April 8, 1916 – Auto racing pioneer Bob Burman dies

Bob Burman participated in many significant races in the early 20th century, including winning the Prest-O-Lite Trophy Race in 1909 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the precursor to the Indy 500. Unfortunately, it was racing that would kill him. Burman died racing on this day in 1916 at age 31 when he crashed his open-cockpit Peugeot in Corona, California. The wreck also took the life of his riding mechanic, Erick Schrader, an on-duty policeman, and the lives of three spectators. Another five fans suffered serious injuries.

Above: Bob Burman
Top: Louis Chevrolet & Bob Burman in the Buick Bugs of 1910

Burman’s career was quite successful, including spending several years with the Buick team starting in circa 1908. This team, which included Louis Chevrolet, went on to win half of all auto races in America the next year. Billy Durant, the founder of GM, which owned Buick, was so pleased that he presented Burman and Chevrolet with $10,000 bonuses ($270,000 today) at the end of the 1909 season. 

Both Burman, who was born in Imlay City, Michigan, and Louis Chevrolet were living in Flint, Michigan during this time, which was home to Buick’s operations. The pair had a reputation for racing each other up and down Saginaw Street in Flint. One memorable incident occurring when Chevrolet rolled his car and landed upright. Unphased and on his tires, witnesses couldn’t believe it when he gunned the car and disappeared down the road.

The Golden Submarine. By Raynardo, at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA

Barney Oldfield and Harry Arminius Miller, saw past the sorrow in their friend’s death, finding inspiration to build a safer race car. First the developed what is now known as a rollcage. After bringing Fred Offenhauser aboard their design and build team, they took the idea one step farther. In 1917 they debuted a completely enclosed race car, dubbed the Golden Submarine. It became a successful racing memorial of Bob Burman, competing in 54 races and winning 20 of them. See a video of it running below!

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