Monday, January 29, 2007

Barney Oldfield


Auto racer Barney Oldfield was born Berna Eli Oldfield on this day in 1878 in Wauseon, Ohio.

Oldfield served as Henry Ford’s proxy on the racing circuit, driving Ford’s 999 sports car in 1902 in races around the country (beating, among others, Ford's rival Alexander Winton). Winton hired him away from Ford and sent him on tour in his Winton Bullet, in which Oldfield became the first driver to achieve the speed of a mile-per-minute (at Indianapolis on June 15, 1903). In 1910 he set another record, hitting 131.724 mph in a 200-horsepower Blintzen Benz, in a match race against African-American heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson, who had boasted he could beat any professional driver. For racing an African-American, the American Automobile Association suspended Oldfield and banned him from AAA-sanctioned meets.

He was a bit past his prime, although still probably the most famous racer in the U.S., when he starred in a Mack Sennett adventure-comedy short, Barney Oldfield's Race for Life (1913), in which he raced a train to get to Mabel Normand and untie her from the tracks.

Oldfield died on October 4, 1946 in Beverly Hills, California. He never finished higher than fifth in the Indianapolis 500.

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