Barney Oldfield: King of Speed – Part 5

For previous entires in the series: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

Stuntin’ with Lincoln Beachey

Will Pickens, Barney’s longtime manager, had long since diversified into other types of acts. Pickens, for example, now represented Lincoln Beachey, the first man to ever “stunt” an airplane. Between the 1913 and 1914 racing seasons, Pickens, Oldfield, and Beachey combined forces to put on a series of car versus plane races at various fairgrounds. The events were a huge spectacle earned the three gentleman a small fortune in a few short months. Pickens would later die in the San Francisco bay performing one of his acts.

The De Palma Feud Heats Up

Barney Oldfield had raced for Mercer before. The first big event of the 1914 season was the Vanderbilt Cup, which was to be held in Santa Monica that year. The Mercer team had already signed Ralph De Palma for the race. However, the team manager could not resist having two of the hottest names in racing on the same team. He tapped his history with Barney Oldfield and signed him up to drive for Mercer. De Palma was furious. In fact, he was so upset, that he refused to drive on the same team as Oldfield. Oldfield, the consummate showman, and De Palma, the racer’s racer, were diametrically opposed in personality and approach to racing. De Palma ended up having to look elsewhere for a car to drive, given that he could not stomach being on the same team as the old master, Oldfield.

De Palma found an aging Mercedes racer, that he had used to win the Vanderbilt Cup and Elgin Trophy in 1912. Shortly after the start, several drivers in front of De Palma crashed and overheated. Suddenly, he found himself in the lead. According to the writer and painter, Peter Helck, Oldfield in his Mercer “hounded the German car relentlessly, clipping chunks of time lap by lap and being within 8 sec. at 190 miles.” However, Barney’s fast and furious approach destroyed his tires, causing him to pit beyond that required by De Palma. Once again, a few laps from the finish, Barney’s tires were running thin. Again, according to Peter Helck’s classic account of the race:

“De Palma swung wide on Nevada Avenue turn and, looking back, observed the crucial state of his opponent’s rubber. Virtually together, both cars thundered past the picts when De Palma signaled for a stop next time. As hoped the signal was observed by Oldfield and obviously welcomed by the old master. At lap end, with the German car trailing guilelessly, the Mercer scooted in for replacements, while De Palma, successful in the ruse, never paused.”

And so, De Palma continued on without pitting to win the race by 80 seconds. This would be the last notable success for the old-style chain-drive cars.

At the Indy 500, France and their new style of cars, dominated. Rene Thomas won the race, followed by Arthur Duray, Albert Guyot, and Jules Goux. Barney Oldfield placed fifth, in a Stutz, ranking him best against the other Americans.

Around the beginning of World War I, for Europe, Barney continued to drive for the Harry Stutz. In July 1914, Barney Oldfield was out early, due to engine trouble, at a race in Sioux City, Iowa. In August 1914, De Palma wins the Elgin Road Race for the Chicago Auto Club Trophy. Barney Oldfield only managed fourth place. Wishart, another driver, was killed the following day competing for the Elgin National Trophy.

The 1914 Cactus Derby

The Cactus Derby was a rough and tumble off-road race that pushed even the most well-designed cars to their absolute limit. In 1914, the race took a new route as compared to previous years. It was set at 671 miles, to be completed over three days. According to an article by Mark Dill, “Conventional wisdom suggested that only reinforced stock cars had the sturdiness to survive the potholes, boulders and riverbeds the course presented.”

Barney Oldfield was never one for dogmatic adherence to conventional wisdom. Barney Oldfield loaded up his low-slung Stutz from the Indy 500 and headed for Los Angeles in November 1914.

As could be expected for these early racers, it was a race of attrition. Twenty cars started; however, only eight were able to finish. Fortunately, the aging Barney Oldfield, now 36 and called ‘the grand old man’ was successful. Usually known only for track racing, Oldfield showed his versatility by overcoming terrible weather and strong opponents to win the race on time.

Barney Oldfield won the race in 22 hours and 59 seconds for an average speed of approximately 29.2 miles per hour. He was 35 minutes ahead of the second place finisher. Oldfield, the old master, proved that he still had a few tricks up his sleeve.

The Maxwell Team: Setbacks and Resurgance

For the “circle city” Corona meet, on Thanksgiving Day, Oldfield switched to the Maxwell team. In fact, at the invitation of the team’s manager, he joined the team only one day before the start of the race. These 140 horsepower cars were designed by Ray Harroun, the first Indy 500 winner.

Although the old-man was still competitive, he only managed fourth on the AAA championship points list. This was the closest that Oldfield, for all his track records, would ever come to winning the national championship.

For the 1915 season, board tracks were rising in popularity. These circle tracks, built entirely from two-by-fours narrowly laid end to end, were coming into their own. Oldfield would need to master yet another type of racing.

Initially, in 1915, Oldfield had a series of setbacks early in the season. However, he would briefly recover and find some success before his contract with Maxwell ran out. In January, his car caught fire. In February, at San Francisco, a piston broke. In March, at the Vanderbilt Cup also in San Francisco, Barney Oldfield was simply not competitive.

English: Barney Oldfield posing with race car ...

Following Barney’s uncompetitive performance at the 1915 Vanderbilt Cup, Maxwell redesigned several aspects of their race cars engine, including the exhaust. The net result was a more powerful racer. With his newly improved mount, Oldfield turned around and won a 300 mile “boards over dirt” race. Barney also won the next race in Tucson on March 20, 1915.

Unfortunately, the success may have gone to Barney’s head. He returned to his partying ways. When May rolled around, Barney was hard at it. In fact, in Indianapolis, Barney partied so much the night before the 500, that he was unable to turn a single lap. He noted that the noise alone of his engine might just kill him. Ralph De Palma won the Indy 500 that year.

Around then, in the middle of the 1915 season, Barney Oldfield’s contract ran up. He needed a new competitive car, but fate delivered something else entirely. His millionaire friend, and chairman of the Touring Board of the AAA, David G. Joyce purchased and imported a grand prix racing Delage from France.

Barney was excited at the prospect of another European imported vehicle. Unfortunately, the Delage would the least successful car that Barney ever raced. After importing the car, it took several weeks to prepare the car for domestic racing.

During the wait, Oldfield brought out the killer-Christie, his front-wheel drive beast, yet again. The Christie, now ancient by racing standards, was still fast. However, it’s achilles tendon was the fact that it overheated after just a few laps of running. But, as a record-setter, it was still a good mount. On July 2, 2015, in Tacoma, Washington, Oldfield set records for the 1/2 mile, 1 mile, and 2 mile distances.

In the main event, on the fourth of July, Barney drove a Peugeot. Today, commentators occasionally speak of how tightly-knit the racing community is. They travel together, they all know each other, and they race hard against each other. This commonality of experience yields a certain loyalty to other members of the community. This was probably even more true in the old days, when racing meant equal chances at victory and death.

Billy Carlson, a fellow racer and close friend, was at wide-open-throttle top speed on the 60th lap of the Tacoma main event. On the back stretch, one of his tires popped. The car was thrown like a projectile over a 30-foot embankment. Neither Billy Carlson, nor his riding mechanic, survived the day. Oldfield was shaken; however, in those days the race always went on. Barney took fifth place.

Stay tuned for the remaining entries in the Barney Oldfield: King of Speed series.

Barney Oldfield: King of Speed – Part 4

This is the fourth entry of a multi-part series on Barney Oldfield, an original king of speed.  For the preceding entries:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Boxer Jack Johnson Races Barney Oldfield

Jim Jeffries, a former heavyweight champion of the world, circa 1905, came out of retirement to defend his status and boxing prowess. The challenger Jack Johnson destroyed Jeffries.

Jack Johnson, Heavyweight Champion.

At some point, Barney Oldfield endorsed a rumor that the black Johnson had drugged the white Jeffries. Jack Johnson, like Barney Oldfield, was a fan of living large and driving fast. Johnson was incensed at the suggestion that Johnson’s win over Jeffries was anything short of completely legitimate.

Jack Johnson responded to Barney Oldfield stating, “I’d be happy to beat Mr. Oldfield at his game as easy as I beat Mr. Jeffries in the ring. In fact, I’ve got $5,000.00 that says I’m a faster driver on any track.”

A war of words, stained with racist paradigms, ensued in the newspapers between Oldfield and Jack Johnson. As the race got closer, AAA got involved. Making sure to note that Jack Johnson was black, AAA condemned Barney for getting involved with such farcical spectacle.

Oldfield defended his decision to stage the exhibition match in upcoming October on contractual grounds, as he continued to publicize the race:

“I signed the contract for the race with Jack Johnson without knowing that the three As would not sanction the race, and in my contract I made no mention of any sanction. A week ago, I accepted a bonus from the promoters of the race, and now they refuse to accept the return of the money and threaten me with a suit I refuse to carry out my part of the contract to race Johnson. Besides, they claim that I will get the reputation of being a quitter.”

After several delays due to bad weather, the race finally took place on October 25, 1910 on a muddy circle track. Barney, a master of dirt tracks, had no trouble in trouncing Johnson. In fact, Oldfield won the first two five mile heats, rendering a third heat completely unnecessary. Barney Oldfield was, in fact, banned by the AAA from sanctioned racing This particular ban was for one year and forced Barney to go underground for the 1911 season.

Prelude to His Final Act

Suspended from sanctioned racing by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), Barney Oldfield sat out most of the 1911 season. He tried to run a bar; it did not go that well. Finally, 1912 rolled around. He was ready to get back in the game, but he needed a car. A chance meeting with a man named J. Walter Christie provided an opportunity.

J. Walter Christie had made a fortune by designing, producing, and selling military gun turrets. Technically, vehicles driven by their front wheels had previously existed. However, it was Christie that patented the front-wheel-drive vehicle as we know it today. He was granted patent 761,657 on June 7, 1904. He had a prototype built sometime in 1905. The patent itself contemplates a racing vehicle. It frequently refers to high-speed capabilities that may need to be modified for more moderate-speed touring.

Original “Front Wheel Fury”

Christie immediately set to work designing cars. He had a prototype by 1905. In 1907, a front-wheel-drive Christie was used to set a new record for the dirt track mile. A number of these cars were designed with different engines. There is one problem: each of these race cars was notoriously brutal to handle at speed.

This would not be a hangup for Barney. In late spring 1912, he jumped at the opportunity to purchase the most powerful Christie racer for the tidy sum of $750.00 from J. Walter Christie himself. At the time, his front drive Christie was reported be 300 horsepower; however, more reliable modern estimates suggest a figure of 140 to be more accurate.

By mid-September 1912, Oldfield was quick. He was even setting a record or two in the car. In early October, he attended the Vanderbilt Cup. Ralph DePalma, Oldfield’s nemesis, won Vanderbilt cup. DePalma went on to win the AAA championship that year. But, Barney would not set by idly and let his reputation be eclipsed. He would be back with a vengeance in 1913.

In the meantime, he starred in a film called “Barney Oldfield’s Race for Life.” This film has been cited as possibly the first example of a damsel in distress on train tracks.

Barney’s first major race of 1913 was a match race against “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff. Barney brought his front drive Christie to race against Tetzlaff’s giant Fiat. On the banked wooden board-track, Oldfield was victories. He even set two new world records. Not only that, but he persuaded Tetzlaff’s mechanic (who often rode with the driver, in those days, in some types of racing) to join his camp.

For the next race, Barney could not get to the race in time to practice. Instead, he sent Hill, the mechanic he stole from Tetzlaff, to practice for him. Oldfield’s plan was for Hill to learn the course. This sounded crazy to Hill. However, when race time came around, Barney instructed Hill to just hit his back anytime he was going to fast for a corner. The plan, somehow, worked and Oldfield won the race.

A month later, Barney Oldfield loses to Tetzlaff only after having a near miss in which he barely escaped unscathed. Remember, in those days, almost any crash could be fatal. This does not slow Barney down. In late April, Oldfield lowered the world records of “Wild Bob” Burman and his nemesis Ralph De Palma. He raced the mile oval in 46.4 seconds, which beat the previous record by over one full second.

Over the July 4th weekend, Oldfield showed his versatility by racing in a rugged road race from Los Angeles to Sacramento. The 444 mile trek was known for destroying cars. Unfortunately, Oldfield’s Hewlett Fiat broke its chain drive. Even still, he managed third place with his Fiat. The winner, Earl Cooper, was coming on strong. In fact, he went on to win the 1913 AAA driver’s championship.

Although he kept the beastly-Christie, Oldfield joined the Mercer team for the upcoming Santa Monica road race, which was a massively attended event at the time. Oldfield, determined to keep his reputation intact held the lead at the end of the first lap. Tetzlaff chased Oldfield. Earl Cooper came on strong and challenged Tetzlaff for second. Finally, Cooper passed Tetzlaff.

What followed has been described as an “unrelenting two-man battle” between Barney Oldfield and Earl Cooper. Toward the end of the race, Barney Oldfield saw Cooper in the pits. At that moment, he had an error in judgment. Seeing Cooper in the pits, Oldfield slammed his foot down on the loud-pedal. But, the torque was too much for his strained rear tires. They both exploded. Barney finished, but had given up the lead.

A short time later, Barney Oldfield headed to Corona, a unique town built in the shape of a circle, with a grand boulevard surrounding. Originally designed for the horse, a new type of thoroughbred descended on the town in September 1913. Barney raced a Mercer, painted yellow, and battled both Tetzlaff and Felix Magone, who was driving a Stutz. The track broke up during the race; there were numerous accidents. One of these accidents involved Oldfield. Toward the end of the race, a young boy could not contain his excitement and ran out onto the track, right in front Barney. As Oldfield’s car barreled down toward the child, Barney Oldfield swerved. He narrowly missed the boy, crashing into the crowd. Although nobody was killed, several spectators were injured severely. Earl Cooper went on to win the race.

Barney Oldfield: King of Speed – Part 1

The Early Years

The Speed King of Swag

Barney Oldfield was a true American original. Barney Oldfield was a racer; he was also equal parts showman. Oldfield was there at the beginning of organized racing. At heart, he was a dirt-track man through and through. But, if you asked him, he was the “King of Speed.” He wasn’t just fast, he was cool.

The Bernd Eli (Oldfield) Years

Bernd Eli Oldfield was born on June 3, 1878, two years after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. He had one older sister, Bertha Oldfield. Bernd Eli was born in a rural farming community in Ohio. Around his twelfth birthday, his family made a difficult decision to move to Toledo for a more city-oriented, industrialized existence. Growing tired of farm life, the Oldfield’s wanted to benefit from the conveniences of industry. And so, they moved Bernd and his older sister Bertha to Toledo, a thriving rail center.

Bernd dropped out of school between 12 and 15 years of age. Around 1893, Bernd Eli Oldfield took a job at a Toledo Hotel, the Monticello. In his later years, he would quip that his first job as a racer was operating the Monticello Hotel elevator. At Monticello, Bernd’s boss called him a sissy for his name; an insult which could not stand. To avoid coming to fisticuffs with his offending supervisor, Bernd Eli asserted “just call me Barney.” The name stuck. Even his parents began calling him Barney.

The Bicycle Years

Between 1893 and 1894, Barney became obsessed with bicycle racing, dropping out of school and working, in part, to save for his own bike. Unfortunately, what he purchased was too heavy to be raced. Like all speed fiends, he needed a better, faster, lighter machine. He eventually obtained a race-worthy bicycle. He entered his first race on May 30, 1894. He came in second. By the end of 1894, he had won some silver medals and a gold watch.

A young Barney Oldfield poses on a racing tandem bicycle.

In 1895, he attended the Ohio State Championship Races for cycling. This turned out to be a life changing event. There, he caught the eye of the Stearns Bicycle company. He also met a girl from nearby Canton and immediately proposed. She deferred; however, they did marry one year later. Barney later said this was but a teenage infatuation. The marriage ended quickly.

The Stearns Bicycle job involved some racing, but also it involved a lot of selling. Barney quickly learned how difficult it can be to survive on retail commission. Around this time, young Oldfield experimented in other endeavors. He went through a boxing phase, but was quickly known only for his glass jaw. He was soon headed toward motorsport partly by chance and partly by destiny.

The Motoring Connect

In 1899, his friend Tom Cooper won the Bicycle Championship of America. As a direct result of his success, Cooper then headed to Europe, where he encountered the motorized bicycle (an early form of the motorcycle). Meanwhile, the automobile quickly gained acceptance in America. Around this time, the great city to city automobile races of Europe were maturing; however, increasing speeds also caused significant and increasing dangers. Racing in the United States remained nomadic and primitive.

By 1900, Barney Oldfield’s own reputation was well-cemented; his bicycle racing exploits appeared in newspapers. According to tone article: “He is at present in Omaha, and is counted to be one of the fast men of this country.” In fact, both newspapers and bicycle advertisers touted his name at appearances throughout the summer of 1900.

Sometime in October 1900, Tom Cooper, his cycle racing buddy, brought a tandem motorized bicycle back from Europe with him. Then, serendipity stepped in. Tom Cooper decided to take the racer to a Detroit Track, Grosse Pointe. As it happened, the track was also Henry Ford’s local raceway. Cooper and Oldfield raced hard on the tandem single-cylinder that day; however, something much more important happened. A then-unknown Henry Ford, and a car of his own design, beat automotive giant Alex Winton’s race car on the track. It was on this day that Oldfield met Henry Ford.

Transition to a Driver

Barney Oldfield continued racing bicycles, notwithstanding a brief stint as a gold mine operator. By 1902, Barney had already headed back east. Newspaper articles establish that Barney Oldfield continued to race bicycles, powered or otherwise, through September 10, 1902. In the interim, Cooper wrote Oldfield and told him that they thought he should drive one of Henry Ford’s new prototypes.

Again, historian William F. Nolan’s account is crucial. Nolan wrote, “When Cooper joined Ford it was agreed that Tom would shoulder most of the financial burden, and that the plans, primary design and materials would be Ford’s responsibility.” A draftsman, C. Harold Wills, and a chief mechanic, Ed “Spider” Huff, also worked at the shop at 81 Park Place. Oldfield joined them in late September.

Now, as the story goes, they showed up with Ford’s new racers at Grosse Pointe, but they would not run. Henry Ford became upset and quit the venture. He sold the 999 and Red Devil cars to Tom Cooper on October 13, 1902. Ford’s basic premise was that he could not have his name associated with a failure at the race track.

The Celery King of Kalamazoo.

Oldfield figured out pretty quickly that (at least to him) racing was as much about self-promotion as outright speed. Sure, he had speed, but he needed a hype man. He went straight to Glenn Stuart, the Kalamazoo celery king. Glenn Stuart had a small farm, from which he grew it to such magnitude that it put Kalamazoo on the map.

Meanwhile, the 1903 Paris to Madrid fiasco and the relatively successful 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup, in Ireland, were taking place. Barney Oldfield, would eventually drive a car that he called the “Green Dragon.” As of the summer of 1903, the yet-to-be-named Green Dragon was being raced at the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup; the Peerless racer would eventually be rebuilt for Oldfield.

Oldfield Off to the Races

On May 30, 1903, Oldfield was scheduled in a match race against a man named Charles Ridgeway in a Peerless. Oldfield won the first two, of three, heats. The payoff from the match was substantial. It was enough for Barney to pay off his parents’ entire mortgage. This was really his first truly significant automobile win.

Just a few days later, on June 20, 1903, in Indianapolis, Oldfield broke a world record when he drove an automobile one mile in 59 and three-fifths seconds. This feat was covered in newspapers all over the nation. Barney netted $1,200.00, a huge sum in those days, for breaking the record. Barney Oldfield was off to the races, as it were.

Within days, he back on the track trying to break the record that he had just set. Throughout his lengthy racing career, Barney Oldfield was more focused on breaking the next record than being a true racer. That should not denigrate his skill; however, it does speak to his motivations as a man.

At this point, Barney was still racing the “Red Devil” while Tom Cooper was rocking the “999” variant. Newspapers echo frequent allegations of 80 horsepower in each of these beasts. By the summer of 1903, Barney Oldfield was a household name. He would fight to keep it that way, for the rest of his life. Oldfield, if nothing else, was dedicated to his own fame.

A Death at Speed Week, 1900

The Speed Week events in the south of France, around Monaco, were not the first races of the season.  The new 24 horsepower (some reports suggest a rating of 30 horsepower) had just been released.  The newly lightened Panhard et Levassors could not match the power of the Mors at 16 horsepower.  The great early racer, René de Knyff had been driving the wheels off his 16 horsepower Panhard, though many other drivers were still competing with the less powerful 12 horsepower Panhards.  New to the racing scene were the Cannstatt Daimler cars were now being called Mercedes.  They were heavy and notoriously difficult to handle, while racing.

Gottlieb Daimler Dies in March 1900.

Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900)
Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The so-called speed week along the southern French coast was a yearly affair taking place around late March.  This year, the week started on Sunday, March 25 (1900).  Just a few weeks earlier, on March 6, 1900, Gottlieb Daimler had died.  Gottlieb Daimler’s legacy had already been cemented by his death; however, he was likely unaware of just how pervasive his influence would be on modern life.

It was Gottlieb Daimler who first miniaturized and made mobile the internal combustion engine.  Simply, Gottlieb Daimler was the first to have the insight, vision, and practical engineering knowledge to create an automobile engine.  Certainly, the autonomous mobile vehicle (requiring only a driver but no horses or other propulsion) had been conceived by great thinkers such as Francis Bacon.  Yet, it was many centuries before someone with the correct set of talents was able to make this vision a reality.  Now, the old Daimler may have been a visionary, but–like many visionaries–was stubborn, unbending, and often extremely difficult to work with.  His death, in some ways, allowed Daimler–the company–to have more freedom to develop the automobile.

The first races following the death of Gottlieb Daimler were the Speed Week races in the South of France.

1900 Nice to Marseilles

In years past, the race had been run from Marseilles heading into Nice, near Monaco.  However, for 1900, a roundtrip race from Nice to Marseilles and back was planned.  However, bad weather forced the race to be run in only one direction, with the return trip to Nice untimed.        .

Emil Jellinek
Emil Jellinek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a big week each year for Emil Jellinek to garner interest in his Monacan import of the Cannstatt Daimler’s, including the new Mercedes models.  In fact, 1900 was the first year that the label “Mercedes” shows up in official racing charts and results.

The Jellinek camp, heavily connected to the Daimler factory operation, entered two short-chassis Pheonix’s under the label of Mercedes, according to Robert Dick.  Both cars were rated at 26 horsepower and weighed in at 1,400 kilograms.   Herman Braun drove the relatively longer 217 cm. framed Mercedes.  Wilhelm Bauer, the Cannstatt factory foreman entered to extremely short wheel-based (190 cm.) Mercedes.

The comparatively lighter 16 horsepower Panhards were present in numbers. Names such as Charron, De Knyff, Pinson, and Hourgieres all entered Panhard et Levassor models.

The new, massive-engined Mors was entered by Alfred Velghe.  Alfred Velghe always entered under a moniker, as was fashionable at the time (and confusing for researchers!).  He entered as “Levegh” an anagram of his last name.  Students of motorsport history may recognize this notorious name.  Alfred was the uncle of the driver that caused the disaster at Le Mans in 1955, which arguably remains the worst disaster in all motorsport history.

Prior to the race, DeKnyff’s car was fired up and ready to race.  With old-timey splendor, Gilles Hourgieres rolled up behind De Knyff’s car.  Failing to brake in time, he bumped the back of De Knyff’s Panhard.  This caused De Knyff’s car to drop into gear and take off without a driver.  Fortunately, it drove itself into a nearby barrier and did not do any damage to the new Mercedes.

Braun, in his brand new Mercedes, managed to end up in a ditch a mere 15 kilometers from the starting line.  A privately entered Daimler, entered by Prince Lubecki, broke two wheels when attempting to give Charron room to pass.  These events, perhaps, were a harbinger of what was to come later in the week.  These accidents were compounded by the sheer difficulty in driving the short wheel-based Daimlers.

As the race progressed, Levegh’s 7.5 liter Mors was clearly the fastest car.  However, power and speed are only good so long as they can reliably transmitted into motion.  Levegh lost over 30  minutes dealing with torn up tires.  One might recall that the modern pneumatic tire was but in its infancy in 1900.

Due to the difficulties of Levegh, De Knyff was able to carry the day in his lightweight 16 horsepower Panhard.  He averaged a shocking 43.8 miles per hour.

Death at the La Turbie Hillclimb

For several years, a hillclimb outside of Monaco, leading up to La Turbie followed the touring car race.  For the Cannstatt Mercedes entry, Bauer was driving, while Braun was riding with him.  According to Gerald Rose, Bauer “ran wide at the first corner into the rocks which bordered the road, and was killed.”  This, as far as I can recall, is the first death of a notable driver occurring as a result of racing incident.  As such, it signals the inclusion of a certain darkness that has continued to be a part of motorsport to this day.

Certainly, attitudes toward death in sport have changed dramatically in the last century.  In fact, it is probably fair to say that modern attitudes toward death in general differ significantly from those a century ago.  However, one result of Bauer’s death is certain: it was terrible “PR.”  Specifically, following Bauer’s death, Cannstatt-Daimler’s were often viewed as dangerous, difficult to handle, and unrefined.

A notable automotive journalist from Paris, the epicenter of the turn of the century automotive scene, defended the Cannstatt Daimler’s.  He noted that, “Before the race, Bauer had practised the hill forty time.  He knew it better than anyone else.”  He suggested that his death was the result of spectator placement and a lighter, better handling car would still have likely met the same fate given the speed the field was racing at.

Conclusion

In summary, the 1900 season is witnessing the beginning of the race toward giant displacement engines.  The Daimler’s were over 5 liter engines.  The new Mors, the benchmark of speed for the 1900 season, was up to 7.5 liters.  In coming years, the engines would grow to staggering sizes.  These giants came about from limitations in engine design.  Given an inability to raise engine revolutions, the next obvious way to increase power was to increase engine size and displacement. Ultimately, it would take the advances in technology from the first world war to design smaller, but more efficient engines.

 

Sources

Robert Dick, Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915 (2005).

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949).

Early Automotive Races in 1899

While Jenatzy was still perfecting La Jamais Contente, the 1899 racing season got underway.  As was quickly becoming tradition, the season began with a “speed week” of sorts in the south of France along the Riviera.

Nice – Castellane – Nice, 1899

The first race of the 1899 season took place on March 21st.  The Riviera speed week, or semaine automobile, was organized by the automobile club of Nice.  The club was headed by Jacques Gondoin.  According to Robert Dick, the speed week was a complete affair including a long distance race, a touring car race, a one-mile sprint, a hill climb, and an exposition at the end of the week.

As for the long distance event from Nice to Castellane and back, there were some last minute changes to the route due to narrow roads; however, nobody seemed too dissatisfied.  Albert Lemaitre’s Peugeot was the popular favorite for the week.  His Peugeot was rated at 20 horsepower, with a two cylinder engine (140 x 90 mm.).  The Panhard and Levassor’s of 1899 were four cylinders (80 x 120 mm); however, they were only rated at around eight horsepower.  Only Lemaitre had the new, faster Peugeot.

According to Gerald Rose:

“The only important incident in the race was the accident to Marcellin.  The redoubtable cyclist had started ten minutes late and was going at top speed behind a car, as the habit was of tricyclists, and so failed to see a turn in the road in the cloud of dust which encompassed him.  He collided with the parapet that edged the corner, and short over it, rolling down the slope beyond.

Marcellin was shaken, but unhurt.  Another driver, Ducom, experienced a similar incident where he was blinded by dust and collided with a hall.  His car was out of the race, but Ducom was also unhurt.  Giraud, driving a Bollée had transmission  problems, an apparently recurrent problem for him.

There were only a few spectators waiting when the first cars and tricycles began to roll in.  Lemaitre, as was the favorite, won with an average speed of 26.0 miles per hour.  Girardot, rocking a Panhard et Levassor was second in his eight h.p.  Koechlin was third, averaging 22.2 miles per hour.

Lemaitre also won the standing mile and the Le Turbie Hill Climb.

Pau – Bayonne – Pau

This race took place four days after the final day of the Riviera speed week.  It was organized by A.C. Bearnais.  Lemaitre and his badass 20 h.p. horsepower won this event as well.  The weather was terrible.  There were not many competitors.  Nevertheless, the event was considered a great success.

Paris – Roubaix

On April 2, 1899, La Vélo hosted its annual trike race.  Again, according to the authoritative Gerald Rose, “It was won by Osmond on his de Dion in 5 hrs. 35 mins. 30 secs., which represents an average speed of about 32 m.p.h.”

On April 11, 1899, Le Matin  announced the creation of event to be known as the “Tour de France.”  It was to be a massive race of around 2,500 kilometers.

Paris – Bordeaux

This race returned to an only rarely used method of racing that we now associate as critical to motorsport: a mass start.  The Paris to Bordeaux race took place on May 24, 1899 and was something of a preview of the new cars that would be seen at the Tour de France.

74 entries were received.  65 entries showed up on race day.  There was 37 motorcyclists and 28 cars.  The en bloc start was something of a train wreck, of sorts.  Lemaitre ran into another racer, and his mechanic–seeing that an accident was about to occur–just got up and jumped off.  Yes, at high speed, he simply jumped.  He was severely injured, though Lemaitre escaped by running off the road.  Lemaitre could have continued; however, he opted to remain with his badly injured riding mechanic.

“At Venome, the first important pace on the route, Leys and Charron were leading with De Knyff 11 minutes behind, closely followed by Giraud.  Unfortunately, Giraud took a turn too fast, burst a tire, and turned his Bollée over in a ditch.

Hourgieres, who was the one to nearly collide with Lemaitre, was shaking down a brand new Mors for the Tour de France.  At Poitiers, his car was in third.  Charron remained in the lead, but Leys was down to fourth.  De Knyff was about 12 minutes back from the leaders.

In the end, Charron drove with excellence and won the race in his 12 h.p. Panhard with an average pace of 351 miles of 29.9 miles per hour.  René de Knyff was second, averaging 29.6 miles per hour.  Girardot was third, with an average of 28.0 miles per hour.

Touring Car verses Thoroughbred Racer

To date, the so-called voiture de course (racing car), was merely a stripped down touring car, often with a more powerful engine than would otherwise have been fitted to the car.  Previously, there was little differentiation between touring cars and racing cars.

Suddenly, changes started to become apparent in the race entries.  The new breed of cars, especially those to be shown at the Tour de France, were lower, sleeker, and faster.  The center of gravity was dropped significantly from touring models.  Engine sizes began to increase dramatically around this time.  This is, in fact, the beginning of the lead up to the massive displacement engines seen in the early 1900s.

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915, Robert Dick (2005)

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 -1908, Gerald Rose (1949)