Supposedly one of these auto races actually gave birth to the now widely known ‘British racing green’ colour. It was decided, after a suggestion made by Count Elliot Zborowski, that each country competing in the Gordon Bennett Cup auto race would adopt a specific colour. Great Britain made its first entry into the competition in 1902 and the colours usually associated with the British flag (Red, White and Blue) had already been allocated to USA, Germany and France. After Selwyn Edge had won the 1902 race for Britain, driving a Napier, it was decided that the next race would be held in Ireland. In honour of this Napier then painted the next race car in shamrock green as a sign of respect, and so ‘British racing green’ was born.
The final auto race was held in 1905 and it’d be replaced the following year when the Automobile Club De France (ACF) would introduce the first ever Grand Prix motor race in Le Mans. In fact, international races began to sprout up all over, it’s fair to say Bennett’s model for auto racing had inspired many to follow in its footsteps.
The end of the auto race saw the beginning of a new cup. In 1906 the first race for the Gordon Bennett Cup in ballooning was run from Paris and it would go on to be the only of Bennett’s trophies still used in competitive racing to this day. It’s regarded as the most important event in world balloon racing, often referred to as the “Blue Ribbon” of aeronautics.
Distance in course length varies each year, the 1906 race was roughly 400 miles long and was won by Frank Lahm of the United States completed the course in 22 hours and 15 minutes. The race ran annually, though none were held during World War I and races were almost halted all together after World War II had begun. Fortunately, the race was given an unofficial renewal in 1979 by an American atmospheric physicist named Tom Heinsheimer who had gained permission to host the trophy from its holders. It was later officially reinstated by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in 1983 and still runs yearly.
With the unbridled success of Bennett’s ballooning race, he had decided to move forward with a brand-new aerial race, this time for airplanes. The first competition was again held in France, this time in the city of Reims, in the year 1909. The first race was held on a 10 km track and 2 laps were run in time trials as opposed to head to head racing. The infamous Wright brothers were actually invited to the first race though they passed on the invitation. The race was run a total of 6 times and only one was held after the First World War.
Bennett’s influence on racing in general cannot be underestimated. Though many of the races were run for less than a decade they still made an everlasting impression on sports and paved the way for international races that people enjoy to this day.