Oldfield, Dragon, 1906

It's pretty apparent from all the advance promotion of the May 1906 Decoraion Day races at the Indiana State Fairgrounds that Barney Oldfield was the most marketable of all the drivers. This photo ran with an article about him in the May 27, 1906 Indianapolis Star. While Oldfield had not established himself as a road racer (later in his career he turned in some pretty creditable road racing performances such as a second-place finish in the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup and a victory at the 1915 300-mile contest in Venice, California), he was the most decorated of the drivers barnstorming and running in races at horse track venues. These events, however, had come under fire after several injuries and fatal accidents to spectators and drivers alike. The previous year the motoring media had pushed for a ban at these facilities.
Regardless, fans still were drawn to the contests. Oldfield was widely respected for his "mile-a-minute" run on the same fairgrounds track three years earlier in June 1903. He had apparently bettered that mark by 6.8 seconds in subsequent runs at other tracks since then. Check out Barney Oldfield's record-setting performances at the Lexington Fairgrounds the previous Wednesday.

  • 20 miles: 36 minutes, 40.2 seconds
  • 30 miles: 43 minutes, 59.4 seconds
  • 35 miles: 51 minutes, 16.2 seconds
  • 40 miles: 58 minutes, 34.4 seconds
  • 45 miles: 1 hour, five minutes, 52.2 seconds
  • 50 miles*: 1 hour, 13 minutes, two seconds

* Broke world's record by two minutes, 18 seconds.
Interestingly, Oldfield had plans to continue his stage performance work in the Broadway play, "The Vanderbilt Cup," returning to the production in September. In addition to that there is speculation that he would race in the real Vanderbilt Cup - but that did not materialize in 1906. Oldfield never raced in any of the Vanderbilt Cup contests on Long Island. Note that Oldfield was 27 years old at the time.
Newspapermen - as the media was referred to in the day - were drawn to Oldfield during his stay in Indianapolis that May. Below are quotes lifted from some of the articles written about him during the month.

  • "We are living in a fast age and the man who is willing to sacrifice his bones and gore on the altar of a highly seasoned sport is the man of the hour. It is not enough that Americans bring forth beautiful specimens of inventive genius and mechanical skill, but they must be raced around a circular track where there is a chance of killing a driver or two."
  • "I have witnessed bull fights across the river from El Paso, Texas. Four-fifths of those I saw were Americans, and in that particular place they patronize the 'sport' and make its continuance possible. Why, in St. Louis a couple of years ago an enterprising promoter advertised a genuine bull fight and a crowd numbering over 30,000 persons was attracted. Of course, the authorities stopped the affair, but the people showed that they were disappointed in not having the opportunity to witness an exhibition where gore was to be spouted in large streams by tearing up the grandstands and fences of the enclosure."
  • "I have crashed through fences a dozen times while racing on the track and on four of these occasions spectators were killed. It was because they had crowded past the danger lines that were stretched off with ropes."
  • "I have smashed up seven times and I know what it all means. I want to quit this dangerous business but I cannot. There has been a lot of talk during the past year about the governing body of automobile racing stopping track racing contests. I wish they would, but so long as there are accidents to drivers so long the public will pay to see it, and so long as there are gate receipts and my accidents have made my services so much more in demand."
  • "In the winter I made up my mind that I am through with track racing, but with the spring come offers of half a hundred promoters and clubs making me propositions I cannot decline and I am at the steering wheel before the frost is off the ground."
  • "I frequently sit in a public place and overhear a conversation between two men. One is saying, 'Let's go out to the automobile races and see that fool Oldfield kill himself.' I haven't much of a chance to be an egoist for I realize then that it is not any love of the sport that draws them, but because they scent the danger and don't want to miss the chance to see 'that something happen.' If  could guarantee to go through the fence in Indianapolis Wednesday the merchants would have to close their stores, for they would have neither customers nor clerks."
  • "If there is a man in this country who has a keener appreciation than myself of what it means every time I drive a mile in less than a minute, I want to see the color of his hair. They say I am a fool, they say I am a reckless driver, a wild man. I know they do, for I have heard them. They say a man would not take such a chance unless he were half-crazy, and I want to be quoted as saying that all these people are dead wrong. There is just one consideration in the world that tempts me to risk my life every time I drive, and that one consideration is money."
  • "I tell you I am much aware of the desperate chances I take as the most timid little woman in the grandstand who was never in an automobile in her life. I'm in this game for money, and nothing else in the world. The championship? Bah, that's a detail and only figures because it helps to draw the crowd to see me work. Glory doesn't get you anything when your neck is broken, or when your left lege is wrapped around your neck..."
  • "I want to get out of this business, but I haven't as much money laid away as I ought to have and I must make so much before I can quit. You see, a fellow leading the sort of life I have been following the lot of money and forms expensive habits that cannot be shaken off. If I quit the game with $25,000 it would not last me long. So the real reason I am driving all sorts of tracks, and taking these awful chances, is because I have set my figure and need my share of the gate receipts of a big lot of meets to bring my pile up to the mark."
  • "The fault does not have to be with the driver. A little flaw somewhere in the steel - the crystallizing of a bit of metal that never shows the least weakness until it snaps, and then it's too late - a tire that blows up on the turn, and there you are. Oh, I'm not a fool, and if you call me a reckless driver you insult my intelligence. I know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, and money is the answer."
  • "All I want is to have the credit given me for being the first man in the country to drive a racing car a mile under the minute on a circular track. I showed them it was possible, and after they watched how I made the turns with shutting off and saw it was not an impossible task they undertook it, and America now has many good track drivers. But I don't intend to stick to it. I value the day I'm going to quit."


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