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"Wild Bob" Burman, the man of records

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

He was called Bob the Wild for a reason... he has been an open-wheel pioneer, setting numerous speed and victory standards in the early 1900s.


Robert Burman was born April 23, 1884, on a small farm near Imlay City (Michigan) which he left when he was 17. He tested cars for Buick as early as 1903 and ranked among the nation’s top drivers of the times. He found a job as a road tester for Jackson Automobile Co. in 1906 where he got the opportunity to enter in several races, in which he performed well.

While he was working at the Buick plant in Jackson, William C. “Billy” Durant, co-founder of General Motors and Chevrolet, asked Burman to form a Buick Racing Team. Since then, he competed successfully in most of the major championship events on all types of race courses, including the board tracks at Chicago, Illinois, and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. However, he gained his greatest fame in a series of record runs, 24-hour events, match races, and exhibition appearances against his then rivals.









1909



  • He won the Prest-O-Lite Trophy Race in his Buick, the precursor to the Indy 500.

  • He finished first in the Vesper Club Trophy Race driving for the Buick team.

  • He finished fourth in the Lowell Trophy Race.





1910


Chevrolet in Buick 60 special, as part of the Buick racing team in 1910

  • He won the Remy Brassard Trophy 2 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.




1911




He was crowned speed king at the first ever Indianapolis 500 in a Blitzen Benz


Bob Burman, Louis Disbrow, Jack Tower, and Joe Grinnon at the 1911 Indianapolis 500

Race car driver Bob Burman and his Blitzen Benz, 1911


  • He won the first four events at the New Orleans Mardi Gras Races with his Buick 60 Special.

  • He set a land speed record at an average of 141.732 mph over a 1km distance in his 200-horsepower Blitzen Benz racecar on the sands of Daytona Beach racing for racing promoter Ernest Moross.

  • He competed at the first ever Indianapolis 500 in a Benz, before the race he made exhibition runs in the Blitzen Benz on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and set speed records at the quarter mile, half mile, kilometer and mile distances. He was crowned speed king before the start of the race.




1912


Burman's crashed Cutting racer, built by the Clark-Carter Automobile Company at the 1912 Indianapolis 500

  • He competed at the Indianapolis 500 where he crashed his Cutting car after 157 laps in the second turn.

  • He notched 41 top-two finishes in 43 starts, including 33 checkered flags.





"He was a natural competitor from both an attitude and coordination standpoint with an extremely competitive and aggressive attitude. He was a natural driver."

- Buick Racing Team historian Terry Dunham





1913


Bob Burman standing next to an automobile parked alongside a pit on the side of a road during an automobile race, 1913

Bob Burman's Keeton racer photo taken by George L Mooney in 1913

"Using Polarine and Premier Gasoline, Bob Burman, accompanied by E.B. Conner of the Imperial Oil Co., in his Blitzen Benz, created a new Canadian record of 1 mile in 50 4/5 secs., Vancouver, July 26th., 1913."

  • He drove in the first five Indianapolis 500 races starting the race as the favorite, and led 41 laps early, but his car caught fire on lap 55. He was able to repair his Keeton and continue for a while, but eventually didn't finish the race.


1914


Burman 1914 in his Burman Special - a reworked Peugeot with Wisconsin engine

  • He won the Kalamazoo Race.





1915




Driver Bob Burman and his mechanician Jack Gable with a Peugeot at the 1915 Indy 500 Race.

  • He won both the Oklahoma Southern Sweepstakes Road Race and the Burlington Race in his Peugeot L76.

  • He finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500.





Despite the spectacular implications of his nickname and the freewheeling nature of his exploits, rumor has it that the popular racer was more mild than wild away from the adoring crowds.



"What is to be, will be."

– “Wild Bob” Burman






Bob Burman had had a brilliant career and was still in his prime when on the fateful day of April 8, 1916, running in a race through the streets of Corona, California his car flipped as he was pushing it to the limit to catch the leader. In his prime at age 31, Bob Burman paid the supreme sacrifice in the sport of auto racing. He gave his greatest possession, his life, for his greatest love, that of racing.

When death finally got around to claiming “Wild Bob” Burman, it was a shock to everybody who knew him best. He was known as a reckless driver, described as a madman who at the end of the race, after wiping the dirt and oil off his face with a thrifty smile at the end of yet another record-breaking race, he was ready for the next competition. A true fearless!



"His life was dedicated to creating a car that would be fast and furious. He was very innovative. I’m sure his innovations helped progress cars to where they are today."

- Laura Wright, Burman's great-granddaughter




Burman was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame on June 4, 2011.


He was once the the fastest driver alive.










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