The Death-Defying Sport Known as Auto Polo

Who came up with the insane idea of playing polo while driving cars? That would be Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson, a Ford dealer in Topeka, Kansas, who was looking for a way to sell more cars. The sport lasted from 1912 to sometime in the early ’20s. We know about polo played on horse or camels, but those are sentient animals that try to avoid crashing into each other while the guy riding worries about the game. In Auto Polo, paying attention to the game meant crashing one’s car into other players quite often. However, it did mange to sell cars, probably because players needed replacements.     

Not only did Hankinson’s plan work, it quickly became a hugely popular sporting event in which not only the participants were at risk of injury or death but so were the spectators who flocked to such events. The matches were held across the country and the world, with the very first major auto polo exhibition being held in Washington D.C. in 1912. The outright brutality of the uncompromising sport also meant that cars would have to be routinely replaced since they would often give up the ghost in the middle of a match and because the main attraction of the sport was the very high probability that cars would crash into each other.

In other words auto polo was a bit like the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome only with cars operated by those insane enough to careen them around an arena armed with ball-smashing mallets at 40 miles per hour. So dangerous was the game of auto polo that an actual surgeon was onsite during the matches just in case anyone was injured (which according to most historical resources on the topic was shockingly rare). But deaths on the field did happen and those infrequent occurrences caused the sport to be banned in numerous states despite its rabid fan base.

Read more about the short-lived sport of Auto Polo and see plenty of pictures and a video at Dangerous Minds.


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