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January 8, 1944 – Auto racer William K. Vanderbilt II dies

The Vanderbilt family is easily associated with wealth, but early auto racing? William Kissam Vanderbilt II was born in 1878 and discovered an early love for automobiles after riding in a steam powered tricycle in France in 1888. By age 20 he was acquiring motor vehicles of all sorts, the first being a French De Dion-Bouton tricycle. In 1904 he set a land speed record of 92.30 mph (148.54 km/h) in a Mercedes at Daytona Beach. The same year he founded America’s first automobile trophy race, the Vanderbilt Cup. It was held on Long Island, New York and offered a large cash prize. William hoped to drive up interest in racing and get automakers to build better, faster cars. Contestants from all over the world entered the inaugural race held on October 8, 1904. The race was won by American George Heath driving a Panhard. The final Vanderbilt cup was held in 1968. Thanks to his love of automobiles, William’s contributions to the auto world continued long after his death on this day in 1944. The start of the Vanderbilt Cup in 1908Portrait of William K. Vanderbilt II

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