S.B. Stevens and his Darracq Racers


S.B. Stevens' 80hp Darracq (photo credit: The Automobile, February 1, 1906)

Automobiles have been raced right from the start and at the turn of the 20th century organized motor racing started to come into its own. Initially, this pursuit was one of amateurs, with the drivers being the car owner or creator. In an age of aristocratic sportsman, the only individuals with the wealth to go racing, a small group emerged - and a select few actually established "racing stables" (a term used in the day). One of the most enthusiastic was S. B. Stevens of Rome NY.

Samuel Barron Stevens Jr. (1874-1935) was born into a wealthy family of politicians and industrialists. His father (James [Jim] P. Stevens) and his grandfather (Samuel B. Stevens) both served in the New York State Assembly and as mayor of Rome, NY. S.B. Stevens seems to have chosen automobiles over politics. He attended Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School (1892-1898 - now The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science), to pursue his interest in engineering, though he seems to have left without receiving a degree. He bought his first car in 1901 (National Electric Runabout) and followed his father into the family business, becoming Vice President of the Rome Merchant Iron Mills of Rome NY. By 1903, he had joined the New York Yacht Club and established a significant garage of automobiles and equipment. The MOTOR of August 1904 published a two page article, authored by Stevens, telling of his impressive stable - including a Waverley Electric, two Gasmobiles, three Mercedes (35hp, 8-10hp, and a 60hp), a Winton touring, and two Darracqs (15-20hp & 30-35hp). In this same year, Stevens traveled to Ormond Beach for the second running of the speed trials where he drove his 60hp Mercedes.

At Ormond, Stevens would be joined by other wealthy amateur sportsman also engaged in automobile racing such as William K. Vanderbilt, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, E. R. Thomas, B. M. Shanley, Jr., and E. H. R. Green. S.B. Stevens would state that he favored speed trials over track racing deeming them safer and he raced at Ormond-Daytona Beach for a number of years. Stevens was heavily influenced by the high horse power machines from Europe that he saw racing at Ormond and he proved a ready buyer. He soon had his chance, purchasing the 90hp Mercedes (there were only four of these cars in America) from Clarence Gray Dinsmore (driven in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup by Warner). Stevens would put this car to immediate use by campaigning it at the 1905 Ormond Beach races - the car would retire with a mechanical failure.

Stevens wasn't to be deterred and got another chance in 1906 (at Ormond Beach) as reported by the New York Times on January 26th "The Darracq company of France took immediate action in disciplining Hemery (head of the Darracq racing team), whose refusal to obey the racing committee lead to his suspension yesterday. A cablegram was received this morning from A. Darracq, the head of the company in France, placing he entire management of the four Darracq racing cars in the hands of Charles D. Cooke of the American Darracq company. Mr. Cooke turned the cars over to S.B. Stevens, whose offer for the 80 horse power Vanderbilt Cup winner was accepted by A. Darracq in the same cablegram". Not only did Stevens buy the 80hp Darracq, that year's Vanderbilt cup car, but he also purchased the 200hp Darracq sprint special built to brake the mile record. Stevens would average 90 mph over 10 miles in the 80hp Darracq, winning the Corinthian Championship for amateur drivers. Louis Chevrolet, under contract with Walter Christie but let out to drive the Darracq, would pilot the 200hp Sprint Special setting a new record for gasoline cars for the mile (only Marriott's Stanley racer would go faster).



200hp Darracq purchased by S.B. Stevens - Hemery shown behind wheel (photo credit: The Automobile, February 1, 1906)


In the same year (1906), the 80hp Darracq would be campaigned at the Ventnor Beach Races in Atlantic Cirty , NJ and again at the Dead Horse Hill Climb in Worcester, MA. The New York Times of September 4, 1906 reported "S.B. Stevens, the young amateur racing automobilist of New York City and Rome, NY captured the free-for-all championship for the Atlantic City Cup with the eighty-horse power Darracq, driven by his chauffeur, Campbell.... The victory of Stevens in the free-for-all marked his second victory for the club cup and under the conditions the trophy now becomes his property."

He would continue to add to his stable in 1907, when he ordered a new 50hp Roll-Royce in May of that year. The New York Times stated (April 28, 1907) - "S.B. Stevens, the amateur racing motorist and president of the New York Motor Club, took delivery of a six-cylinder 40-50 hp Rolls-Rolls last week. The car is a touring model with 135 inch wheel base. Mr Stevens was attracted to this new car by the performance of the Rolls-Royce in the English Tourist Trophy contest of last season, which it won very handily". Stevens actually purchased two Rolls-Royce Chassis (60553 & 60565) with the Barker touring body pulled off chassis 60565 and placed on chassis 60553 - chassis 60565 was then campaigned by Stevens in reliability/durability trials.

1908 would seem to be the last year of his racing endeavors - maybe by at age 34 he thought better of risking life and limb behind the wheel. Regardless, he acquired and raced the 60hp Fiat Cyclone (a factory built special racer). By this time Stevens was part of the Ormond race organizing committee, but he raced as well, however Emanuel Cedrino (Fiat factory driver) would take the wheel of the Cyclone. Cedrino would be killed in this same car later in the year at Pimlico race track.

As a well known and active participant in the A.A.A. and A.C.A,  Stevens would be called upon to referee a number of events after his racing days were through. He had one last record to break in 1916 when he and 4 others teamed up to drive a Marmon across country besting the record previously set by Cannon Ball Baker. In 1927, he would establish a trophy to be presented to the best performing stock car at the Indianapolis 500 - the Stevens Challenge Trophy would be awarded through 1954. Samuel B. Stevens passed away in November of 1935.

Of the many cars that he owned, I know that his Rolls-Royces have survived, as well as the 200hp Darracq - which would be bought by Algernon Guinness of brewing fame. Only the Darracq's original engine survived but a recreation using the engine (and a few other parts) has been built. The Fiat Cyclone was rebuilt after the crash that killed Cedrino and ending up with Ralph De Palma - I don't believe it survives.  As for the Mercedes, I'm simply not sure if any of the surviving cars from the period are from Stevens garage.

S.B. Stevens Racing record (that I could trace):
1904 Ormond Beach, FL - (60hp Mercedes) driven by Campbell - Stevens' chauffeur
1905 AAA / Glidden Trophy (NYC to NH) - (20hp Darracq) Stevens was first to leave NY and first to Portsmouth NH
1905 Ormond Beach - (90hp Mercedes) out with a mechanical failure
1906 Ormond Beach, FL - (80hp Darracq & 200hp Darracq) Stevens' 80hp Darracq would average 90 mph over 10 miles winning the Corinthian Championship for amateur drivers - this is the Vanderbilt Cup winning Darracq of 1905.
1906 Ventnor Beach , NJ - (30hp Darracq & 80hp Darracq)
1906 Dead Horse Hill Climb Worcester, MA - (80hp Darracq)
1906 National Automobile Tour (Canada) - (Darracq)
1906 Glidden (40-60hp Darracq)
1907 Glidden Cup Contest
1907 Albany to NYC endurance run - (Darracq)
1907 Empire City Track, NY - (Darracq)
1907 ACA Sealed Bonnet Race - (20hp Darracq)
1908 Ormond Beach, FL - (60hp Fiat Cyclone) driven by Stevens and Emanuel Cedrino
1908 Savannah, GA - race official (ACA committee)
1909 Brighton Beach, NY race - referee
1910 - ACLIAC endurance run - race official
Wheeler-Schebler Trophy Race - referee

photo credit: Motor, August, 1904

photo credit: Motor, August, 1904

S.B. Stevens' Fiat Cyclone (photo credit: State Archives of Florida)

S.B. Stevens' 1907 40/50hp Rolls-Royce - chassis 60565

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