Friday, May 14, 2010

Automobile Racing in 1911 -- Commerical Murder? Quotes from Barney Oldfield

Spectators run for cover as Pullen, driving a Mercer, loses a wheel at 'death curve' during the Vanderbilt Cup Race at Santa Monica.

Barney Oldfield and an airplane

Automobile Racing in 1911 -- Commerical Murder? Quotes from Barney Oldfield

Hi folks -- as I am beginning to get into the history of autoracing, one topic emerges as quite interesting -- the controversy over auto racing as a blood sport. I'll be following through on this stand in the weeks ahead, but wanted to give you a taste of the issues.

On September 16, 1911 a race automobile plowed through a crowd in Syracuse New York and killed ten people. In an article subsequently published in Outlook on September 30, 1911, the author used quotes from racer Barney Oldfield (from an article of his in Popular Science) to make the point that racing takes too many lives.
The following are quotes from Oldfield on auto racing as a blood sport:

"It has taken ten years to prove this…It has been a decade replete with black headlines and black mourning."
"I was never famous until I went through the fence at St. Louis and killed two spectators. Promoters fell over one another to sign me up."
"It is the call of the Roman arena, of the Spanish bull-ring. It is no more a sport than a hanging is a sport. It used to be called "instructive," "developing," useful," but that day is long past.
"In the recent race at Indianapolis, where the crowd's lust was satisfied by a black tangle of shattered men and machines, nineteenths of the entries were made against the desires of the manufacturers."
The simple fact is that automobile racing has ceased to have a business end, and ahs become a mere game, an entertainment in which business has little part."
"No, if automobile racing is to be perpetuated, it must be through the interest of the public. How large is this interest? Immense; but so was the interest in cock-fighting, in bull baiting, in prize-fights, in gladiatorial contests. So it is yet in the Mexican bull-fight, where in the sport's name they kill cattle instead of human beings. All of these have passed or are just passing. Modern humanity will not permit them. The Morbid cry for blood still lives in a few, but the many cry for mercy."
"Speed madness is one thing; blood madness is another."
"The American grows sentimental about killing cattle; the Mexican prefers cattle to human beings. It is merely a matter of taste."
"I never realized my foolishness on any of these occasions until I was in the hospital with doctors standing around and nurses looking serious."
"While the body of Basle still lay beside his machine, women tried to cut off pieces of his clothing as a souvenir…On the day after Basle's death then thousand persons fought for front seats at the track."

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