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Monday, September 21, 2009

1914 Los Angeles to Phoenix auto race

By the early 1900's, automobiles were gaining in popularity. In 1905, the great Apache chief Geronimo was photographed hunting buffalo out the back of an early heap. At about that time the humorist Will Rogers commented that the "only trouble with them (autos) is that you get there quicker than you can think of a reason for going there."

By 1908, auto races were being held to influence the building of better roads. One of the most popular was the Los Angeles to Phoenix race which was held between 1908 and 1914. There were no interstates in those days or even two lane roads. The autos would race across cactus laden and rocky wagon trails for the first place prize money of $2,500. With no gas stations or garages existing, the drivers would carry extra parts and install an oversized gas tank.

One of the most exciting of the L. A.-Phoenix races was in 1914. It went from L. A. to Needles via Oatman Pass, then east to Ash Fork, south to Wickenburg, and into Phoenix.. It was 700 miles of potholes, sage, and arroyos combined with snow and sleet. Needless to say, the roads were a quagmire.

The drivers were racing against time, not each other, so there were a couple of overnight stops. The winner was a famous driver of the day, Barney Oldfield, in his Stutz-Bearcat. However, it wasn’t easy as he had to drive several miles on a tire rim after a blowout near Kingman and his car almost drowned before it was pulled out of New River by a team of mules.

One of the sponsors of the race was the Arizona Republican (today’s Republic) which called the race the "Cactus Derby." At a party after the race, many predicted that someday there would be all weather paved roads across the Southwest. They also predicted that automobiles would pass from being a plaything and would become part of American culture.

In 1914, Barney Oldfield also raced in the Indianapolis 500 where he finished 5th. He went on to many more races and even had a brief career on Broadway and in movies. He died in 1946 at age 68.

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