The next mention of Jeffkins found in U S newspapers was at the St Patrick’s Day races held on the San Jose Driving Park on 17th March 1912. The ‘San Francisco Chronicle’ of the following day reported “Earl DeVore in a Buick carried off the honours in the small car class at the auto races here today, while the Stutz with Earl Cooper as pilot won the 25 mile free for all. Rupert Jeffkins – the Australian driver in a Buick made the fastest mile for the Merhid Trophy, negotiating the track in 55 ½ seconds, establishing a new record for the track”. (14) Santa Monica on 4th May was the next recorded event for Jeffkins. Teamed for the first time with Ralph De Palma in the two factory entered Mercers and both running in the Medium class (231 – 300ci) over the distance of 151 miles. These Mercers were stock chassis models simply stripped of lights and mudguards. Others in the class included Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow in the two Case machines and Earl DeVore in a Buick. A reported 100,000 spectators were on hand to see the starter flag the field away at 10.30am. DePalma’s first lap in 7minute 24seconds gave him the lead, but the next five laps were closely fought with DeVore’s Buick, then DePalma, then DeVore again in front. Jeffkins Mercer retired with magneto problems after just two laps. DeVore’s early challenge evaporated after seven laps when the Buick broke a camshaft. De Palma now led the field from the two Case machines and retained the lead until flagged off after completing the full distance of 18 laps at an average of almost 70mph. (15) Jeffkins next race was the second running of the 500 mile International Sweepstakes at Indianapolis on Decoration Day 30th May. New rules for 1912 required all cars to carry a two man crew – making obsolete the single seaters like Harroun’s 1911 race winning Marmon Wasp. The Mercedes two car entry consisted of DePalma in the grey car and Spencer Wishart in the grey, black and red one. For his team mate DePalma chose his Santa Monica partner Jeffkins.
From 29 entries, 24 qualified for the race by completing one full lap at better than 75mph. David Bruce-Brown in the National qualified fastest at just over 88mph but as starting positions were allocated by entry date he started from the last row in position 23.
With the field gridded in four rows of five and four in the last row, the field moved off on the formation lap behind the Stutz pace car at a steady pace of 40mph. As they approached the Start line, the Stutz pulled to the inside, the starter’s gun fired and the race was underway at 10.02am.
Teddy Tetzlaff in the Fiat from grid position three took the lead for the first two laps, but DePalma and Jeffkins jumped to the front on the third lap. At the 300 mile mark the grey Mercedes was three laps ahead of Dawson’s National and after 400 miles their lead was four laps. By 450 miles their advantage had increased to five full laps and the big Mercedes was going like the wind, the car running perfectly.
During the race they made five uneventful stops for tyres and fluid replenishment, retaining their lead at all times.
Their charge turned to drama on lap 197 when an engine misfire slowed the grey Mercedes on the front straight and it began trailing smoke. DePalma nursed the car for another lap at a much reduced speed allowing the National to pass them twice before finally slowing to a stop at the end of the back straight with a broken piston protruding from the engine block. Already exhausted after more than six hours in the car, DePalma and Jeffkins got out of the stricken Mercedes and with the disappointment and desperation of not knowing what else should be done they began to push the heavy car around the banked turn, inching slowly toward the finish line to the cheers of encouragement from the 80,000 spectators until collapsing with exhaustion. From there they watched as Indianapolis born Joe Dawson, who had been running in second place for most of the day, flashed past the crippled Mercedes to take the checkered flag and more than $20,000 in prize money.
Dawson finished more than ten minutes ahead of Tetzlaff’s Fiat but fearing a lap counting error he completed two more laps for good measure. Dawson’s National averaged just over 78mph and completed the distance in 6 hours 21 minutes. Hugh Hughes in the Mercer, with the smallest engine in the race finished third – just 1 ½ minutes after Tetzlaff.
Photographs of DePalma and Jeffkins pushing the stricken Mercedes featured in many newspapers worldwide and over time have become symbols of determination and enduring true grit. (16)
Following the Indianapolis race, Jeffkins embarked on a tour of the north and north western states displaying a film titled “The Toll of the Speedway” which featured images of the first two 500 mile races. The film and accompanying talk by Jeffkins was described as “A lengthy film depicting the most exciting and interesting incidents of the 500 mile races at Indianapolis. Some smashes are depicted, incidents happen in quick succession, cars dash into a wall, tyres are melted by the excessive friction and cars fly around steeply banked curves at the speed of an express train. Jeffkins will give an interesting description of the event and an explanation of the film while it is being shown”. This film was to be a money earner for Jeffkins for the next 20 years or more. (17) On 5th October 1912, in a stripped Stutz racer, Jeffkins and his mechanician L B Gross set out from Oakland in an attempt to better the record from that city to San Jose – which stood at 51 minutes. The trip was under the auspices of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and was intended to serve as a boost for the ‘better roads movement’.
Promptly at 10am and carrying a letter from the Mayor of Oakland addressed to his counterpart in San Jose the pair set off. The trip was uneventful with speeds recorded on one eleven mile section as high as 85mph. The time taken for the journey was 39 minutes.
On arrival at San Jose and after the exchange of mayoral letters, Jeffkins and Gross were promptly arrested and held in the Santa Clara jail for three hours. It appeared that vigilant peace officers along the route on which the Stutz had flashed like a white streak had telephoned ahead to San Jose to have the speeding pair arrested. Jeffkins and Gross were later released on a $250 bond posted by a local businessman and were required to appear in the San Jose court the following day to answer the speeding charge. No record of the court action has been found in subsequent newspapers. (18)
Shortly after, with the Indianapolis film packed safely in his luggage, Jeffkins set sail for Australia, arriving in mid December 1912. (19)
RUPERT JEFFKINS ...continued