Speed Kings - Silent Film (1913)


Wayne Petersen, a great-nephew of Barney Oldfield's wife, is always on the lookout for auto racing memorabilia from the age of the pioneers. He tagged this short silent film (embedded below) from 1913 on early auto racing in Santa Monica, California for me. Two great drivers of the era are prominent in the film - Teddy Tetzlaff and Earl Cooper. It's wonderful to see them in something other than a still photo to get a sense of their mannerisms and physical stature. The film also stars Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

Both these great drivers were among the top of the class in their day. Both finished second in the Indianapolis 500 - Tetzlaff in 1912 and Cooper in 1924. Cooper also finished fourth in 1915. Historians are kinder to Cooper than Tetzlaff, the latter frequently very fast but also suffering mechanical failure. Many believe Tetzlaff lacked the feel for how much punishment his machines could endure. Speaking of machines, get a load of Tetzlaff's big-snout s-74 Fiat and Cooper's wonderful Indianapolis-built Stutz.

An interesting sidelight to the story of this movie is that Tetzlaff became involved in cinema and appeared, with his contemporary Barney Oldfield, in Mack Sennett's films on auto racing such as "Barney Oldfield's Race for Life." Tetzlaff also consulted Hollywood heartthrob Wallace Reid, in his silent movies of the era, "The Roaring Road" and "Excuse My Dust!" Tetzlaff's son, Ted Tetzlaff built a carreer in cinematography.