The Hemmings Nation comes through yet again. We received a packet of ancient negatives from reader Gary E. Banas of Warren, Michigan, not long ago. Gary found them at a series of postcard shows, a great place to find ancient memorabilia of all sorts. The negatives (our longtime photo contributor, Don Spiro, thinks they were shot by an early Leica camera) depict an early match race between two early giants, Barney Oldfield and Ralph DePalma, on the one-mile dirt of the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1917.
DePalma’s ride when he showed up for the race at the mile in Indianapolis was his famous “White Packard” Twin Six, a massive, beastly thing with 12 rapping, belching cylinders. The negatives, by the way, were in an envelope cadged long ago from the Hotel Havlin at Vine Street and Opera Place in Cincinnati.
Oldfield, already an American legend from his velodrome heroics, drove this hugely innovative automobile called the Golden Submarine (pictured in the lead image), designed and built by Harry A. Miller , who would become a racing legend in his own right. Its four-cylinder engine was a harbinger of the Offenhauser that Miller’s designs did so much to inspire.
The lineup of cars included this Delage, a French make that logged a lot of laps on American fairgrounds dirt ovals back then. Ironically, Oldfield had driven a Delage before Miller’s weird creation enticed him. William F. Nolan’s biography of Oldfield reports that he won four out of seven matchups against DePalma in 1917, including the Indy mile showdown. Oldfield nearly died, however, when the Sub overturned at Springfield, Illinois, and erupted in flames.
Hammer down, DePalma rifles the White Packard into a corner at the fairgrounds, a sight that still exists nearly intact today.
Here’s proof. I shot this image at the Hoosier Hundred on the Indy mile in May. Here’s Brad Kuhn shoving the testosterone pedal right to the floorboard tin in his USAC Silver Crown car.