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Langhorne Speedway


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#1 HistoricMustang

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Posted 27 June 2007 - 20:10

Search did not locate as a thread so lets document this very unique track starting with some very nice photographs here:

http://forum.rscnet....ight=usac patch

http://www.racing-re...o/tracks?id=121

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Henry :wave:

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#2 Cris

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Posted 27 June 2007 - 23:41

In 1995 I had the honor of meeting Tommy Hinnershitz who was soft-spoken and kind and not at all what I would expect someone who raced there to be like. Mario, on the other hand...his personality seems hewn from successes at such unique track. Given everything I've read about Langhorne it's hard to believe a place that dangerous could exist in the 20th century. It's too bad isn't more well-known globally, or, for that matter, that dirt/sprint racing isn't regarded on the same level as forms of motorsport. The drivers that ran well there should be seen as the equals of the best that drove anywhere at any time.

Cris

#3 helioseism

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Posted 28 June 2007 - 03:36

There is supposedly a book being written about Langhorne, with the title "Langhorne! No Man's Land", by L. Spencer Riggs. However, it is at least two years since I saw the first announcement. Anyone know the status of this project? The Web site is here.

#4 275 GTB-4

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Posted 28 June 2007 - 04:38

Ohhh wee....anyone know what sort of corner speeds were achieved??

(its all corner, but I suppose some parts could be banked more than others)

#5 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 28 June 2007 - 09:23

If you check out the British Pathe newsreel site there are a couple of free downloads(and some still photos) that show the track and one of the longest, maddest crashes you have ever seen - seems to last several laps...
http://www.britishpa...ar pennsylvania

Crazy place. If you can find the book DUSTY HEROES a chapter is devoted to the place and it's significance USAC racing during the 50s and 60s. Apparently all sign of it it was obliterated by a 1970s shopping mall development.

#6 Updraught

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Posted 29 June 2007 - 00:18

The first race I attended was an Indy Car race at Langhorne in 1967. In those days, Langhorne paved was thought of as too fast, but the old (I was 12!) racers said that the track was much more difficult to drive when it had been dirt. My father drove a midget at Langhorne in the late 40's when the track was dirt, and said that one race at Langhorne was likely one too many!

#7 taylov

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Posted 29 June 2007 - 11:09

Langhorne programs from 1950 have a great aerial photograph of the original track on the front cover. Later programs from the 1960s also carry similar updated photos.

The small track opposite the "grandstand" visible in the photo posted by HistoricMustang was for Quarter Midget racing and the "road" which transected the infield became a dragstrip with a new return road.

By 1961, three sides of the track were hemmed in by housing development. Some of the houses on the "backstretch" were just feet from the track's outer fence. These houses could be reached via Woodbourne Road which ran behind "turns 3 and 4" or off a new road which ran off US Route One just behind the grandstands.

The paving of the track for the 1965 season also made changes to the shape of the track by installing short straights. The track also gained named corners and straights in 1965 - "Turn 2" became "Sachs Curve"; the new backstretch was "Marshman Straight", then "Thomson corner" (named after the late Johnny Thomson) and the long radius past the start finish was to be known as "Bryan's bend". These track names were detailed in the program for the 100 mile race on 20 June 1965 but their use seems to have been shortlived.

The paving of the track of course led to a rise in lap speeds, but the increase was not as dramatic as one might imagine, showing just how quick the dirt cars were. Don Branson's one lap record on dirt had stood since 1960 at 113.996 mph and Mario Andretti's new record in the Dean Van Lines Speccial in June 1965 was 118.187 mph. The real increase in speeds came later and by 1969 the record stood again to Mario, this time in the STP Oil Treatment Special, at 128.264 mph - a lap time of just 28.067 seconds.

#8 fines

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Posted 30 June 2007 - 15:33

The small circuit was "Yellow Jacket Speedway", and not only for TQs but for "full" midgets as well. I believe it was a quarter mile, maybe a 1/5.

But what really got my attention is...

Originally posted by Cris
(snip) Mario, on the other hand...his personality seems hewn from successes at such unique track. (snip)


Say what? Andretti, you mean? What did he achieve at Langhorne, I mean the 'real' Langhorne, not the paved one - that one wasn't really special. Don't get me wrong, anyone moving a big brute around the Horne deserves admiration, and Mario qualified and raced a Champ Car there (ironically wrenched by Tommy H.), full marks for that! But for a "personality hewn from success at such a circuit", his 8th or 9th place there pales in comparison to the deeds of Johnny Hannon, Duke Nalon, Mike Nazaruk or Johnny Thomson - those (and a few others) were the real Langhorne personalities!

#9 taylov

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Posted 30 June 2007 - 17:38

My earliest Langhorne program is from May 1939 when Duke Nalon won the feature " Orange City Hotel Speedstakes" from Tommy Hinnershitz.

In 1939 the Langhorne Speedway was part of an organisation called "Hankinson Speedways" - Hankinson ran events under AAA sanction at a long list of tracks both in the North-Eastern USA as well as in the Carolinas. The tracks at Trenton, Williams Grove and Reading were included in the Hankinson schedule for 1939.

Can anyone provide any information on Hankinson. By 1946 Langhorne was promoted as "Babcock's Langhorne Speedway"

#10 bradbury west

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Posted 30 June 2007 - 17:53

Nigel Roebuck has always been a very strong enthusiast for the skills needed to race on the old Langhorne, probably something to do with his reverence for M Andretti. Pity NSR does not join this thread/forum. He always bought the videos of the old races IIRC when he was States-side.

Roger Lund

#11 Lotus23

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 23:42

Henry, while I never attended a race at Langhorne, I did talk to an old-timer who'd run a sprint car on the dirt there. He was a tough old buzzard, but said that the place put the fear of God in him.

According to Allan E. Brown in The History of America's Speedways, it ran from 1926 to 1971; originally dirt, it was paved in late '64/early '65 and "is now [1994] a shopping center".

The name always makes me think of "Puke Hollow" and of Mike Nazaruk and Jimmy Bryan, both of whom lost their lives there.

Joel

#12 HistoricMustang

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Posted 03 July 2007 - 20:06

Originally posted by Lotus23
Henry, while I never attended a race at Langhorne, I did talk to an old-timer who'd run a sprint car on the dirt there. He was a tough old buzzard, but said that the place put the fear of God in him.

According to Allan E. Brown in The History of America's Speedways, it ran from 1926 to 1971; originally dirt, it was paved in late '64/early '65 and "is now [1994] a shopping center".

The name always makes me think of "Puke Hollow" and of Mike Nazaruk and Jimmy Bryan, both of whom lost their lives there.

Joel


Joel,
"Puke Hollow" reminded me of a section on the local road circuit.

Believe you have been through there on numerous occasions in the Lotus23. Care to tell us about the experience?

Henry

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#13 Lotus23

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Posted 04 July 2007 - 01:58

Langhorne's "Puke Hollow" was an integral part of the track.

AIR's "Alligator Hollow" -- while considerably deeper and wetter -- required a short off-track excursion. Fortunately, it was not as lethal as its Pennsylvania counterpart.

While I think of it, West Palm Beach (now Moroso) featured several huge water-filled ditches with the potential to drown the overenthusiastic chauffeur. In the mid-'60s, I ended a long-and-lurid 180 teetering on the edge of one of those ditches; another coupla feet and the Lotus would've been a submersible.

Safety features taken for granted today (such as barriers 'twixt track and water) were unheard of 40-odd years ago. I sometimes marvel that anyone survived back then.

#14 Manfred Cubenoggin

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Posted 04 July 2007 - 23:15

Know what you mean, Lotus 23. I took in an AFFA pro race at West Palm Beach in February, 1979, and unless my memory is very faulty, they had a scuba guy on duty at the end of the back straight. As it so happened, I crashed out of qualifying in the last corner...but didn't get wet. :)

#15 HistoricMustang

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 00:01

Ah Moroso................and the left hander after counter race on the drag strip run off. One of my most scarest moments at speed.

Also, was advised by the locals that the road race section of the circuit was constructed by a "highway crew", hence the "crown" on the surface which really plays with the racing abilities.

Henry

#16 Manfred Cubenoggin

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 23:32

Hi, Henry! :)

Yea, that was wild gong thru the esses near the end of the lap at Moroso. Even in my piddly little FF at maybe 125 mph, it was exciting! And rough and bumpy! That took me totally by surprise. Hailing from the Toronto area, I was expecting a billiard-table smooth course...ie, no frost heaves at those latitudes...but the braking zones were a nightmare washboard. I can only put that down to big, heavy brutes or really quick formula cars with ultra sticky tires rolling up the pavement in the hot Sun.

#17 fines

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 14:19

Originally posted by taylov
My earliest Langhorne program is from May 1939 when Duke Nalon won the feature " Orange City Hotel Speedstakes" from Tommy Hinnershitz.

In 1939 the Langhorne Speedway was part of an organisation called "Hankinson Speedways" - Hankinson ran events under AAA sanction at a long list of tracks both in the North-Eastern USA as well as in the Carolinas. The tracks at Trenton, Williams Grove and Reading were included in the Hankinson schedule for 1939.

Can anyone provide any information on Hankinson. By 1946 Langhorne was promoted as "Babcock's Langhorne Speedway"

Ralph Hankinson was THE major racing promoter in pre-WW2 USofA. He started out in the teens, and in 1924 (I think) he became the promoter of the Reading (PA) Fairgounds, one of the best and most used halfmiles in the East. Eventually, he promoted races all over the East and some in the Midwest as well. His position was such, that when Eddie Rickenbacker lured his "circuit" into AAA in 1927, it virtually deleted the IMCA in the East, and was the start of major AAA involvement in dirt track racing.

"Pappy" Hankinson was well aware of his powerful position, and often used it to his advantage. In 1941, when the AAA Contest Board faced down his threats to "pull" his circuit on a minor matter, Hankinson eventually did just that: he pulled his entire circuit out from under AAA and lined up with the CSRA: it was a major power shift in American Racing!

When Hankinson died in 1942, Sam Nunis took over most of "the circuit" and in 1946 realigned with AAA. By the way, the "Hankinson Circuit Championship" was one if not the most coveted title in dirt track racing!

Hankinson owned Langhorne from 1930 to 1940, then sold it Earl "Lucky" Teter.

#18 fines

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 14:21

Originally posted by Lotus23
Henry, while I never attended a race at Langhorne, I did talk to an old-timer who'd run a sprint car on the dirt there. He was a tough old buzzard, but said that the place put the fear of God in him.

According to Allan E. Brown in The History of America's Speedways, it ran from 1926 to 1971; originally dirt, it was paved in late '64/early '65 and "is now [1994] a shopping center".

The name always makes me think of "Puke Hollow" and of Mike Nazaruk and Jimmy Bryan, both of whom lost their lives there.

Joel

Bryan died at Puke Hollow, but I believe Nazaruk's crash was a little further up the road, at the end of the "backstretch"?!?

#19 HistoricMustang

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Posted 12 July 2007 - 10:21

:wave:

Langhorne:

http://public.fotki....dway/page5.html

Other nice photographs from same author:

http://public.fotki....acing_pictures/

Also, from same author. Is "Mystery Speedway" the name of track or is he trying to identify these track photographs. Can anyone confirm this track?

http://public.fotki....stery_speedway/

Henry

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#20 Lotus23

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Posted 13 July 2007 - 01:29

fines, you're right: ISTR Bryan had a horrific accident at Langhorne, the graphic details of which need not be rehashed here. I cannot recall all the circumstances on Nazaruk's passing. They were both Tough Guys in every sense of the word.



On a lighter note, I wrote this of West Palm Beach several years ago, but will paraphrase the tale: we were running an SCCA National there in early '66. There was the usual obligatory drivers' meeting Saturday ayem; we all stood around half-asleep, hungover, or both. No one was paying a whole lot of attention as the Guy In Charge droned on with the usual blather about obeying the yellow flags, yada, yada, yada...

Suddenly this apparition waddles onto center stage: a scuba diver, complete with wet suit, tank, mask, fins, the whole 9 yards! G.I.C. told us to "Listen up!" and detailed how, if we went into the drink, this diver would swim down to us and shove a hose in our mouth to keep us from drowning! Cripes!! No one was nodding off after that!

Barely 24 hours later, as the Lotus and I slid backwards toward Deep Water at maximum knots, I kept hoping the scuba guy wouldn't be late! Somewhere I still have color slides of a young skinny version of myself clambering out of the 23 right at the edge of that ditch. Some fun!

#21 HistoricMustang

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 21:01

Race of Champions 1971-Langhorne

http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

Henry

#22 HistoricMustang

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 00:09

Found it! :clap:

Henry

http://www.explorepa...hp?markerId=994

1937
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1967
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Modern Day
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#23 fines

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 08:27

So that scotches assertions that it was a 'perfect circle'! Also, the paved circuit wasn't that different from the dirt track, the "back straight" was still far from straight! O to D shape? Not really.

#24 fines

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 08:32

Modern Day
Posted Image

Hmm, the place is still there! What about turning a Wal-Mart into a racing track, then?;)

Re-animate the ghost of Puke Hollow! :D

#25 HDonaldCapps

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 10:51

Originally posted by fines
So that scotches assertions that it was a 'perfect circle'! Also, the paved circuit wasn't that different from the dirt track, the "back straight" was still far from straight! O to D shape? Not really.


I think that only those who had never seen the track ever described it as a "perfect circle." It was, as evident in the first photo, more circular than the usual oval, but the aerial view from 1938 gives a better perspective to its more "egg-like" shape. When they paved it, there was now definitely a "turn" for Turn Three.

When I lived in New Jersey, there were still lots of people who remembered Langhorne and Trenton and told me all sorts of tales about them. You have to keep in mind the relative distance between the two -- which is not much!

#26 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 09:48

Looks like more than half of the track 'footprint' still hasn't been built on in all those intervening years. I'd always imagined it haD vanished totally under the retail park that Nigel Roebuck mentions in his Mario biography.

#27 HDonaldCapps

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 10:56

The area behind the shopping center was originally slated for development, but then it was allowed to become a "green area" -- whether by happenstance or design, I am not sure. I always meant to take a look at the area, but never did. Several who have walked the area told that there is not much to see, most of the signs of the track being long gone or getting difficult to see.

#28 HistoricMustang

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 10:27

From the early sixties. Can drivers and/or cars be identified?

Individual having conversation favors A.J. Foyt.

From the R.J. Wetzler collection.

Henry :wave:

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#29 Winchester

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 12:20

From the early sixties. Can drivers and/or cars be identified?

Individual having conversation favors A.J. Foyt.

From the R.J. Wetzler collection.

Henry :wave:

Posted Image


That's Len Sutton talking to Foyt.

#30 ghinzani

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 00:38

In the latest issue of Autosport NSR revisits his old Langhorne article and updates it with some recent quotes. Good reading as always.

#31 E1pix

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 01:10

I've certainly heard of Langhorne as a kid.... but for whatever reason never knew it was essentially a circle.

A true circle track. How bizarre! I guess straight-line speed wasn't even a set-up consideration!

#32 Jim Thurman

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 01:23

I've certainly heard of Langhorne as a kid.... but for whatever reason never knew it was essentially a circle.

A true circle track. How bizarre! I guess straight-line speed wasn't even a set-up consideration!

There have been a few truly circular tracks of varying lengths, the first board track for autos - Playa Del Rey - was a circle.

When Langhorne was paved, it was re-configured a bit and less circular than it appears in the photo posted here, but it was ridiculously fast for the time. Drivers considered the paved track even more unsafe, mainly due to the poor sight lines. Amazingly for 1969, drivers rebelled and told USAC they wouldn't enter the race if it was put on the schedule. They did run a final race in 1970, but as the date approached for the second 1970 race, it quietly disappeared from the schedule.

#33 E.B.

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 20:09

So that scotches assertions that it was a 'perfect circle'!


Might it be distorted by the fact that the shot isn't taken from directly above the track?


Drivers considered the paved track even more unsafe


The last edition of Motor Sport told of an interesting difference of opinion about that - Johnny Rutherford claimed that the paved version was more dangerous, whilst Bobby Unser, upon being told what JR had said, asked if JR had been drinking when he said that.

FWIW, I don't recall the paved version claiming any lives in its 6 years of existence.




#34 E1pix

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 20:55

There have been a few truly circular tracks of varying lengths, the first board track for autos - Playa Del Rey - was a circle.

When Langhorne was paved, it was re-configured a bit and less circular than it appears in the photo posted here, but it was ridiculously fast for the time. Drivers considered the paved track even more unsafe, mainly due to the poor sight lines. Amazingly for 1969, drivers rebelled and told USAC they wouldn't enter the race if it was put on the schedule. They did run a final race in 1970, but as the date approached for the second 1970 race, it quietly disappeared from the schedule.

Great info Jim, very cool. I can only imagine what it had to be like to run a Champ Car there when it was paved, unreal!

When dirt, Man, talk about the challenges of getting the pitch angle correct — and hanging on to it. I would suspect fairly large field spreads just from that challenge.

#35 Cynic2

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Posted 11 October 2011 - 02:44

On a lighter note, I wrote this of West Palm Beach several years ago, but will paraphrase the tale: we were running an SCCA National there in early '66. There was the usual obligatory drivers' meeting Saturday ayem; we all stood around half-asleep, hungover, or both. No one was paying a whole lot of attention as the Guy In Charge droned on with the usual blather about obeying the yellow flags, yada, yada, yada...

Suddenly this apparition waddles onto center stage: a scuba diver, complete with wet suit, tank, mask, fins, the whole 9 yards! G.I.C. told us to "Listen up!" and detailed how, if we went into the drink, this diver would swim down to us and shove a hose in our mouth to keep us from drowning! Cripes!! No one was nodding off after that!


( . . .)


Joel,

Well, there was a good reason for the scuba diver (as well as a good reason for the the increasingly higher levee built at the edge of the canal).

In early 1983 "Ollie" Chandon (Olivier Chandon de Brailles, the only son of Frederic Chandon de Brailles, chairman of the Moët-Hennessy group and heir to the Moët & Chandon champagne fortune), drowned at Moroso in testing for the '83 season. His Ralt F/Atlantic went into the canal, landing upside down, and he was trapped. As it was testing, as nothing had ever happened before (the usual excuse), there was no one who could rescue him in time. (Other than the small group in racing, Chandon is probably best known for hs then girlfriend, Christie Brinkley.)

To paraphrase statements about armies, race tracks are always prepared for the last accdent, not the next one.

David

Edited by Cynic2, 11 October 2011 - 02:46.


#36 E1pix

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Posted 11 October 2011 - 03:39

Joel,

Well, there was a good reason for the scuba diver (as well as a good reason for the the increasingly higher levee built at the edge of the canal).

In early 1983 "Ollie" Chandon (Olivier Chandon de Brailles, the only son of Frederic Chandon de Brailles, chairman of the Moët-Hennessy group and heir to the Moët & Chandon champagne fortune), drowned at Moroso in testing for the '83 season. His Ralt F/Atlantic went into the canal, landing upside down, and he was trapped. As it was testing, as nothing had ever happened before (the usual excuse), there was no one who could rescue him in time. (Other than the small group in racing, Chandon is probably best known for hs then girlfriend, Christie Brinkley.)

To paraphrase statements about armies, race tracks are always prepared for the last accdent, not the next one.

David

I recall this story from the time, and your closing statement is spot on.

#37 HistoricMustang

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Posted 11 October 2011 - 12:10

Correct me if wrong, but I believe the angle of banking's actually varied which perhaps made it feel as though some "straight" sections were present.

Henry :wave:

#38 taylov

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Posted 11 October 2011 - 12:55

Check out the 1963 race at http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

Good footage at Puke Hollow (3m 35s in)

This should answer the question about the shape of the track - in car from 1964 (50 secs into the footage) at


Tony

Edited by taylov, 11 October 2011 - 13:52.


#39 Jerry Entin

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Posted 11 October 2011 - 21:04

Posted Image
Press Release by the President of the Langhorne Speedway

Jim: This is what Irv Fried who was the President of Langhorne in 1971 thought of the 1971 USAC Drivers boycott.


Press Release from: Bill Wisdwedel collection

Edited by Jerry Entin, 11 October 2011 - 21:05.


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#40 Michael Ferner

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Posted 13 September 2014 - 16:55

Perhaps the best place to post an Addendum to "Langhorne! No Man's Land", the excellent 2008 book by Spencer Riggs - excellent, but for the unfortunately sub-standard coverage of the early years, mainly the 1920s. Perhaps Riggs's sources or interest ran low for these events, but unlike the latter years which contain the pretty much usual, inevitable (and mostly inconsequential) small inaccuracies here and there, the first four or five chapters are almost riddled with factual errors and omissions which need to be addressed. Some of this was apparent to me right from the start, but only very recent research has provided a lot of additional insight, even including a number of additional race dates, so here goes:

To start with, Langhorne was not "officially known as the New Philadelphia Speedway" (p5), it was plain "Philadelphia Speedway" instead, to which the adjective "new" was sometimes added. Only a small and perhaps insignificant difference, but in the same way the term "Langhorne speedway" (refering only generally to a speedway at that location) transformed into "Langhorne Speedway" by the last event of 1927, which was also the last time that the term "Philadelphia Speedway" was used.

More important, if slightly more difficult to make accurate observations, is the business of average speeds, of both the "advertized" and "achieved" variety! At the time, and in fact for many decades thereafter, the 1-mile dirt track "world record" was an almost mythical subject; a most prominent feather in the "war bonnet" of drivers, car owners and manufacturers, track owners and promoters alike. In actual, practical matters, however, it wasn't much more than a chimaera, as dirt tracks in general are notoriously difficult to compare, what with their inconsistent surface, to say nothing of the various different shapes and (whisper it quietly) actual track lengths.

Be that as it may, when Langhorne opened in May of 1926, the "official" AAA mile-dirt-track record still stood at 42.28" (85 mph), established by Tommy Milton at Syracuse in 1923, not Ralph de Palma's 41.38" (87 mph, p7) established at Syracuse in September of 1926, three months after the Langhone opener, but even that wasn't the fastest time ever achieved, because the AAA accepted only electrically timed speeds as "official", and so Frank Lockhart's hand-timed lap of 39.2" (91 mph) at Bakersfield in October of 1925 went unrecognized as far as AAA "world records" go (not "due to a faulty timer", p6). And, to be sure, many independent clubs had their own "world records" of sometimes quite fanciful imagination, but let us not tread in the twilight zone here! Important in regards with Langhorne here is the fact that no electrical timing equipment was used at Langhorne before May 3, 1930, and so any achieved (or imagined!) times and speeds were quite inconsequential for the purpose of the "world record", which by that time was finally held by Lockhart at 38.94" (92 mph), achieved at Cleveland in September of 1927.

So, while it is true that the initial minimum speed to qualify for the inaugural Langhorne race was set at 85 mph, equal to the then current world record, and even raised to 90 mph before the trials actually began, that was just the usual ballyhoo that was deemed necessary to attract the attention of the potential race goers, and when the qualification trials were finally over, the fastest recorded time was just 42.4" (84 mph), and the "minimum speed" quickly forgotten. The whole minimum speed saga is, however, an indication of the ambitious nature of the NMRA, whose members had purchased quite a few very potent racing cars over the last few months, and this was a way of communicating this fact to the public - the AAA board tracks often published minimum qualifying speeds of way over 120 mph, and the NMRA was trying to match this "class" of racing, and in fact almost did as we will see.

Which brings us neatly to the story of Pete de Paolo's Duesenberg, the 1925 Indy winner (p7). Yes, it's true that it was purchased by the director of the Eastern Penitentiary, although most period sources have him by the name of Herbert (not Fred) Smith, but it was not the car that won the first Langhorne race!! This has been written so many times in secondary sources that I nearly took it for granted, even if it necessitated a somewhat convoluted story to explain how de Paolo used it again after that initial Langhorne race, but only now have I realized that the period sources mention the "de Paolo Duesenberg" for the first time in August - I had to go back and through all the available documents to be sure, but it's true! And it makes the history of that particular so much more straightforward, with de Paolo's last race in it on July 17. Instead, Freddie Winnai drove a 1920 Duesenberg Straight 8 of 183 CID owned by Fred Garnet, and listed in the programme (p10) as #8, which was the number of the Indy winner in 1927, while it raced as #9 in the few races it did in late '26!

A few words about the drivers: Tommy Dawson was not "a relatively unknown local driver" (p6), at least not more so than Russ Snowberger or Ray Keech - it is easy to fall prey to warped perception with the passage of so much time, and even more so with the knowledge about later achievements of some of those drivers. In fact, Dawson was one of the most consistent frontrunners within the NMRA for years, and had occasionally dipped a toe into AAA water, even with some success. Likewise, Bill Strickler had not been a retired driver/owner in 1926, like the text on p7 suggests; he had been around consistently for several years before and after the Langhorne opener, both as an owner and driver. If anyone really deserved the sobriquet "underdog" in 1926, it was Freddie Winnai, who was all of 21 years old and a racing sophomore, with no wins to speak of (if any) as yet. His career really started on June 12, 1926, together with Langhorne's, and it's quite fitting that he turns out to be the one driver with the most individual main event wins ever in the history of the track! More of that later on.

A few details from the description of the opening races are not entirely correct, too, mainly that Malcolm Fox won the third class B heat (not Lew Shingle, who was second), and that his crash in the B main meant that he couldn't start the 50-mile feature event - as it is, sources are not entirely clear, but there were probably no more than nine or ten starters, not the fifteen mentioned on p8. Another omission is that the second meeting on July 10 followed another rain-out on July 5, showing that the track had a bit of a weather problem in its inaugural season - in the end, none of the three holiday meetings (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day) happened on schedule! As for the delayed Independence Day meet, Ray Keech did win in a Miller that once belonged to Ira Vail, but Vail was no longer involved with it and most certainly not present, while the car was now owned by Ed Yagle who would go on to enjoy much success over the next three years with Keech and a number of different Millers. And the story about Russ Snowberger "christening" Puke Hollow is very nice and probably true, but it can't have happened during the July meeting because Russ was out during early practice with a massive engine failure. In fact, one report of the opening meet back in June mentioned Snowberger retiring from the main event "visibly ill" and unable to leave his racer without much help of several bystanders...

Now to the "Twilight Races" (p10/11): this was basically a sound idea, probably gleaned from the successful Night Races that Ascot Speedway had been running in California during 1924, and once in 1926 on the very same date of the last Langhorne race! Langhorne, however, did not have any lighting system, but with Daylight Saving Time on a long Summer evening it was feasible to stage a full meeting on a weekday, and the meetings do appear to have been a success even if the press almost ignored them. Published attendance figures are anything but reliable, yet they do show a 7,000 crowd for the last of the Twilight Races against a meagre 500 for the July 10 meet! By the way, all three Twilight Races were held, on consecutive Wednesday evenings from July 21 to August 4. The first main event was advertised for 25 laps, but run over only 10 due to approaching darkness, so the crowd had reason to be "taken aback" (p11), while there was little publicity about the other two meets, won by Jimmy Gleason (10 miles on July 28) and Russ Snowberger (over only 5 miles!), with Riley Cumberland and Steve Penjuke the respective class B winners over like distances. One little incident of interest from the second of those meetings is that Ray Keech reportedly lost count of the laps driven, and stopped at the pits one lap early, thus forfeiting second place money!

For the August 7 meeting, the press finally announced the arrival of a new car, running at the track "for the first time": the 1925 Indy winner, complete with its original 122 CID engine which makes sense, as de Paolo had wrecked the 91 CID unit at his last race with it, and that engine was a dud anyway besides there being no capacity limits in independent dirt track racing. Interestingly, though, the car was entered for Al Aspen, not Winnai, and the reports about race day make no mention of Aspen or the famous car. That in itself is not really unusual, but for the Labor Day races it was announced that Winnai was now taking over the de Paolo car, while Jack Desmond was to drive "the Duesenberg in which Winnai broke the track record at the last meet", or words to that effect - yet the Duesenberg ad pictured on p11 states that the record was made with the former Indy winner! An interesting conundrum, but anyway the ad shows the correct time of 38.8" (92 mph) for the record, not 38.2" as in the text on p12. By the way, there's much confusion about the car Lou Fink fatally crashed in - earlier that season, he usually drove a Frontenac that had reputedly "killed" two drivers before, while on that fateful day reports vary between Duesenberg, Peugeot and Hispano-Suiza!

The October 3 meet is, indeed, a bit of a mystery, but it was definitely an event to itself, not the original date for the 100-miler the next week which was already announced in late September. Part of the October 3 mystery is that it was a Sunday, the first and for a long time only event at Langhorne run on a Sunday. Apart from advertizing the race as a 15-miler and naming half a dozen entries, the only thing known is that Jimmy Gleason won, plus there was a photograph in the "pictures of the world" section of a newspaper during the following week, purporting to show four cars during the running of that race. Which leaves us with the final event of the 1926 season... and I don't mean the 100-miler! For late October, announcement was made for a "Louis Fink Family Benefit" race at Langhorne, which was at least twice rained out and advertized for the last time for November 7, but whether it actually took place I can't say!

Before we move on to 1927, one word to the statistics section on p536 which lists the main event winners under the NMRA heading for 1926, including three of the "B main" winners which is not only incomplete, but also an inaccurate way to describe the format of these races. Generally, there were class A and class B heats over 3 or 5 laps, and then 10-lap "semi-mains" for both classes before the real feature, usually called the "championship race". More accurately and complete, the list should look like this:

6/12: Winnai (50 laps), Winnai (A 10) and Rowland (B 10)
7/10: Keech (50), Gleason (A 10) and Horace Hunter (B 10)
7/21: Winnai (10), Winnai (A 10) and Everette (B 6)
7/28: Gleason (10), Gleason/Keech (A 5 dead heat) and Cumberland (B 10)
8/4: Snowberger (A 5) and Penjuke (B 5)
8/7: Winnai (25), Winnai (A 10) and Desmond (B 10)
9/11: Gleason (25), Gleason (A 10) and Dawson (B 10)
10/3: Gleason (15), etc?
10/9: Snowberger (100)

Edited by Michael Ferner, 14 September 2014 - 09:14.


#41 Michael Ferner

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 10:04

Admittedly, so far these these addenda have been mostly of a somewhat arcane nature, but the errors and omissions are getting progressively worse over the next three chapters. There were only three events in 1927, and all three as described in the book contain one major error each: the first one was not sanctioned by the NMRA (p16), but already a AAA event; in fact all the major NMRA players switched to AAA licences that year and did not need to drive on temporary permits (p17)! The second race was not a 50-miler, but ran over only half that distance, while the third race was neither on September 3 nor on Labor Day, which was September 5 that year - in fact, the original date of September 5 was changed to the following Saturday, September 10, to avoid a clash with the National Championship race at Altoona the same day, which had a support race for "semi-professionals" that attracted a few of the Langhorne regulars.

Things get totally out of hand in chapter 4, dealing with the 1928 season: I can find no trace of an NMRA race on May 12 (p20), instead the AAA opened Langhorne two weeks later with another Winnai win, this time over 10 miles. During this meeting, Winnai also lowered the AAA track record to 40.0" (90 mph) from the 41.8" (86 mph) achieved by Frank Farmer in May of 1927 - typically, the AAA ignored track records of independent clubs such as the NMRA. A planned series of five AAA races (exact dates not mentioned) at Langhorne did not, however, materialize, as the track conditions were found to be wanting, and so an independent club took over for the summer months, although it is not exactly clear which club that was! To wit, the last mention of the NMRA as a sanctioning body for any race that I have is from October 29 in 1927 at a meeting in Lehighton/PA, while the name of its "successor", the United Automobile Association (UAA) does not appear in print anywhere that I can see before October 6, 1928 at Pottstown/PA! Both clubs were always keen to see their name mentioned in press blurbs, so it's kind of strange that there is no reference to either club to be found for this period of close to a full year.

There is, however, the possibilty of an involvement by a third local club by the name of Eastern States Motor Racing Association (ESMRA) which was apparently founded in late 1926 as yet another NMRA offshoot. This came about because of a "territorial conflict" within the NMRA, which had held a big end-of-season 100-mile race at Pottstown annually since 1920, but with the opening of Langhorne the focus had shifted away from the small town some thirty miles west of Philadelphia, and the good people of Pottstown broke with the NMRA, scheduling the "7th Eastern States Championship" race for the same date as the Langhorne 100-miler in 1926! Not surprisingly, that backfired badly, as did a match race three weeks later between the Pottstown winner Horace Hunter and Freddie Winnai which the young star from the Langhorne track won easily. How things developed from here is anybody's guess, especially in the light of the mass walkout of NMRA stars to the AAA in 1927, but one of these three clubs was likely sanctioning those Langhorne meetings in the summer of 1928, of which there were at least six.

Before proceeding, one must make reference to the previously discussed matter of the MacKenzie cousins again in order to avoid further confusion. Quite how Riggs imagined that both cousins were known as "Doc" MacKenzie is simply beyond me, as it is one of the prime purposes of a nickname to differentiate between persons with like names. As already stated elsewhere, there is evidence that the 1928 fatality was named "Speedy" by his peers, but most papers simply refered to George MacKenzie for either man, to the point that it appears as if it was one person driving different cars! Nevertheless, since "Speedy" mostly drove an "F & J Special" while "Doc" mainly wheeled a Hudson, it is possible to keep them apart, but not without some doubt. Speedy, who was a couple years younger than Doc, appears to have been the leading figure of the two, probably starting a little earlier and landing the first results, e.g. two thirds in the first three independent main events at Langhorne that year, but by summer the two of them appear to have been pretty evenly matched.

Ben Shaw won the first of these races on June 10 over 25 laps, then Malcolm Fox took the flag the next week in a race stopped after only 16 laps because of excessive dust - this was the meeting with the accidents as described on p20. On July 1, the distance was reduced to 15 laps, and Fox was unavailable for some reason, so his car owner Bill Neapolitan stepped in and won in what was reportedly his very first race! Fox was back for wins over 25 miles on July 15, and then in another event postponed from August 12 to the following Sunday, August 19 which was the one in which Speedy MacKenzie crashed fatally (not August 26, p21). Apparently, that race was shortened also to 15, maybe even 10 laps. A fortnight later, September 2, and Doc MacKenzie won over 10 laps - again, it was the dust which turned out to be a major problem that summer. That was it for the independents, but not for Langhorne as the AAA came back for a series of fall season races!

September 30 was apparently rained out, but on October 7 it was old crowd favourite Freddie Winnai again over 25 miles, with Ray Keech second from Frank Farmer and Rick Decker, all of them Indianapolis bound the following year. More of the same three weeks later, when Chet Gardner came over from Colorado to completely dominate events, including a new track record at 38.4" (93 mph), finally beating Winnai's old mark, and then leading every lap in his heat and the main event which was cut short when Deacon Litz pulled in from third place complaining that he couldn't see in the falling dusk! Still, another event was scheduled for November 4 and postponed to the 11th, with Larry Beals from Massachusetts winning the main event over only ten laps, while a match race between Keech, Winnai and Gardner ended ignominiously: first, the latter pulled out upon hearing of the postponement, selling his car and returning home, and then Keech's engine failed on the penultimate lap of the final 10-lap heat, causing Winnai to crash into him, and flagman Doc Gerner to wait in vain for a car to finish the race - uh-oh!

Thus ended the busiest season with regards to number of race meets in the entire history of Langhorne Speedway, yet the definite book about the track fails to find even one correct date for those meetings, and glosses over the on-track happenings in a most pitiful way - the low point of an otherwise excellent book, sad to say! And unfortunately, it doesn't get much better in chapter 5, concerning the 1929 season: like with Labor Day in 1927, Riggs fails to perform a simple check of the calendar, and astonishes with a sentence like "while many records have the date for this event as May 12, a Tuesday, this race was actually held on Saturday, May 16" (p 23) - the proof reader must have called in sick, too!! The subject of the sentence is the inaugural event of 1929, which was indeed held on May 12 - a Sunday!!! - after both April 28 and May 5 had been rained out. And yet again, it was a AAA race, not NMRA, an organisation which almost certainly did no longer exist at that time.

The errors continue with the mentioning of Chet Gardner and his 38.4" lap which, as we have learned, had been achieved more than half a year earlier. In fact, Gardner wasn't even entered on May 12, and fast time of 43.0" (83 mph) was recorded by the local society scion, Harold B. Larzelere junior, whose eponymous father had once finished second to the great David Bruce-Brown at the Giant's Despair hill climb in 1909. Young "HBL" had driven an Auburn stock car in a support race for the last independent meet at Langhorne in September, found that he liked it, and gone on to compete at the Pottstown 100 only to crash out after giving a good account of himself. Joining AAA over the winter, he was already making a big impression, and would be a main event winner within two months! A number of accidents, however, soon dampened his spririts, and after taking three years to achieve his second win, he simply faded away during the mid thirties. Freddie Winnai, on the other hand, scored his seventh Langhorne main event win that day, a record that would never be surpassed. Only one Anthony Joseph Foyt junior, who wasn't even yet a glint in the eye of Anthony Joseph Foyt senior, would eventually equal this feet by adding a couple of stock car victories to his tally of five Big Car wins, and over a period of four and a half years as compared to Fast Freddie's three years!

After that one AAA race, the UAA took over for the rest of the year, and held at least three meetings - well, one could say three-and-a-half! The first programme on May 26 went ahead as planned, with Malcolm Fox driving Ben Shaw's Fronty to a win in the 25-mile main from such names as Frank Castell, Mike Golasky and Jimmy Kearns - really, class B stuff. Still, the UAA was making a lot of noises about challenging the best the AAA could offer for a match race, which does not seem to have had the desired effect: attendance figures dropped steadily, from 5,000 for the AAA opener, over 3,500 for the first UAA event to 1,500, and finally a mere 1,000 in July. A June 15 event was stopped by rain during or after time trials, and was repeated the following Saturday with Ben Shaw now driving his own car to another 25-mile victory. Golasky was second this time, with Tom Buler third and Harry Reeves fourth - another collection of no-names. Finally, after a pause of four weeks, another 25-miler was scheduled, but for unexplained reasons cut to ten laps, with Neapolitan taking his second win at a very slow 56 mph - presumably, because the track was in very poor shape! The most interesting thing about this win is that he likely drove the same car, namely Ben Shaw's Frontenac, which thus may have been a winner in three consecutive races, with three different drivers aboard!

And I can't let that photo caption on p24 slip by without a word: to anyone familiar with Miller engines it really jumps out at you that the loud bit in this car is not a Dodge, but a 183 CID Miller Straight 8! The car is actually the somewhat strange offset single-seater which Ira Vail had built in 1924 after accepting the fact that he could no longer drive on the board tracks because of a particular sickness which regularly befell him (doctors call it "self preservation instinct"!), and which he had used to good effect in dirt track races in the East until he bought the Lockhart/Miller in the summer of 1926. This Vail/Miller then passed on to Charlie Ganung of Katonah/NY who ran it himself and for a number of different drivers well into the thirties, it seems. The actual owner, however, seems to have been one George Taytor, a Dodge dealer from South Salem/NY, between Katonah and the Connecticutt stateline, and this is presumably where this picture was taken. But yes, this particular car raced at Langhorne, too.

One or two words should be allowed concerning chapter 6, and the 1930 Langhorne opener in particular: Riggs asserts that Bill Cummings fnally brought the world dirt track record to Langhorne in Karl Kizer's Century Tire Fronty-Ford at 38.03" (94 mph, p26) - unfortunately, only the car owner's and sponsor's names are correct! Kizer had purchased a 91 CID Miller Straight 8 for Cummings's AAA debut from Cliff Woodbury's Boyle Valve-sponsored team, and had his own company's name inscribed into the old triangular Boyle logo, even leaving the #9 painted on its tail, to which he simply added a "2" to make it #29, had it then sent to Langhorne for the bright young dirt track prospect from Indianapolis who astonished the crowd and his peers by breaking Fred Frame's electrically timed 39.68" (90 mph) track record of a few minutes before with a 38.97" (92 mph) lap that came within 0.03" of Lockhart's still standing "world record" from Cleveland in 1927, before going on to lead all 100 laps of the main event (not "swapping positions back and forth", p27) to win by more than half a lap - one proper long sentence to close this post! Thanks for listening.

Edited by Michael Ferner, 14 September 2014 - 21:31.


#42 Jim Thurman

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 18:02

Michael, very good :up:   Not to give you extra work, particularly involving "cabs", but what does Riggs write about Hugh Davis' fatal accident in July or August 1940 in some event connected to the 200-mile AAA stock car race?

 

I can guarantee there's some clean-up work, correction and addendum needed there.


Edited by Jim Thurman, 14 September 2014 - 18:02.


#43 E.B.

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 18:20

I'm not Michael, but to save his typing fingers after his recent mammoth entries, and as I have the book close to hand:-

"During one of the qualifying races a youngster named Hugh Davis died in a crash. The Richmond, Virginia driver lost control of his Ford and the car spun several times before hooking a rut that flipped it end over end. Davis was thrown out and sustained severe head injuries. Taken to the Harriman Hospital in Bristol, he lingered a few days before dying".

I concur with Michael about the excellence of the book, so his errata service is very much appreciated (thumbs up smiley).

#44 Jim Thurman

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 22:28

I'm not Michael, but to save his typing fingers after his recent mammoth entries, and as I have the book close to hand:-

"During one of the qualifying races a youngster named Hugh Davis died in a crash. The Richmond, Virginia driver lost control of his Ford and the car spun several times before hooking a rut that flipped it end over end. Davis was thrown out and sustained severe head injuries. Taken to the Harriman Hospital in Bristol, he lingered a few days before dying".

I concur with Michael about the excellence of the book, so his errata service is very much appreciated (thumbs up smiley).

 

Thank you E.B.  Some researchers, including myself, have delved into this and we've found no record of Hugh Davis actually dying.  The Richmond, Virginia newspaper mentioned him being badly injured, but there was not another mention to be found in the following weeks: no death or funeral notice, no obituary, nothing. There's no likely match in the 1940 Pennsylvania Death Index, which doesn't even have any deaths listed for persons named Davis/Davies from Bristol or Bristol Township.  There simply has been no confirmation found, which is usually a sign that the event did not happen.  Obviously, it's still possible that he did pass away.  Perhaps he was racing under an alias, or wasn't from Richmond, or passed away in a different hospital (though again, there are no entries in the death index for Davis that have jumped out at us as likely).  It could be that one or more of those are the errata. But, from the pattern with other cases, I'm leaning to Hugh Davis survivng the accident a la Jack Petticord, Otto Wolfer and, well, several others.


Edited by Jim Thurman, 14 September 2014 - 22:31.


#45 Jim Thurman

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 22:29

I'll second that E.B., Michael's errata service is always appreciated :up: