The Beast is Back

Century-old race car returns to Indy 500.

By Greg Cergol
|  Tuesday, May 17, 2011  |  Updated 6:33 AM EDT
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Car off to join one of the biggest motorsport events in the world.

Car off to join one of the biggest motorsport events in the world.

Photos and Videos
More Photos and Videos

The "Black Beast" is hitting the road again, heading for the Indianapolis 500 a century after it first competed there.

The Beast is one of America's first race cars, built in 1909 in Providence, R.I., and the engine still roars with a ferocity befitting its name.

This is no quaint old piece of machinery.

"This car sounds like nothing anyone has ever heard," said car owner Howard Kroplick. "It sounds like a small plane."

The entrepreneur from East Hills purchased the car from a French architect in 2008 after Kroplick wrote a book about America's first great road race, Long Island's Vanderbilt Cup.

Organized by auto racing pioneer and millionaire, William K. Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt Cup race was run on various Long Island roads each year between 1904 and 1910.  It was, Kroplick said, the Super Bowl of its day, watched, in its final year, by as many as 300,000 people.

The Black Beast won the Vanderbilt Cup race twice, in 1909 and 1910, with driver Harry Grant at the wheel. 

In 1911, the Black Beast made history again, finishing 33rd in the first Indianapolis 500.  It had been considered a favorite to win that race, but mechanical problems cost it the checkered flag.

The car's average speed at those races was more than 60 mph, but the Black Beast could reach speeds over 100 mph, according to Kroplick.

"It's a little scary," said Kroplick.  "There's no windshield.  There's no seat belt.  If you go thirty miles an hour, you feel like you're going a hundred miles an hour."

The Black Beast's six cylinder engine gets about four miles a gallon and Kroplick still takes it out for a spin, as I found out when we drove down Jericho Turnpike -- one of the Long Island roads where the Vanderbilt Cup was run.

Keeping the Beast on the road is no easy chore because you can't buy spare parts for a 102 year old car.

"You got to be careful not to break anything because if you do break it, you have to remake it," said mechanic Sam Greco, who has actually crafted many of the car's replacement parts.

Later this week, the Black Beast will be get another chance at the famed Indianapolis brickyard, as the Indy 500 marks its 100th anniversary. 

With Kroplick in the front seat, the Black Beast and four other competitors from that first race will take a parade lap before this year's competition.

"After 100 years, we get to compete against the car that won the race that first year," Kroplick said. "Hopefully this time we can beat them."

Get the latest headlines sent to your inbox!
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Leave Comments
What's New
21st Century Solutions
The NBCUniversal Foundation is partnering... Read more
Follow Us
Sign up to receive news and updates that matter to you.
Send Us Your Story Tips
Check Out