Earl Cooper (1886 - 1965)
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Earl Cooper

Earl Cooper
Although not as well known as drivers like Barney Oldfield, Ray Harroun and Ralph de Palma, Earl Cooper was one of the most successful racing drivers in the pioneer days of American motor racing.

Early American professional motor racing was largely confined to track racing, either on small dirt or cinder ovals, or on the bigger half-mile board tracks or even bigger concrete bowls, of which Indianapolis was the first in the USA.

The Vanderbilt Cup

However, there was a fair amount of road-racing which was mostly confined to the east with events like the Vanderbilt Cup, but there were also a number of long-distance races in deserted California in the early days.

Born in 1886, Cooper took up motor racing in his early twenties, and spent several years doing the rounds of the dirt tracks with various cars, mostly in the California area. He was moderately successful and was making a decent living, since track-racing was fully professional right from the early days.

Cooper's big break came in 1913 when he was invited to join the up-and-coming Stutz team, an achievement he celebrated by winning the American Automobile Association's National Championship that year.

Cooper's 1913 victories included a pair of wins at the Tacoma, Washington track over 200 and 250 miles, plus wins in the Santa Monica and Corona road races in California. In the Santa Monica race, he averaged an impressive 73.8 mph over a distance of 445 miles. At that time, Stutz used virtually standard production sports cars, so Cooper's wins against aces like Oldfield in much bigger racing cars was an impressive feat.

In 1914, Stutz announced the Bearcat model which, along with the Mercer Raceabout, became the symbol of American youth during World War 1. The Stutz team had little success in 1914, even though Oldfield had joined the team. Cooper retired during his first attempt at the Indianapolis 500 mile race but Oldfield finished fifth.

The White Squadron

Harry Stutz, the owner of the Stutz factory, realised that he would have to build a specialist racing car if he was to compete against foreign invaders such as Mercedes, so he built a 4.8-liter, single-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve engine, which gave 130 bhp, and installed it in a new chassis. Three cars were built and the main drivers were Cooper and Gil Anderson, the cars being painted white and the team named the White Squadron.

Cooper was immediately suecesful with this car, winning the National Championship for the second time with victories at Minneapolis, San Diego and Elgin, as well as fourth place at Indianapolis. Anderson also did well to finish third in the Championship. Stutz continued racing in 1916, but Cooper had few successes, although he did finish second in the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup to Dario Resta's Peugeot. Stutz gave up racing in 1916, so Cooper bought one of the White Squadron cars and won the National Championship for the third time in 1917.

From Miller Powered Durants to Miller Powered Studebakers

At this stage Cooper decided to retire from racing at the comparatively early age of 31 but, in 1921, he was asked to take the place of an injured driver at a race in Fresno. In storybook form, he shrugged off his four year retirement and won the race, which resulted in a contract to drive for the Durant team. No great success ensued with the Miller-powered Durants so, for the 1924 season, Cooper persuaded Studebaker to build a car powered by a Miller engine. Cooper finished second at Indianapolis as well as winning at Fresno.

He raced a Miller Special throughout 1925, winning the tough board track race over 250 miles at Charlotte, North Carolina. Then, in 1926, he was invited to drive one of the legendary new front-wheel-drive Millers which had been developed for the new 1½-liter formula at Indianapolis. With this almost futuristic machine, he made fastest practice lap at Indianapolis, but transmission trouble put him out of the race. However, with the transmission repaired, he won the 200-mile race at the Rockingham board track only a month later.

This was Cooper's last race victory but, in 1927, he was asked by the Marmon company to build a Miller-powered Marmon which he took to Europe for the European Grand Prix, held that year at Monza in Italy. With fellow American Peter Kreis as co-driver, he finished third in the 311-mile race, behind Robert Benoist's Delage and Morandi's OM. That was his swan song in motor racing, Cooper finally retiring in 1927 at the age of 41.

He kept a close association with motor racing though, serving as a race official with the AAA for many years and also working as a consulting engineer with the Union Oil Company. Cooper died in 1965 at the age of 79.
Earl Cooper in White Squadron Stutz Racer
We are not sure when this photo was taken. What we do know is that the driver is a much older Earl Cooper, seated in a 1916 'White Squadron' Stutz racer. Most of Cooper's greatest successes were scored with the Stutz racing team, for whom he won the American Automobile Association's National Championship in 1913, 1915 and 1917.
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