The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America

In the following guest post, writer Charles Kastner discusses his newest book entitled “The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America”. Published by Syracuse University Press.

I recently published a book about an amazing trans-American footrace that took place in 1929, just months before the Great Depression.  It’s titled, The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America.  It’s a story about courage and perseverance as the runners searched for the limits of human endurance as they raced across America eighty-five years ago.

Charles Kastner

Charles Kastner has spent the last fourteen years learning and writing about the 1928 and 1929 Bunion Derbies, the two great trans-America footraces that set the standard for courage and perseverance in the face of impossible odds.

On March 31, 1929, seventy-seven men began an epic 3,554-mile footrace across America that pushed their bodies to the breaking point. The race was nicknamed the “Bunion Derby” by the press.  The men averaged forty-six, gut-busting miles a day during seventy-eight days of non-stop racing that took them from New York City to Los Angeles.  This was the second and last of two trans-America footraces held in the late 1920’s.

Forty-three of the racers were veterans from the first ever trans-America race held in 1928.  These veterans had learned hard-won lessons of pace, diet, and training, and they put them to good use the next year.

Among this group, two brilliant runners, Johnny Salo of Passaic, New Jersey and Pete Gavuzzi of England, emerged to battle for the $25,000 first prize along the mostly unpaved roads of 1929 America, with each man pushing the other to go faster as the lead switched back and forth between them.  The two men averaged 8 minute and 53 second per mile pace over the trans-American course. No two runners, before or since have ever run that fast for so long.

The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America

The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America

After seventy-seven days of racing, just nine minutes separated these two superstars before the next day’s race finale, a 26.2-mile marathon race around an outdoor track in Los Angeles.

To pay the prize money, Race Director Charley Pyle cobbled together a traveling vaudeville company, complete with dancing debutantes, an all-girl band wearing pilots’ outfits, and blackface comedians, all housed under the massive show tent that Charley hoped would pack in audiences.

This is the story of, arguably, the greatest long distance footrace of all time held at the twilight of the Roaring Twenties.

To learn more about my book, The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America, visit my website at http://www.charleskastner.com

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4 comments on “The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America
  1. David Warady says:

    For all of you RACE ACROSS USA runners,

    Harry Abramowitz came in 11th (of 199 runners) in the 1928 Bunion Derby, at 21 years old. He followed that up, in the 1929 Bunion Derby, with a 9th place finish (of 100 runners).

    I actually met, and spoke at length, with Harry, in 1992, at the finish of the 1992 Runner’s World Trans America Footrace. In fact, he presented me with my winner’s prize. He was 85, at the time, and was so full of life, that I still, to this day, have vivid memories of the experience, now 22 years later.

    I hope all you runners can have the same wonderful experience that I did in the 1992 Trans Am, and that of the runners, in the book(s), Charles Kastner, has written about the Bunion Derbies.

    David Warady – 1992 Trans America Footrace Champion / 2015 Race Across USA – Advisor

  2. Rob Hadgraft says:

    During this great 1929 race the old-stager from England, Arthur Newton, was struck by a vehicle driven by a church minister and had to drop out. He had been one of the favourites to win, but after the accident Europe’s hopes then rested on Newton’s friend and protegee Peter Gavuzzi. By all accounts the finish of the race was a thrilling and controversial affair. To find out more about the remarkable character Newton (“the founding father of modern ultra-running”) my book is still available, ‘Tea With Mr Newton’, published by Desert Island Books from the UK.
    ROB HADGRAFT

  3. Newton was a Beast!

  4. Andy McKissock says:

    Arthur Newton won the Comrades marathon in South Africa 6 times. On the final run he took 14 mins off the record(his own) and broke the World 30 40 and 50 mile road records.