Past Times

Man and machine pulled a 100-hour stunt

Excited crowds gathered along the finish line but were looking the wrong way.
Excited crowds gathered along the finish line but were looking the wrong way.

While Americans were sitting on flagpoles for attention, Raleigh had its own publicity stunt in 1924. The 20-year-old “Daring” Ralph Bennett, “Boy Racer,” set out in a test of endurance to drive through the city’s streets in a Star touring car for 100 straight hours.

Four days, four nights and four hours the race will be on. … It is a contest between man and car. Bennett has wagered the D. & S. Motor Company, distributors of Star automobiles of Raleigh, that he will outlast the car in a hundred hour endurance test, agreeing not to stop for food, sleep, rest or gas in that period, driving continuously through the streets of Raleigh and vicinity, pledging himself not to go beyond a radius of twenty-five miles from the postoffice and to report every other hour at the office of the Raleigh Times during the day and the News and Observer during the night.

Gas and oil will be furnished the car by the Allen Filling station and it will be serviced while the car is in motion. The N&O Aug. 26, 1924

Sure enough, on August 30, both man and machine completed the challenge.

Too utterly weary even to reach for the gear levers of his automobile, his last ounce of energy sapped in the supreme effort to plough his way through two hundred feet of massed humanity without maiming any of them, Ralph Bennett collapsed in the arms of his manager, Jack Craig, at 3 o’clock yesterday on South Blount street, winner of the ordeal to which he set himself last Tuesday morning at 11 o’clock.

One hundred hours and twenty-one seconds he drove a Star touring car without sleeping, covering 1,501 miles in and about the streets of the city, without stopping once, even for traffic congestion, winning his wager with the D. and S. Motor Company who sent him on the gruelling test of his stamina. A minute later he was lifted out of the car, into an ambulance and away toward bath tubs and pink silk pajamas and bed.

Five thousand people cluttered the streets, packed together in the suffocating August heat in a manner that should make sardine packers blush for their own incompetence. Along other streets other thousands, in the aggregate accounting for a large portion of the population of the town, waited to see the final thrust of energy that carried him across the hundred-hour mark. Here and there people broke into cheers, but Bennett heard nothing.

Whatever of the drama there was in the finish, it must have been missed save by a dozen or so who were packed at the end of the lane that opened somehow through the throng as he came slowly north on Blount street from Davie. The crowd had expected him to come from the other direction, and a sort of passage-way had been kept open for him. Instead he slipped up from the south and people were wedged in too closely to be able to turn around and look at him.

Photographers waiting to get pictures of him as he came to a stand-still were overshadowed in the crush. There were no pictures of the finish, save for one from the roof of a neighboring building. Flappers and such waiting to shower him with congratulations were likewise overwhelmed in the indiscriminate rush. Raleigh came as near to witnessing a panic and mob combined as it has come within recent years. But Bennett was too exhausted to observe the commotion he had stirred up.

From the finish he was hurried off to the Bland hotel where W. M. Horton shaved him and bathed him and arrayed him in King and Holding’s most flamboyant pink silk pajamas. Bennett was revived considerably, and was able to walk about the room. He smiled and joked a little, but a quarter of an hour later he was as the dead in a bed in the middle of the City Auditorium, sleeping quietly while scores of people paid two bits for the privilege of seeing him do it.

At intervals last night he was awakened, and at midnight he was removed to the hotel. He will be allowed to sleep for 24 hours, being walked at intervals because the doctors say that it should be done. By tomorrow, he expects to be restored to normalcy and will appear at the Superba theatre to allow people to look still further at him. In his waking intervals he was fed milk and toast in small quantities. He did not snore as he slept. The N&O Aug. 31, 1924

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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