AAA Contest Board

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The AAA Contest Board was the motorsports arm of American Automobile Association. The contest board sanctioned automobile races from 1904 until 1955, establishing the genre of Championship Car racing. The modern day discipline of "IndyCar" racing traces its roots directly to the AAA events.

All of the races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during that time period were sanctioned by AAA, including the Indianapolis 500. AAA sanctioned the 1905 National Motor Car Championship, the first national championship for major auto racing. It sanctioned the National Championship in 1916, and then from 1920 to 1955. It also sanctioned the Vanderbilt Cup.[1]

The AAA Contest Board dissolved and decided to focus strictly on helping the automobiling public, as a result of the 1955 Le Mans disaster.


AAA was established in Chicago, Illinois on March 4, 1902. By June the same year, AAA also established the Racing Board. Arthur Rayner Pardington was appointed chairman and the board sanctioned its first race, the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup held in Long Island, New York. It is unclear as to why William Vanderbilt had AAA sanction his race as opposed to the Automobile Club of America, the predominant sanctioning body for major U.S. racing at the time.

With the success of the racing board's experience sanctioning automobile events in 1904, the board announced a national track championship for 1905. Though not historically considered a true national championship due to it only including short dirt oval sprint races, it was the first time in American racing history that a points system was used to decide a year end champion. From 1906 through 1915 the racing board, inexplicably, held no official championship title season. It did continue to sanction individual, one-off events, the Vanderbilt Cup and events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In 1908, the ACA created the American Grand Prize, the first traces of Grand Prix style racing in the U.S. along with the then established Vanderbilt Cup. This race started a feud between the ACA and AAA. Later in 1908 it was decided that AAA would sanction all big time racing nationally and the ACA would sanction all international events held on American soil. On 2 December 1908, AAA dissolved the Racing Board and created the Contest Board later the same day. Though the rationale for this decision has been lost with time, the move was most likely done to allow AAA to oversee all automobile events and not just racing contests.

The Manufacturers Contest Association (MCA) urged AAA to organize racing so American manufacturers could race mostly stock configuration cars and ban the pure race cars being imported from Europe. The stock car style rules continued until 1916, when the Contest Board relaxed the rules allowing purpose built machines back into competition ahead of its first true championship season in 1916. Although AAA did not award national champions during 1906 through 1915, the American automobile journal Motor Age published who they regarded the most outstanding American driver during the years of 1909-1915. These picks have become de facto national champions of the day.[1]

During World War I, AAA suspended the national championship and almost stopped sanctioning races as a whole. This time also saw the demise of the American Grand Prize and the ACA totally folded during the war. American manufacturers saw the absence of European racers, and the relaxed rules due to no national level sanctioning as a chance for the U.S. to catch up to the European racers who had dominated racing internationally up until that point. The Racing Board picked up the pieces and regularly held national championships from 1920 until the outbreak of World War II in 1942.

After World War I, the race car specifications for the national championship were mostly aligned with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wanted to run during its Memorial Day classic, and this still holds mostly true today. AAA, again, restarted the championship with the close of the war for the 1946 season and continued uninterrupted until 1955 which saw AAA completely pull out of auto racing following the 1955 Le Mans disaster. The United States Auto Club took over the void filled by AAA's departure. During the last half of the Racing Boards existence they sanctioned many forms of racing such as midgets, sprint cars, sports cars and stock cars as well as top level championship car racing.[1]

National Championship results[edit]

Year Champion
AAA National Motor Car Championship
1905 United States Barney Oldfield
1906 No official national championships
Year AAA National Championship
1916 United Kingdom Dario Resta
1917 No official national championships
(World War I)
1920 United States Gaston Chevrolet
1921 United States Tommy Milton
1922 United States Jimmy Murphy
1923 United States Eddie Hearne
1924 United States Jimmy Murphy
1925 United States Pete DePaolo
1926 United States Harry Hartz
1927 United States Pete DePaolo
1928 United States Louis Meyer
1929 United States Louis Meyer
1930 United States Billy Arnold
1931 United States Louis Schneider
1932 United States Bob Carey
1933 United States Louis Meyer
1934 United States Bill Cummings
1935 United States Kelly Petillo
1936 United States Mauri Rose
1937 United States Wilbur Shaw
1938 United States Floyd Roberts
1939 United States Wilbur Shaw
1940 United States Rex Mays
1941 United States Rex Mays
1942 No automobile racing held due to World War II
1946 United States Ted Horn
1947 United States Ted Horn
1948 United States Ted Horn
1949 United States Johnnie Parsons
1950 United States Henry Banks
1951 United States Tony Bettenhausen
1952 United States Chuck Stevenson
1953 United States Sam Hanks
1954 United States Jimmy Bryan
1955 United States Bob Sweikert


In 1927 the Contest Board changed the results of the 1909 season, the 1920 season, and awarded retrospective national championships for the years of 1917-1919 during WWI. In 1951 The board, again, retroactively awarded titles from 1902–1908 and changed the results of the 1905 season. These actions have made it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction regarding AAA sanctioned national racing.

Retrospectively awarded champions[edit]

In 1926 Val Haresnape and Arthur Means, Secretary and Assistant Secretary, respectively, of the AAA Contest Board, retrospectively calculated championship results for major AAA-sanctioned races run between 1909 and 1915 and for 1917 to 1920. The pair also initially changed the 1920 championship winner to Tommy Milton, but by no later than 1929 had restored Gaston Chevrolet.[2][3][4]

In 1951 racing historian Russ Catlin officially revised AAA records with championship results based on all AAA races from 1902 to 1915 and 1916 to 1919, first published in the 1952 Indianapolis 500 program. This had the effect of retroactively creating seven newly credited champions and changing the 1909 champion from Bert Dingley to George Robertson and the 1920 champion from Gaston Chevrolet to Tommy Milton.[2][3] IndyCar currently recognizes Russ Catlin's list from 1909-1919, but with Gaston Chevrolet as champion for 1920.[5]

Each year from 1909 to 1915 and in 1919, the American automobile journal Motor Age selected a "driver of the year".[3]

Year Haresnape & Means
Russ Catlin
Motor Age
1902 United States Harry Harkness
1903 United States Barney Oldfield
1904 United States George Heath
1905 France Victor Hémery
1906 United States Joe Tracy
1907 United States Eddie Bald
1908 United States Lewis Strang
1909 United States Bert Dingley United States George Robertson United States Bert Dingley
1910 United States Ray Harroun United States Ray Harroun United States Ralph Mulford
1911 United States Ralph Mulford United States Ralph Mulford United States Harvey Herrick
1912 Italy Ralph DePalma Italy Ralph DePalma Italy Ralph DePalma
1913 United States Earl Cooper United States Earl Cooper United States Earl Cooper
1914 Italy Ralph DePalma Italy Ralph DePalma Italy Ralph DePalma
1915 United States Earl Cooper United States Earl Cooper United States Gil Andersen
1916 United Kingdom Dario Resta United Kingdom Dario Resta none named
1917 United States Earl Cooper United States Earl Cooper none named
1918 United States Ralph Mulford United States Ralph Mulford none named
1919 United States Howard Wilcox United States Howard Wilcox United States Eddie Hearne
1920 United States Tommy Milton
France Gaston ChevroletA
United States Tommy Milton none named
^A Harsnape and Means originally awarded the 1920 championship to Milton, but subsequently reverted to Chevrolet.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c White, Gordon. The AAA Contest Board, Retrieved 2010-10-22
  2. ^ a b c Printz, John G.; Ken M. McMaken (March 15, 1985). "The U.S. National Championship Driving Title". CART News Media Guide 1985: 265–267. 
  3. ^ a b c d Capps, Don (29 March 2010). "Automobile Racing History and History". Rear View Mirror. 8W. Archived from the original on June 9, 2011. Retrieved June 9, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Record of Champion Drivers 1909–1928 incl.". Official Bulletin, Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (Washington, D. C.) IV (6). February 8, 1929. Archived from the original on June 9, 2011. 
  5. ^