My latest sculpture is a
step back in time to the roots of Automobile racing in America. A depiction of
Barney Oldfield being pulled by a team of Mules from the New River north of
Phoenix Arizona in the 1914 Cactus Derby. Barney went on to win the race from
LA to Phoenix and won the coveted "Master Driver of the World" metal.
"The Grand Old Man of Racing"
Below: Barney and his good friend Henry Ford
pose for a photograph.
At left: Barney Oldfield and his trademark cigar
Barney, Ford, and auto racing
(By STEVE COLON: Published 10-31-02)
Wauseon truly is a great place to live. This quaint, small city is not known
for events that change the world. However, one man, born in rural York
Township just outside of town, did manage to rise above his humble
small-town birth to bring about a change that would forever change the world
in which we live.
His name is Berna Eli Oldfield and he was born on Jan.
29, 1878 and before his death on Oct. 4, 1946 he managed to almost
single-handedly transform the sport of automobile racing.
At the turn of the century motor sports were not a
popular blue-collar sport as they are today. In Oldfield's day, it was a
sport reserved for the bluebloods.
Auto racing was a pastime for the idle rich who, before
the ingenuity of Henry Ford, could actually afford to own cars, let alone
buy cars used solely for racing.
On his way to becoming one of the most famous drivers
of his time, Oldfield did much to make racing a popular sport all the while
thumbing his nose at the etiquette and regality of his fellow upper-class
With his trademark cigar planted firmly in the corner
of his mouth, he took his carsãthe 999, "Green Dragon," "Blitzen Benz," and
the "Golden Submarine"ãto national prominence. He is perhaps most known as
the first man to drive a mile a minute or 60 mph.
A popular cartoon from the time depicted a police
officer chasing after a couple in a car while shouting, "Who do you think
you are? Barney Oldfield?" Oldfield was fast becoming a popular-culture
When asked what it felt like to drive at such an
unreasonably fast speed by a reporter from The Automobile Magazine in 1906
"It doesn't thrill me a bit to drive a 1:05 clip, and
though I might win races without having to drive under the minute, I just
have to let it out to get another thrill."
You just clamp your teeth on your cigar and get down to
work so that you know to an inch how much the car will swing on the turns
and you get more fun out of the ride than a whole stand full of people."
Enter Henry Ford and his assembly-line process for
building cars. This too revolutionized the automobile industry and Ford and
Oldfield formed a bond. Oldfield was known to have many other famous
friends: Ty Cobb, heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson to name a few.
It was the bond with Ford that proved the most
influential. Ford earned enough money in one race to buy his first car
company from which he built the now famous 999, so dubbed by Oldfield for
the record setting train of the same name.
On Oct. 25, 1902 Oldfield brought the "999" to life.
Five minutes and 28 seconds later, he had set a new world speed record for a
When Ford and Oldfield got back together in the 30s,
Ford remarked to the now famous driver, "You made me and I made you."
Oldfield's name still has a recognition in Wauseon, but
despite his car's and exploits on display at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn,
Mich., his name and his record-setting driving are losing their recognition.
Enter two more people: William F. Nolan and Jeff
Gamble. Nolan is the author most notable for his science-fiction writing. He
wrote "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" which went on to
become the blockbuster movie Blade Runner. Gamble is very well-known among
car aficionados for his detailed sculptures depicting famous events in
automobile racing history.
Nolan also wrote a biography of Oldfield entitled "Barney Oldfield: The Life and Times of America's Speed King's"
originally published in 1961. In commemoration of Oldfield's 100th
anniversary of his record breaking time, Nolan and his publisher Brown-Fox
Books are releasing a new printing of the book with a complete photo section
of Oldfield and his races.
Gamble is currently working on a sculpture depicting
Oldfield's legendary win in the Desert Classic, a race from Los Angeles to
Phoenix. This win earned Oldfield the title "Master Driver of the World."
The rise of current motor sports such as NASCAR, CART
and Indy racing with their familiar names of Earnhardt, Andretti, Petty,
Mears, Sullivan, and even Northwest Ohio's own Sam Hornish Jr. might never
have been possible were it not for that cigar-smoking, speed-loving man with
roots right here in Wauseon.
While his name might not bring instant recognition his
legend most truly lives on.