Nov/Dec 2023 edition
Issue #31 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
“Close” Counts! – at the Speedway
Early Stars Worthy of Adding To Your Collection
As you have read in my previous columns, I have been collecting Indianapolis 500 driver autographs for four decades now, and for me, one of the most gratifying things about this hobby is the interesting subjects I get to add to my collection.
Some are legends of the sport, drivers who won the greatest prize in motor racing, the Indianapolis 500, and others came agonizingly short of their goal with a second-place finish as their top place in the race.
Others only had one start in the 500, with some of those never even taking the green flag in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
There are 795 men and women that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway considers the “starting driver” list of those who have driven in the Indianapolis 500, and there are several dozen more who drove in the race but aren’t on the list because they only drove as relief drivers and never qualified as a “starting” driver. Each has an interesting story, which is what captivates me about the pursuit of their signatures.
Some are quite well known, even if they didn’t win the race. For example, Eddie Rickenbacker was a relief driver in the first two Indianapolis 500s, before making his first start in 1914, where he finished in 10th place. Rickenbacker drove in the 1915 and 1916 editions of the International Sweepstakes, as it was known then (300 miles in 1916), before he became the “Ace of Aces” pilot in WWI.
After commanding the famous 94th Aero Squadron in the war, Rickenbacker later started an automobile company, purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, chaired the AAA contest board, and purchased Eastern Airlines
The Columbus, Ohio native was an obliging signer all his life, although early items from his racing and military career tend to carry a premium. A photo signed during Rickenbacker’s racing career is a sought-after rarity.
Many of his autographs are found on his autobiography, which was released in 1967, and on photographs and letters that he signed during his time running Eastern Airlines. Signed books are plentiful on the secondary market and quite reasonable, usually running between $100 and $200. A nicely signed 8"x10" photo of Rickenbacker also usually brings $200.
A contemporary of Rickenbacker’s and a fellow Ohioan, Barney Oldfield is another driver whose autograph is eagerly sought by early racing collectors. Oldfield was perhaps the biggest name in the sport from its inception, driving legendary early cars such as the Ford 999, the Blitzen Benz and the Peerless Green Dragon. (Read more about Barney Oldfield in our “Vintage Auto Photography” column by Dale LaFollete in issue #10 of AutoMobilia Resource.)
Oldfield only started two Indianapolis 500s, finishing fifth in 1914 and 1916, but he won eight championship races, and his name recognition was high in the early 20th Century. Many police officers were heard to say, “Who do you think you are, Barney Oldfield?” to drivers they pulled over in the early 1900s.
Oldfield was extremely popular and signed his autograph willingly. Signatures during Oldfield’s racing career are difficult to find; however, following his retirement from racing, he often signed autographs at auto shows around the country.
Oldfield’s signature can be found on some of the earliest “hero” cards, typically in green ink, which it seems he preferred, as many of the signatures that have hit the market have been in green. In correspondence, and on album pages, Oldfield typically added the salutation, “You know me,” which was his catchphrase. Oldfield hero cards and album pages usually sell for around $150, and a nice signed 8"x10" photo goes for $250, especially if it’s from Oldfield’s racing career.
To read more great columns like this one from Mike Thomsen...
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