1928.
Oval track under construction in 1927.
We close this page with a '49 Golden Anniversary Packard that has automatically
picked the correct level for its speed, on the banked end of the famous oval track.
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