It was September 13 ,1902, a Saturday afternoon and the last day of The Exposition, held at the Topeka State Fair Grounds.
The Exposition was winding down and most of the midway show had already shut up shop, but some 3,000 people were on hand to watch the race. On this day, a automobile race, a “spectacular up-to-date contest”.
This was the first such event ever held in Topeka. There was some talk a few days before the 1902 race that it had been called off. Owners of the machines being disinclined to run because the purse had been reduced from $50 to $25. Whatever the problems may have been, they were resolved and four cars were at the starting line.
The contestants were E.W.Benedict, from Topeka driving an unidentified car, George Burghard in an Orient Buckboard, J.M.Padgett in a Stevens-Duryea and Frank Petro in a Parkhurst-Davis Merc. The contest was not what would be called today a high speed affair. Padgett set the pace and won. The other machines were strung along after him equal distances apart.
After the race was over Padgett went around the track for a mile just to show what wonderful speed he could attain. He was followed by the others. A boy on a bicycle hiked out after Padgett and kept within a yard of the rear end of his machine all the way round the track. No auto races were held the next year but in 1904 racing was back.
The feature was a five mile free for all $300.00 to win purse with DR. Harry Lyman, a Topeka dentist, driving his 14-H.P, Rambler, D.B. Woodward of Lawrence in his 10-H.P.Franklin and J.M.Padgett in the 7-H.P Stevens-Duryea called the “KUROPATKIN.”
After two or three false starts the racers were finally away. Lyman took the lead and held it for the entire five miles. By the end of the race he had lapped Padgett twice and Woodward once. The way his big 16-horse Rambler slid around the turns sent thrillers down the spine of everyone in the grandstands. Lyman’s winning time was 8 minutes 23 seconds or approximately 35 miles an hour. Since no one knew anything about auto racing regulations, all events were run under the rules of the American Trotting Association under these rules it was decided that if anyone finishing more than a quarter mile behind the winner would be excluded from any prize money. Also five percent of the purse was deducted from the award, presumably for the benefit of the fair association. There was some misunderstanding on these points among a few of the drivers.
Topeka State Fairgrounds 1902-1903