Roamer: America's Smartest Car - Racing
Tearing Up the Track
For those searching for a winning race car, the Roamer certainly fit the bill—a racy-looking, compact car with a powerful engine. Barley, in a bid to gain more publicity for the Roamer, at first actually bought a number of Duesenbergs and replaced their front ends with the Roamer radiator design. A little later, when Duesenberg engines were added to Roamers, the cars were efficient and durable.
In 1917, the Roamer set record-breaking track performances in Uniontown and Los Angeles. Eddie Hearne, famed racer from Kansas City who drove in the first-ever Indy 500, drove a converted Roamer before a crowd of fifteen thousand at Ascot Park in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day, 1917, winning the 50-mile Liberty Sweepstakes race and averaging 71.5 mph, in what may have been the last pre-War race. By June 1919, he had inked a deal to drive the Roamer for the remainder of the season. With his Roamer-Duesenberg Special, he claimed a number of firsts, including a new world's record in a 150-mile race at Ascot.
Roscoe Sarles, another racing great, along with his rich, handsome riding mechanic Bob Bandini, drove a Roamer at L.A.'s Ascot Speedway on Labor Day, 1918. In January 1919, they returned to that course and set a new course record with a Miller-powered Roamer. That was only the beginning. Sarles went on that year to win three of the first four Grand Prix races.
But bad luck sullied the Roamer reputation when Sarles let racer Louis LeCocq borrow his Roamer to race in the 1919 Indianapolis 500. Bandini was aboard in that race, too, and the duo moved up to fourth position. Then, a tire blew as they reached the second turn of the 96th lap. They lost control of the car. It slammed into the wall, rolled three times, and burst into flames. Driver and mechanic, still strapped into their seats, were covered in gasoline and burned to death before help arrived. When the rescue team arrived, it took them five minutes to extinguish the flames.
1918 Roamer racer driven by LeCocq.
Unwilling to accept the end of his prized race car, Sarles later retrieved the burned car and took it to the Roamer plant to have it rebuilt. He would next race that car in the Elgin road race on August 23.
Other in-house racers drove the Roamer, too. Kenworthy signed the Superintendent of the Roamer plant, Kurt Hitke, to race it in 1919. Hitke drove the 500-mile Liberty Sweepstakes race in Indianapolis on May 31. Two years later, in May 1921 at Daytona, Leland F. Goodspeed, chief engineer and amateur racer for the Barley Motor Company, drove a 4-cylinder Roamer a mile in 34.25 seconds (105.1 mph), besting the previous record by 57 seconds. Daytona seemed to have restored the luster to the Roamer's racing ability. In 1921, it set records in the 1-kilometer and 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-mile sprints. Advertisements boasted, "America's Smartest Car Makes America's Fastest Mile."
1921 Roamer Stock Racer.