On this day in auto history - October 25th

Mon 25th Oct 2021

It was on this day in 1910 that the champion white racing driver Barney Oldfield defeated the black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson in two infamous, racially-charged car races in Brooklyn.

Johnson’s public profile had risen to new public heights in the aftermath of his stunning victory over former champion James J. Jeffries - Oldfield’s good friend - but it left him with trouble attracting worthwhile opponents.

Fiercely-competitive by nature, he turned to car racing instead and issued a $5,000 challenge to Oldfield which the world land speed record holder was only too happy to accept.

Oldfield - a flamboyant daredevil - not only saw the challenge race as a chance to avenge the loss of his good friend but also a chance to stop Johnson overstepping his athletic bounds. He was so keen to do this, he accepted a two-year ban from the American Automobile Association (AAA) who were outraged at the whole event considering that they banned black drivers from registering with their organisation.

Despite several weather postponements, thousands of spectators did turn up to see Oldfield (driving a 60-bhp Knox) and Johnson (driving a 70-bhp Thomas) eventually do battle at Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay in a 'best of three' challenge around a five mile course. In the event, Johnson was no match for Oldfield in either of the first two races, negating the need for a third heat.

While Oldfield spoke afterwards of his need to "eliminate from my profession an invader”, Johnson was much more complimentary, saying “I may be able to drive fast but I will never take any chances on the turns like Oldfield does.”

Tragically, Johnson would eventually die behind the wheel on a Highway in North California after angrily speeding away from a diner that refused to serve him due to the colour of his skin.