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Barney Oldfield

Becomes An Automobile Racer

In 1902, Oldfield raced a gasoline-powered bicycle in Salt Lake City, where he also met automobile inventor Henry Ford. Ford asked Oldfield if he would like to drive one of Ford's cars, and Oldfield agreed. When he got to Grosse Point, Michigan, where the race was to be held, neither of Ford's two cars would start. Ford sold both of them to Oldfield and his partner, Tom Cooper, for $800.

Oldfield's new car, called the "999," had no springs or shocks, and was steered by a tiller, not a wheel. Cooper found that the unwieldy machine, almost impossible to turn or control, needed "a wrestler more than a driver," according to Timothy Messer-Kruse in Toledo's Attic. This role was perfect for Oldfield, and, as Messer Kruse wrote, in the Manufacturer's Challenge Cup, "Oldfield wrenched the car around the turns in a sliding cloud of dust that became his trademark and discovered his talent at last." He beat defending champion Mexander Winton by a half-mile in his first race.

On Memorial Day in 1903, Oldfield became the first person to drive a mile in a minute flat, and won another race. Two months later, he drove a mile in 55.8 seconds, leading his former competitor, Winton, to hire Oldfield to drive for him. Oldfield was given a salary, expenses, and free cars. He toured the United States, doing match races and speed runs; one year, competing for the Peerless company, he competed on twenty different tracks in eighteen weeks. He gave four exhibition runs and won sixteen match races in a row. When asked by a reporter from Automobile what it felt like to drive a mile in less than a minute, Oldfield said, "There is an exhilaration in driving fast that I cannot resist: it is like intoxication."

In 1910, Oldfield bought a Benz and broke all speed records for the mile, two miles, and the kilometer at Ormond Beach, Florida. With the fame these feats brought him, he began charging $4,000 for each personal appearance.

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Famous Sports StarsAuto RacingBarney Oldfield Biography - Obsessed With Speed, Chronology, Becomes An Automobile Racer, Oldfield's Legacy To The Sport - SELECTED WRITINGS BY OLDFIELD: