Barney Oldfield

A scrappy and reckless farm boy from Ohio became America's most legendary race car driver, and his widely publicized victories in Henry Ford's racing cars helped the aspiring entrepreneur launch Ford Motor Company

“Who the hell do you think you are—Barney Oldfield?” That was the motorcycle cop’s standard question for fifty years, and even today you can hear it once in a while if you get caught speeding. For Oldfield’s name still holds the dim thunder of the huge, primitive racing cars that slammed through the dust at the murderous dirt-track meets of the turn of the century. Barney Oldfield was not the best driver in that reckless era; his rival, Ralph De Palma, for instance, handled a car better. But of all the early racing men, only Oldfield became legendary.

Goggles & Side Curtains

The roads were terrible, and posted badly or not at all; you had to equip yourself against a hundred mishaps, ninety-three of which actually happened--but you were often up to your hubcaps in pleasure.

In 1900 there were some twenty-one million horses in the United States and fewer than four thousand automobiles. It seemed improbable at the time that the generation then living would witness a reversal of roles. Yet within a quarter of a century Americans would see the end of their long dependence upon animal power as a means of movement.