February 27, 2007

Today in Automotive History

1914 : Auto titans clash

The start of the Vanderbilt Cup Race, circa 1911In the first decade of automobile racing, one rivalry stood out above the others: the brash Barney Oldfield vs. the gentlemanly Ralph DePalma. On this day in 1914, it was DePalma who got the better of Oldfield in the 9th Vanderbilt Cup in Santa Monica, California. The Vanderbilt Cup was American racing's first tradition. The event was founded in 1904 to introduce Europe's best racers and manufacturers to the U.S. Named after the event's sponsor, William K. Vanderbilt Jr., the Vanderbilt Cup ran every year from 1904 to 1915, when race fatalities finally led Vanderbilt to shut down the event. With the amazing safety technology available in car racing today, it is hard for us to imagine just how dangerous racing was for men like Barney Oldfield and Ralph DePalma. Racers of their generation had more in common with Chuck Yeager and John Glenn than with the racers of today. Equipped with enormous engines and almost no suspension or steering technology, the pre-World War I race car was a hunk of metal on wheels capable of propelling itself over 60mph on dirt tracks. Guiding the cars through turns was as much a test of brute strength and raw courage as it was a test of skill. With death as a silent participant in every race, it is clear why a race between Barney Oldfield and Ralph DePalma was as fascinating to spectators. Oldfield, hard-nosed and streetwise would race anyone, anywhere, anytime. DePalma was a product of the system; deferential and quiet, but he was no less courageous. The rivalry would come to a head during the 1917 match races between the two men. Large-scale racing had been halted due to World War I, but head-to-head match races commanded considerable crowds. Oldfield, driving the Harry Miller designed "Golden Submarine," an aluminum-framed technological wonder, defeated DePalma and his more traditional Packard, powered by a 12-cylinder aircraft engine.

Posted by Quality Weenie at February 27, 2007 08:48 AM | TrackBack