San Diego's Track Racing History

San Diego's Track Racing History

It all started in 1904. In San Diego, California, a 60-foot wide racetrack that was especially adapted for automobile and horse racing was built. Many famous race drivers participated there, including Barney Oldfield in his well known "Green Dragon." T. P. Bernereli "Barney" Oldfield began his racing career on a bicycle. Oldfield was born June 3, 1878, in Wauseon, Ohio. He quit school at age 12 and worked as a bellhop in a hotel in Toledo. He learned to drive a car in a week -- no simple thing in those days!. Ford's big four-cylinder machine had no clutch or gears. The steering wheel was a straight iron bar, similar to a tiller on a boat. The car made so much noise that they named it after a famous steam locomotive, the "999." He won his first race in Detroit by half a mile in 1902. On the heals of this publicity, the Ford Motor Company was born.

In October, 1901, a race was scheduled at Old Grosse Point Blue Ribbon Track in Michigan. As a special feature attraction, there was to be an exhibition of a tandem racing bicycle ridden by the team of Barney Oldfield and Tom Cooper. Oldfield was a large, strong professional bicycle racer. His early life was very hard. He began work as a water boy on a construction crew, and moonlighted as a bellhop. He started bicycle racing at age sixteen, won his first race and found he could sell his gold medal back to the promoter for cash. After an unsuccessful venture in coal mining in Colorado, he resumed his bicycle racing career in Salt Lake City, Utah. He again became associated with Cooper in Detroit where Cooper had convinced Henry Ford to build him a race car. Oldfield learned the intricacies of automobile racing and having driven only one car in his life, he raced it at the Old Grosse Point Blue Ribbon Track, and completed the five miles in a world's record time of five minutes and twenty-eight seconds.

Oldfield later drove a Peerless automobile which became known as the "Green Dragon." This was a successful race car which he purchased and used to barnstorm his way across the country, racing and giving exhibitions when he could. In 1907, he came to the new racetrack in San Diego. Often another car and driver traveled with him to compete against him in exhibitions. These were usually a series of timed laps with each car taking a turn on the track alone, running against the clock.

On April 7, 1907, The San Diego Union announced the first event to open the new racetrack. Barney Oldfield in his "Green Dragon" was to be featured in a match against Bruno Seibel in the "Red Devil" on Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, April 21, 1907. Special excursion trains would run to San Diego and return after races. The Union said that the largest crowd in San Diego's racetrack's history was expected. Both Oldfield and Seibel pronounced the track as being excellent and without a peer anywhere in the world. According to the April 22 issue of the Union, Oldfield had set a new record of 51 4/5 seconds for the mile.

For about ten years, regular weekly auto and motorcycle races were held at the dirt circular track. Many old-timers recalled spending Sunday afternoons at the track, even testing their own driving and mechanical skills. The appearance of Barney Oldfield was an outstanding highlight in the history of the San Diego Race Track. Oldfield retired a wealthy man in 1918, but lost his money in the depression. In later years, he ran a saloon in California. Henry Ford once visited him and they joked about how each helped to make the other.


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