At the Iola Car Show a few years ago, a person named Antonio Lombardi stopped to talk at our WSAH/SAH table in the Special Exhibit tent. Although Antonio lived in Italy, he also spent time in Wisconsin, his wife’s home area. While expressing his interest in Case automobiles (manufactured in Racine, Wisconsin), he mentioned that he was seeking more information on a race car driver who was killed while driving a Case near Blue River, Wisconsin. I recall that for a few seconds I wondered if I had heard him correctly, but when I was assured that I had, I said, “Blue River! That’s where I went to high school!” Antonio replied, “Oh, no. It’s just a tiny town,” as if to say there wouldn’t even be a high school there and even suggested there might be two Blue Rivers but this one is near the Mississippi River. I then told him that the population was 360 and there were 29 in my graduating class in 1965 (the high school closed in 1967). That day was the first time I had heard of Lewis Strang, but the conversation with Antonio piqued my curiosity and I soon began to research.
For all my interest in everything automotive from pre-school age (honest!) and later interest in Wisconsin and local history, I am surprised that I had never heard or read anything about the death of a famous race driver somewhere within a short distance from the farm where I grew up. There is a lot of information available with a simple online search - I recommend “How Strang met his death” by David Traver Adolphus at Hemmings.com (search “articles”) - but a very brief summary is in order here.
Lewis Strang, in addition to being the pole sitter for the 1911 Indianapolis 500, drove in races from 1907, with several wins and speed records and was described as a daring and fast driver, although somewhat unlucky. He was married to an actress for a short while and had fallen from an airplane when he tried piloting for the first time. According to newspapers of the day, he was killed at age 26 on 20 July 1911 while accompanying the technical committee of the Wisconsin Automobile Association on its annual reliability run as he was attempting to pass a farm wagon. The car went over a steep embankment and rolled over, pinning Strang. It was reported that the man who had raced and set speed records had, ironically, been going about five miles per hour. (back to Activities)