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Bob Burman

23rd April 1884
Imlay City, Michigan
8th April 1916 (Aged 31)
Corona, California, Indycar race
Most recent race (in database):

This early professional racing driver was a spectacular and popular star as the sport became established in America. The son of a farmer, Bob Burman worked as a test driver with the Jackson Automobile Company from 1901. He moved to David Buick’s new company two years later and is reputed to be the first person to drive the original Buick.

Early racing career

But it was in a stock Jackson chassis that Burman made his racing debut in Detroit in 1906, winning first time out and cementing his fame with victory in a 24-hour race at St Louis the following year. Buick entered the sport in 1908 and Burman starred in that season’s Savannah races – finishing a thrilling second in the light car race despite being delayed in the pits for eight minutes. Apparently his “Wild Bob” sobriquet was fully justified that day.

Winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909 and Burman was immediately successful. He won the Prest-O-Lite Trophy during the inaugural car meeting (a four and a half hour marathon marred by two fatalities) and the 1910 Remy Brassard Trophy once the dangerous dirt track had been paved with bricks.

It was with Barney Oldfield’s famous Blitzen Benz that Burman entered the 1911 Indianapolis 500 but he finished in a distant 19th position. Two months later a crowd of 15,000 watched Burman set a new world record speed for a dirt track – averaging 73.891mph on the circular Brighton Beach Motordrome.

1912 Indy 500 accident

Burman’s Cutting was running second in the 1912 Indianapolis 500 when two tyres punctured simultaneously on lap 157 – the car rolled but without injury to driver or his riding mechanic. The records continued however with a new 21.5-litre Benz – improving his Brighton Beach mark to 75.235mph and achieving 129mph on the beach near San Diego on Christmas Eve 1912. His car caught fire moments afterwards and Burman drove into the sea to extinguish the flames!

Victory at Kalamazoo

He acquired Jules Goux’s 1913 Indy-winning Peugeot L74 for the following season and won on the Kalamazoo dirt mile and in the 1915 Southern Sweepstakes road race at Oklahoma City. Burman then finished a career-best sixth in the 1915 Indy 500.

That was his last appearance at the Speedway for Burman was killed at the start of 1916 when racing at Corona. He had twice led on the 2.77-mile circular street circuit only to be delayed by punctures. Catching race leader Eddie O’Donnell once more on the 97th lap, a tyre punctured again at approximately 100mph. The Peugeot demolished some telegraph poles as it rolled into the crowd at speed. A policeman and his riding mechanic Eric Schrader were killed on impact and Burman died shortly after arriving at hospital.

Championship seasons