Barney Oldfield sitting in his Blitzen Benz at Daytona
Barney Oldfield was born on June 3, 1878, in Wauseon, Ohio. His name was originally Berna Eli Oldfield. As a young man, he became involved in bicycle racing. In 1902, Oldfield participated in a motorcycle race in Salt Lake City. Soon, Oldfield was known for his contributions to automobile manufacturing. The same year, the young man participated in an auto race in Detroit. He worked with Henry Ford to build a racer with which Oldfield then won the race. One of the other racers was Alexander Winton. Oldfield caught Winton's attention in this race and soon went to work for Winton's company.
Oldfield ran automobiles in races and participated in a number of speed record attempts to promote Winton's automobiles. He also worked for other companies, such as Peerless Motor Vehicle Company. Firestone developed a racing tire that the company named after the racing legend. He became such a celebrity that he was able to demand as much as four thousand dollars for each personal appearance, a phenomenal amount of money for this era.
At one point, the American Automobile Association suspended Oldfield from organized racing, because the organization viewed his stunts as dangerous "outlaw" activities. Ultimately, the suspension was lifted. Oldfield raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a number of occasions, although he never won there. The racer does hold the distinction of running the first one hundred mile per hour lap in Indianapolis racing history.
Oldfield retired from racing in 1918, but he continued to make public appearances and promote the racing sport. He also became involved in making Hollywood movies after his retirement. Oldfield died in 1946. He has sometimes been credited with being the father of motor sports.