How American racing began

I got to know Mark Dill, a native of Indianapolis now living in North Carolina, when I was a workaday editor at Hemmings Motor News. Mark served as a marketing executive for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is the founder of The First Superspeedway, a website that stands as one of the best sources out there for information on the pre-1920 history of motorsports in the United States. People who are into America’s very early racing history know this site, and use it. Among the site’s free downloads are a full archive of all significant auto races between 1894 and 1920, and a biography of IMS co-founder (and champion of the Lincoln and Dixie highways) Carl Graham Fisher. Mark has been chasing this sort of obscure heritage for a long time now, and has just gathered this history in what can best be described as a historical novel, which summarizes the first decade of American racing through the eyes of the country’s first true national sports hero, Barney Oldfield.

The Legend of the First Super Speedway, two words, is the saga of Oldfield’s raucous life, as he might have told it, in the years leading up to the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The story takes place before the Indianapolis 500 had its inaugural running in 1911. The book climaxes before that pivotal race was run, with the story largely unfolding through the barnstorming fairgrounds hero Oldfield, in the years when his exploits meshed with the rise of mass media in the United States. The telegraph and the early wire services seized upon Oldfield’s exploits during speed exhibitions (some of them “worked,” in pro wrestling parlance) to elevate him into exalted status as America’s first true sports superstar, in the years before the same media turned Babe Ruth and Red Grange into household names. The 373-page softcover book is introduced to the reader by Willy T. Ribbs and Al Unser Jr., two guys who can relate to the dizzying blend of spectacle and danger that turned Oldfield into a 20th century folk hero. It’s $25.00, on sale now through BookBaby and for pre-order at Amazon. You can also click here to find other goodies on early racing history.

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