Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Can Race Drivers Speak Up? Barney Oldfield and Fonty Flock. NASCAR, a Family-Owned Business Where Drivers have Little Real Say?

Barney Oldfield at the wheel of a Simplex, airplane in the background
Fonty Flock, one of NASCAR's early greats

Apparently race drivers have little say in the racing game -- rather it is the owners of the tracks and promoters that run the sport. And when they do speak up, they are quickly squelched. Take the historical examples of Barney Oldfield and Fonty Flock, criticizing safety in their day. This is from Speed Age, January, 1958, p.47:

"The name Barney Oldfield still strikes a responsive cord among race fans although the great showman has been among the deceased since 1947. the great blusterer, who never won an international event and only one national championship race, nevertheless was the toast of the automotive world because of his flair for publicity, natural color, and ability to spend money faster than he could earn it. When Barney's name no longer had box-office appeal and when headlines became scarcer and scarcer, the former bellhop turned to driving farm tractors, sitting on flag poles and other tricks aimed to keep the black ink flowing. The complete end came when he turned on the sport,issuing charges and counter -charges following a series of facing fatalities. His by-lined (but ghosted) newspaper series "widows in waiting" is credited with turning the Heast newspaper chain against the sport.
Now comes the greatest showman of the decade, Fonty Flock, in an almost duplicate performance. The handsome bon vivant of the stock car world was once the best driver in the business. his every act, spoken word and performance earned headlines and babies were christened with hsi catchy first name (Fontello). But Flock's last major win was in 1952, and headlines were getting scarce. With only 27 laps of the Southern 500 run, the one-time great spun his Pontiac in Darlington's dangerous Number Three turn and started a chain smash that hospitalized Flock and Paul Goldsmith and took the life of Bobby Myers.
Leaving the hospital the following day wit ha fractured left arm, Flock traveled a 100 miles and call ed a press conference. He blasted the officials at Darlington, called the sport nasty names and got headlines. The following day he did the same thing in another city. All charges were denied vehemently, then ignored when they entered the ridiculous stage. But the result was apparent. two politically powerful Southern newspapers editorialized for legislation to stop stock car racing. Interpretation: Flock was miffed when his last-minute bid for a $500 appearance deal was turned down. Ironically, each of his press conferences were held in cities along the route assigned to him in his new business -- selling stock! Even Barney at his best was never more timely."

Does Flock appear in NASCAR histories? Was he marginalized? Do drivers have much of a say in racing?

1 comment:

  1. Mr. John Heitmann,
    As a Professor you really need to get your facts straight. Barney Oldfield, Master Driver of the World won two National races, Venice, CA. 300M Race, March 17. 1915 & Tuscan 100M Race, March 20, 1915. Barney died Oct. 4, 1946 not 1947 also sorry to hear that you think of Barney Oldfield as a bully. Barney was the toast of the town because he set World Speed Records and helped Henry Ford , Harvey Firestone, Harry Miller, Walter Christie and others to fame among some of his accomplishments. Barney Oldfield was one of the true American Automotive pioneers. Barney Oldfield love of racing was 55 years old when he raced tractors and actually set a record in a Allis-Chalmers tractor in Texas. Barney Oldfield promoted auto racing safety, first to introduce seat belts, enclosed race cars designed by Harry Miller & Barney Oldfield, tires by Harvey Firstone & Barney Oldfield to name a few. Barney went on an automotive safety quest after good friend Bob Burman, land speed record holder was killed in a auto race. Auto racing during this period was dangerous and a lot of drivers were killed or injured because of the lack of safety equipment. I do not believe Barney Oldfield turned on the sport of auto racing but believe he was trying to make people more aware of how dangerous the sport was and to promote safety. His article Widows in Waiting was quite true as during this period of auto racing there were a lot of auto racers that were killed or injured because of the times, no seat belts, enclosed race cars, etc. I also disagree some what that Barney Oldfield had no say in his racing career with his promoter Bill Pickens and Brickyard owner Carl Fisher and others. Barney Oldfield called the shots most of the time, one example the Oldfield Jack Johnson Race, Barney had committed to this race before AAA got involved and told Barney if he went through with this unsactioned race he would be suspended from AAA racing for a period of time, he could have not gone through with the race but decided to race because he had given his word and commitment.
    Wayne Carroll Petersen
    Barney Oldfield Great Great nephew