The Barnstormers


In the early days of auto racing a popular practice was to "barnstorm" the country typically playing before agrarian communities at the horse tracks found on county fairgrounds. No promoter was better known for this practice than William Hickman Pickens, who worked extensively with Barney Oldfield and Ernie Moross. These were largely staged races, although they still took place at tremendous speed and were full of danger, as in the case of one of Oldfield's mechanics flipping a racer on a muddy track.
The most dramatic example is the "Championship of the Universe," where Oldfield and aviator Lincoln Beachey would stage "auto vs. airplane" contests. They traveled from town to town in 1914, Oldfield winning one week, Beachey the next. With Pickens promoting, the three men split over $250,000, worth millions in today's money. In many instances Moross or Pickens would arrive in town early to tend to all the arrangements and even arrange a match race with the "local crack," a driver who had gained a reputation in the immediate area by pounding on the other yokels in match races.
My favorite tale is when Oldfield's troop stopped in Reno, Nevada. In order to appeal to the cowboys in the area, the track promoter had talked up how Oldfield and his Peerless Green Dragon had killed men in hair raising accidents. Several cowboys came to the stable to see the "devil man smashing machine." They were disappointed to see there were no "notches" in the car frame to signify all the men that had been snuffed out. Taking a cue, the promoter got a file and scratched several notches in the frame to make sure others knew what a beast Oldfield rode. Check out some of the pages I have linked to in this post. Marvelous reading that makes barnstorming come to life.