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Barney Oldfield

Henry Ford standing beside Oldfield's first car in 1902
At Lakeside Track, April 1907
Barney Oldfield sitting in his Blitzen Benz at Daytona (undated), courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection
Oldfield (left) beside his Golden Submarine in the 1920s, courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection
Official starter Barney Oldfield beside racer Ralph Hepburn at Fulford-Miami Speedway board track on February 22 1926, courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection

Bern "Barney" Eli Oldfield (June 3, 1878 – October 4, 1946) was an automobile racer and pioneer. He was born on a farm on the outskirts of Wauseon, Ohio. He was the first man to drive car at 60 miles per hour (100 km/h). His accomplishments led to the expression "Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?"

Racing career

Bicycle racer

He began as a bicycle racer in 1894, and won silver medals and a gold watch. He was being paid handsomely by the Stearns bicycle factory to race on its amateur team in 1896 [1].

Auto racer

He was lent a gasoline-powered bicycle in 1902 to race at Salt Lake City. This led to a meeting with Henry Ford, who wanted to stop racing after one or two career starts in the now famous number 999 Ford car. Henry wanted to have Oldfield test his cars, since Oldfield had never driven a car before. Both cars didn't start. Ford sold both cars to Oldfield for $800 [2]. Oldfield spent much time to prepare the cars.

Oldfield agreed to drive one of the Fords against the then current champion Alexander Winton. Oldfield learned how to operate the car the morning of the event, and won by a half mile in the five mile race. He slid through the corners like a motorcycle racer did instead of braking. It was a great victory for Ford and led both Barney Oldfield and Ford to become household names.

He drove in a match race on Memorial Day weekend in New York in 1903, and was the first driver to drive a mile track in one minute flat or 60 mph (miles per hour). Two months later he drove a mile in 55.8 seconds, and Winton hired Oldfield. Oldfield criss crossed with his agent Will Pickens across the United States in a series of timed runs and match races, where he earned a reputation as a showman. One year he competed at twenty tracks in 18 weeks, and had four exhibition run and won sixteen straight match races. He frequently raced in a three event matchs, and won the first part by a nose, lost the second, before he won the third.

He bought a Benz, and raised his speed in 1910 to 70.159 mph in his "Blitzen Benz". Later that year he drove to 131.25 mph. He used the car to break the existing mile, two mile, and kilometer records at the Daytona Beach Road Course at Ormond, Florida. He was able to charge $4000 U.S. dollars [3] for each appearance after that. He was suspended by the AAA for his "outlaw" racing activities and was unable to race at sanctioned events for much of the prime of his career. Speed records, match races and exhibitions made up most of Oldfield's career.

He put on at least 35 shows in 1914 with the famous aviator Lincoln Beachey. Oldfield raced his Fiat car against Beachey's aircraft.

He was reinstated and he competed in the 1914 and 1916 Indianapolis 500, finishing fifth in each attempt.

Oldfield made a gold car that completely enclosed the driver (called the "Golden Submarine"). In June 1917 he used the Golden Submarine to beat fellow racing legend Ralph DePalma in a series of 10 to 25 mile match races at Milwaukee. He retired from racing in 1918, but he continued to tour and make movies.

Stage and film performances

He starred in the Broadway musical The Vanderbilt Cup (1906) for ten weeks. His movie career included the silent film Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life (1913), where he raced against a train to rescue a heroine tied to the train tracks. He was also featured in The First Auto (1927) as an early pioneer of automotive history. He was a technical advisor for the Vanderbilt Cup sequence in the feature film Back Street (1941).

Business ventures

Barney Oldfield also helped fellow racer Carl G. Fisher found the Fisher Automobile Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is believed to be the first automobile dealership in the United States. [4]

He developed the Oldfield tire for Firestone, which help put Firestone on the map. Firestone used the slogan "'Firestone Tires are my only life insurance,' says Barney Oldfield, world's greatest driver."

He was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.


External links