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#1 harryglorydays

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 04:02

In the early 1910s and 20s, many venues for auto and motorcycle racing in the US were "board" tracks. I first heard about this in Griff Borgeson's book "The Golden Age of the American Racing Car" and was facinated. Patterned after bicycle velodromes, some of these tracks were over a mile in length and required several million board feet of lumber to build. The one in Beverly Hills, Ca., was especially big and elaborate. Hundreds of thousands of people would attend.

I can't even imagine the courage it took to race on one of these. They said drivers would finish the race with foot-long splinters in their bodies!

Does anyone have any knowledge on this fascinating period in American racing? Were there any board tracks in Europe, or was this a "Yank" phenomenon? Who were some of the prominent drivers?

As a side note, I remember as a boy going to the Florida State Fair in Tampa where they had a large wooden two-story high barrel that they would race motorcycles in. The rider would enter through a door in the bottom, get on his bike and slowly start going around in circles. Going ever faster, he eventually would come to within a foot of the rim where we were standing, looking down. He must have been going 50 mph or at least it seemed. I'm sure other fairs had the same or similar attractions.

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#2 harryglorydays

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 04:18

I've since found two interesting links that give more detail:

http://www.motorspor...rs&D=2000-03-17

http://www.historych...73&cat=10272940

#3 Ray Bell

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 04:28

Obviously the subject has come up before, Harry... and I'm sure there's pics around...

And there was a description of a kid sticking his head up through a gap in the boards... and ducking when a car was coming!

#4 MPea3

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 14:31

Harry,

Welcome to TNF. There's a lot of material on here concerning board racing and that era, have fun doing searches and you'll stay busy for days. Also, you may wish to look at this site, in particular the recommended books page.

http://www.milleroffy.com/

#5 harryglorydays

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 14:59

Thanks for the link. There are several books there I will want to buy. I was certain that this subject had come up before, but I didn't see it in the title of any of the threads, so I thought I'd put it out there.

With today's computer animation/simulation capabilities, I wish someone would do a movie about this time period.

#6 ensign14

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 15:36

The natural starting points for the board tracks are Dick Wallen's book on the board tracks in general and Gary Doyle's book on Jimmy Murphy.

#7 vintageautomobilia

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 23:08

I have the book "KING OF THE BOARDS" by Gary Doyle, in stock at my store. It is one of the very best books on board track racing that I've ever seen, including Dick Wallen's fine books. If anyone wants a copy, they can contact me at:

vintageautomobilia@thegrid.net

or at my new website -- just being developed:

www.vintage-automobilia.com

#8 Seppi_0_917PA

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 02:45

Harold Osmer's "Where They Raced" has a chapter on the board tracks in the Los Angeles area. I'm looking at some of the aerial photos in the book - the Beverly Hills track was impressive!

#9 Frank S

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 06:16

There was a continuing series in Speed Age Called "Remember The Boards". Doc Conaway wrote some of them at least. I seem to remember a DePaolo column or two on the same theme, although those may have been "I Drove The Boards" or like.

--
Frank S

#10 wibblywobbly

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 10:27

My colleague, Jesper Hvid, posted a link to this webpage http://home.flash.ne...ies/Altoona.htm , a while back on our forum. Along with that, he also included a video of the fatal accident of Ray Keech, in 1929. To say these tracks were dangerous, is an understatement.

#11 Racers Edge

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 22:09

This company In Canada still builds Board Tracks ( Not for cars) but he told me he would be happy to fabricate one, for the 20's & 30's vintage racers....

http://members.allstream.net/~junek/



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The owner is Peter Junek...his mother was a famous race driver in the 30's, anyone remember her name?

#12 Ray Bell

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 22:22

I couldn't think of it, so I googled it...

So the family moved to Canada? I just can't imagine what the contract amount would be for a board track for cars these days...

#13 FrankB

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 22:34

Originally posted by harryglorydays


As a side note, I remember as a boy going to the Florida State Fair in Tampa where they had a large wooden two-story high barrel that they would race motorcycles in. The rider would enter through a door in the bottom, get on his bike and slowly start going around in circles. Going ever faster, he eventually would come to within a foot of the rim where we were standing, looking down. He must have been going 50 mph or at least it seemed. I'm sure other fairs had the same or similar attractions.


"Wall of Death" sideshows are still around - there was one at Northampton's balloon festival back in August and this site http://www.shef.ac.u...shows/walls.php says that there are three still touring in the UK.

http://www.pyke-eye....ll-of-death.jpg

#14 Lotus23

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 01:06

I've mentioned this before: my 92yo great-aunt not only clearly remembers the board track at Salem, NH in the mid-1920s, but she sweet-talked one of the drivers into squeezing her into the cockpit and taking her around for a hot lap.

I doubt there are many left who have done such.

#15 WDH74

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 20:38

There's a photo in "Golden Age..." by Borgeson showing the drivers after an event at-I think-the Beverly Hills track. They're posing on the boards in front of a couple of cars, and the track surface is littered with what the caption describes as "splinters". These are large, pointy chunks of wood, the sort of scrap I get when trying to chop up logs for my fireplace....and I can't imagine how tires managed to stay intact on such a surface. I realize that board tracks were a bit cheaper to build than a proper paved surface with concrete stands and buildings, but after seeing the damage to the racing surface, I am not surprised that most board tracks were shut down after just a few seasons.

-William

#16 ensign14

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 21:37

Originally posted by FrankB


"Wall of Death" sideshows are still around - there was one at Northampton's balloon festival back in August and this site http://www.shef.ac.u...shows/walls.php says that there are three still touring in the UK.

There's one in Shanghai at the main theatre, big iron ball with 5 motorcyclists.

#17 MPea3

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 22:40

Originally posted by WDH74
There's a photo in "Golden Age..." by Borgeson showing the drivers after an event at-I think-the Beverly Hills track. They're posing on the boards in front of a couple of cars, and the track surface is littered with what the caption describes as "splinters". These are large, pointy chunks of wood, the sort of scrap I get when trying to chop up logs for my fireplace....and I can't imagine how tires managed to stay intact on such a surface. I realize that board tracks were a bit cheaper to build than a proper paved surface with concrete stands and buildings, but after seeing the damage to the racing surface, I am not surprised that most board tracks were shut down after just a few seasons.

-William


The tracks deteriorated so quickly! They rotted, came apart under racing conditions, and fire took many of them. The stories of repairs having to be done during races, carpenters patching them up from underneath while drivers straddled the open areas, is pretty sobering. The descriptions of how the splinters would hit one's forehead, and open up against the skull under the skin, requiring each one to be plucked out like a feather, are pretty disgusting. As far as tires are concerned, I think the fatality rate is an indication that they didn't hold up well.

#18 Simpson RX1

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 23:32

Maybe not quite the place for this, but just imagine how the early Speedway riders got on with board tracks.............at least the car drivers were protected from splinters in some part by the car's bodywork!

#19 1920sracing

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Posted 20 November 2004 - 07:12

Regarding board tracks, I recently posted the annotated bibliography for my book, King of the Boards: The Life and Times of Jimmy Murphy on the books website at www.king-of-the-boards.com. Click on the bibliography button. It is posted in Adobe Acrobat, which most everyone has. There is an Adobe Acrobat download link on the page if you need it.

I did it primarily to use as a reference tool for anyone interested in the "Golden Age of American Racing." As I mention in the lead in, it is only a starting place and it was what I had found at the time I wrote the book.

To often histories get written without much documentation, which leads to the inevitable unsupported speculation and unsubstantiated story-telling which gets repeated ad nauseum(?). The history of automobile racing is no different than any other form of historical research and narrative. One of the roles for us that wind up writing something should be to make a contribution to the overall literature that people can rely on. Admittedly all history is subject to interpretation and the frame of reference of the historian, but it at least should be informed and the reader should know what it is based on.

I posted the bibliography with the thought in mind it might encourage others to do more on the subject and add to a growing compilation of source material. Thereby, we can come to a collective understanding of the sources; books, articles, manuscripts, newspaper accounts, contemporary automotive magazines, photographs and more and how to locate them.

The Miller-Offy website has a good list of publications.

The Internet is becoming an increasingly diverse and rich place to find things and do research. If you are interested in Eddie Rickenbacker, for example, check out his materials at Auburn University which publish them on their website. If you have a Los Angeles Public Library card you can access the Los Angeles Times on line from 1886 to 1966 at the moment. Every paper is scanned in Adobe Acrobat and is searchable. If I remember correctly, there are 377 articles or references on Ralph de Palma from 1908 to 1927. And if you are interested in the Los Angeles Speedway, Beverly Hills, you could find out all you would want to know. And these are only two resources. Many photographic collections have been digitized. And the list would go on...

My new book due in Fall 2005, Ralph de Palma, Gentleman Champion, will have much more on the era and build resource wise on the Murphy book. Ralph had a longer career that bracketed Murphy (1907 to 1934) and as a result there are a lot of new things that are pertinent to his life. I have become familiar with some new sources for photographs as well which I will describe in the book. I think the annotated bibliography for the Ralph book will be about 30 pages. Murphy was 20. Anyway, enough plug for the book and I hope people find the bibliography of King of the Boards useful.

On the boards specifically, Tom Saal has reissued the "I Drove the Boards" series written by Peter DePaolo in Speed Age magazine( In the early 1950s) in a handy little pamphlet. Check out www.milleroffy.com for the ordering info. Very reasonable. Really the only driver account of what it was like to ride on them. His memory fails him at times and he is confused about locations and times but definately worthwhile.

1920sracing

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#20 HistoricMustang

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 22:05

Located this approximately 1921 aerial on the Beverly Hills Speedway board track. Looked impressive.

Henry

http://jpg2.lapl.org...21/00045200.jpg

#21 Lotus23

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 14:55

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but my great aunt Kaye, now a very sharp 96, has clear memories of the board track at Rockingham, NH. I'm away from my notes, but istr Rockingham was active around 1926, so she would've been about 14 at the time.

She was a tiny but feisty kid who fast-talked her way into the cockpit for a quick lap or two as a passenger. I'd be surprised if there were a dozen folks still alive today who could match her story.

#22 MPea3

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 15:00

Is it possible that she's the only person still alive who has been around a board track? It might even be probable. You should talk with her and ask her about it and either record or write down the story for us.

#23 RStock

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 18:28

Originally posted by harryglorydays
Were there any board tracks in Europe, or was this a "Yank" phenomenon? Who were some of the prominent drivers?


I have never heard of board tracks in Europe , but according to the German magazine "Der Motorsport"
vol. 4 , former Ferdinand Porsche associate Adolph Rosenberger attempted to start a midget racing circuit in Germany after the war . He was going to use some sort of portable track , which I'm assuming would have been made of wood , but nothing ever came of it , as far as I know .

#24 Lotus23

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 18:56

MPea3, you're right, of course.

Since she lives about 900 mi N of me, I get to see her only once or twice a year. But it so happens that I will have the chance later this month. I'll try and get her reminiscences recorded in some sort of permanent form.

#25 MPea3

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 19:18

Originally posted by HistoricMustang
Located this approximately 1921 aerial on the Beverly Hills Speedway board track. Looked impressive.

Henry

http://jpg2.lapl.org...21/00045200.jpg


You'd have a tough time finding anything left today. Incorrectly identified on Wikipedia as being on the site of Beverly Hills High School, which is southwest of the west end of the speedway. It's pretty amazing how easily identified the area still is though from the streets in the 1921 photo.

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#26 Lotus23

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 23:31

As a followup to my earlier posts (#14, 21 and 24):

I had the chance to visit my great-aunt Kaye (b Jan 1911) last week, and of course asked her if she had any particular memories of the day she got to ride around the Rockingham, NH board track. Though she needs a walker to ambulate, her mind is still quite sharp.

She said that she and 3 or 4 of her girlfriends had gone up there, but that one of the older girls must've driven, as Kaye was too young to do so. Rockingham ran as a 1.25-mi track (turns banked 38 degrees) from Oct 1925 to Nov 1928, so she would've been between 14 and 17yo. She recalled she was "14 or 15" on the day in question. She said that one of the drivers offered to take any of the girls for a quick lap or two, but her friends all demurred. Kaye, however, volunteered ("I was always willing to try anything once!").

When I asked her how she squeezed into a racer whose single seat was already occupied by a driver, she said, "Well, I wasn't very big, so I just sat on his lap! It was a tight fit, but we managed." Her memories of the ride were that it was "fast, scary, and noisy".

She apologized for not remembering her chauffeur's name, but brightened considerably when I told her she was very likely the last living person to have had such an experience.

#27 HistoricMustang

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 00:14

Joel, you sure do get around! :wave:

Fulford Speedway photographs courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Henry

http://ibistro.dos.s...-FLA/87290058/9

#28 fines

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 15:26

Originally posted by Lotus23
As a followup to my earlier posts (#14, 21 and 24):

I had the chance to visit my great-aunt Kaye (b Jan 1911) last week, and of course asked her if she had any particular memories of the day she got to ride around the Rockingham, NH board track. Though she needs a walker to ambulate, her mind is still quite sharp.

She said that she and 3 or 4 of her girlfriends had gone up there, but that one of the older girls must've driven, as Kaye was too young to do so. Rockingham ran as a 1.25-mi track (turns banked 38 degrees) from Oct 1925 to Nov 1928, so she would've been between 14 and 17yo. She recalled she was "14 or 15" on the day in question. She said that one of the drivers offered to take any of the girls for a quick lap or two, but her friends all demurred. Kaye, however, volunteered ("I was always willing to try anything once!").

When I asked her how she squeezed into a racer whose single seat was already occupied by a driver, she said, "Well, I wasn't very big, so I just sat on his lap! It was a tight fit, but we managed." Her memories of the ride were that it was "fast, scary, and noisy".

She apologized for not remembering her chauffeur's name, but brightened considerably when I told her she was very likely the last living person to have had such an experience.

:clap: Fabulous story! :clap:

Didn't she remember the colour of the car, per chance? A peculiar accent of the driver? Would love to pin that one down! Next time you visit her, make sure you have a book available to show her some faces - Dick Wallen's "Board Track", preferably! :up:

#29 HistoricMustang

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 20:53

:wave:

http://books.google....esult#PPA100,M1

San Francisco Speedway, one and one quarter mile board track. Modern day location.

Posted Image

Henry

#30 HistoricMustang

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 21:25

Charlotte Speedway in Pineville, North Carolina

Henry :wave: WOW!

http://dc.lib.unc.ed...ost&CISOPTR=509

These are the only features I could find that "perhaps" might be the former speedway.

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#31 Jerry Lee

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 19:10

For any one that is interested...

I found this image whilst poking around. It is of the Cincinnati Motor Speedway in 1916.

It appears to be the starting grid.

http://www.hellocinc...e_Race_1916.jpg

#32 Rob G

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Posted 05 July 2009 - 03:49

Shorpy.com has posted three terrific photos of the 1925 champ car race on the boards of Laurel, Maryland.

http://www.shorpy.co...?size=_original
http://www.shorpy.co...?size=_original
http://www.shorpy.co...?size=_original

#33 Tim Murray

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Posted 05 July 2009 - 07:31

Amazing photos - thanks for the link, Rob.

#34 HistoricMustang

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Posted 05 July 2009 - 10:54

Shorpy.com has posted three terrific photos of the 1925 champ car race on the boards of Laurel, Maryland.


:up:

Henry :wave:

#35 Lotus23

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 23:54

End of an era: my Aunt Kaye celebrated her 100th birthday in Jan 2011. She died peacefully last week.

afaik, she was the last living person to have circulated a board track (Rockingham, NH) at speed.


#36 Bob Riebe

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 17:52

End of an era: my Aunt Kaye celebrated her 100th birthday in Jan 2011. She died peacefully last week.

afaik, she was the last living person to have circulated a board track (Rockingham, NH) at speed.

God bless her.
Now she can drive around with some of best ever without fear of splinters.

#37 Bloggsworth

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 21:19

I recall a Wall of Death at the Easter Fair on Hamstead Heath in the 70s, IIRC they were using something like Greeves trials bikes, and back in 1955 at the funfair in Battersea Park at the tail end of The Festival of Britain - Loonies. There was also a RotorDome, and I remember Teddy Boys in their drape jackets and crepe soled shoes walking vertically up the revolving cylinder towards we terrified children at the top.

Edited by Bloggsworth, 26 February 2011 - 21:21.


#38 WDH74

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 00:34

My condolences, Lotus23. Truly a neat story, and thank you for sharing it.

#39 Graham Clayton

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 06:03

A photo of the remains of the Miami Fulford Speedway after it was hit by a hurricane in September 1926:

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