July 30, 2012
Henry Ford and Barney Oldfield and the Ford 999 in 1902, photographer unknown (via Wikimedia)
The oldest vehicle in the Motorsports Hall of Fame is the famous Ford 999 racer from 1902. Although it is not the first race car ever built, it is certainly the first car to rise to the status of legend.
Always seeking publicity, Barney Oldfield dubbed the car 999 after the feats of the record-holding New York Central locomotive.
Although the car is equipped with only one seat, a “Mechanician” was often kept busy oiling bearings and making adjustments while the car was being driven! The role more closely resembled that of an active sidecar acrobat than that of a riding mechanic.
The sister car of the 999 was the Arrow. It was a rebuilt Arrow that Henry Ford drove to 91.37 mph on frozen Lake St. Clair in January of 1904, for the new automotive World Land Speed record. After Ford set the record, his racing partner, Tom Cooper, sold both the 999 and the Arrow. The Arrow was renamed the New 999 by the new owner.
…Shortly before his death, Henry Ford is said to have remarked to Barney Oldfield: “You made me and I made you.” Oldfield shook his head and replied “Old 999 made both of us.”
You can see a great gallery of photos of early Ford race cars that includes shots of Ford and his mechanician and a modern photo of the 999 from The Henry Ford Museum on Flickr. The Henry Ford is located in Dearborn and they (of course) have a ton of information about Henry Ford.
More cars on Michigan in Pictures!