Wood you believe!

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Nostalgia seems to have overcome the inhabitants of the Garage. The Vanderbilt Cup which was held on Long Island, is only one event that made up a rich heritage of New York City area racing in days gone by. One of the greatest race tracks in an era of wood surfaces, yes I said wood, was located in Brooklyn, New York of all places.

In 1915 the Sheepshead Bay Race Track was closed. The horse track was replaced by a different kind of horse power. A two mile track constructed of 2×4 yellow Georgia Pine beams was built on the site. The Astor Cup Race at 350 miles run on Oct. 9, 1915, was the first event at the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The winner was Gil Anderson in the No. 5 Stutz. His teammate, Tom Rooney, No. 7, finished second. No. 4, a Peugeot driven by Bob Burman, was seventh. The crowd was estimated at 70,000.

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Also in 1915, a Peugeot set a world speed record of 108 mph at the Speedway.

Unfortunately, the track was demolished in 1919, and replaced with housing. Sounds familiar even today, knocking down race tracks to make way for housing!

Buy the way, whoever said endorsements by race car drivers are of recent vintage?

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Board tracks were not limited to Brooklyn, nor was the New York track the first.

The Los Angeles Motordome, was the first speedway with a board track and opened near Playa Del Rey, California. The Motordome, affectionately known as “The Boards,” was a huge success.

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By 1915, nearly a half-dozen board tracks had popped up around the country. By 1931, there were 24 board tracks in operation including tracks in Beverly Hills, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Atlantic City. Incidentally, the Beverly Hills track stood approximately where the prime-time shopping blocks of Rodeo Drive are located now. No tracks have ever approximated the speeds allowed on the heavily banked boards.

Board tracks began to fade from existence during the Depression. The lifetime for 2×4′s exposed to racing tires was approximately five years after which deadly splinters and potholes would begin to dot the track’s smooth surfaces. During the Depression, the expensive upkeep of the board tracks made them impractical. The last decade of board racing was a sight to behold. Cars tore down straightaway’s at 120mph while carpenter’s patched the tracks from beneath.

Racing entertainment just isn’t what it used to be.

Comments

  1. says

    Harry Harkness was the owner of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. He died in January of 1919 as a result of the Influenza Pandemic, which took more lives than the Great War of a few years earlier. The Harkness Estate Company sold the property in 1923, after which it was subdivided for residential development.

    Harry was an heir to one of the major stockholders in the Standard Oil Company. He was only 38-years-old when he died.

  2. Jeff Bressler says

    Thanks for the comments on your blog. I have great respect for Hemmings. Your blog is wonderful. The internet is great. But it has made me lazy. I used to love to pick up my “telephone book” copy of the Hemmings Motor News each month. I used to relish every page.

  3. Dale Smith says

    I have built a mini track and a somewhat scale model of a Miller car and mounted on same. It’s a art piece to behold, FOR SURE.

    Good job you have done.

    I live in Indy.

  4. Dale Smith says

    Correction of my comment above. A great friend made the Miller art piece, I made the track.

    Sorry for not stating such

    Dale in Indy

  5. says

    Dear sirs,

    I’m a French journalist. I’m writing a book about Indycar and Indy-style racing from the early days until today. It will be publish, in France, in 2009.

    I already got a lot of pictures of board racing, Indy 500, the Vanderbilt Cup, CART, etc. But any picture or story would always be welcomed.

    Regards.

    J.OUAKNINE

  6. Matt Hatton says

    Any idea where the board track in Cincinnati stood? I am doing a documentary on the board track racers and would love to visit the site which I’m sure is under several shopping plazas by now.

  7. Jon Clifton says

    What is not known to many people is the fact that Sheepshead Bay was not all wood. The turns were wood and the straights were dirt.

  8. ken zubrod says

    there is a book out there that is a large blue book that has pictures and measurement od old 1920-1940 sprint cars. I have been looking for it or the author with no luck. Can you help me. Thank you, Ken

  9. Pat Wells says

    Growing up, I had a great friend, Jack Engbers, (racing under the name of Johnny Lorenzo) who talked of the wood tracks. He lit up when he talked of them. It must have been a great time. Anybody out there have memories/pictures of the Great Lorenzo?

    • Craig White says

      Hello Pat. My uncle was Jack Engbers (the Great Lorenzo), and it would not be too difficult to find some pictures of Jack in his racing gear leaning up against his cigar-shaped racing car, etc … If interested, send me an e-mail at (my son's address) davinwhitewvu@hotmail.com.
      My mom, Mary Engbers White, was Jack's sister.

      Thanks,

      Craig White

      • pat wells says

        Craig,

        Your Uncle, Jack, was one of those great characters a young man meets whilel growing up. Although I am now 64, I still think kindly of the many nights spent with Jack at his garage (both the ramshackle one and the new one he proudly built.) The stories were many and the laughs were a constant fixture. I miss the Great Lorenzo. If you could send some pictures, I would appreciate it.

        Thanks,

        Pat Wells
        P_T_Wells @yahoo.com.
        110 Cheryl Place
        Toronto, OH 43964
        740-537-3982

  10. Robert says

    I am the owner of a rare original framed 6 foot by 18 inch photo of the first Astor Cup Race at Sheepshead Bay Speedway in 1915. It is signed ( with address and dated year ) by the famed panographic photographer Charles Stacy. The only other panographic photo of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway by Charles Stacy that I have been able to locate is in the Library of Congress in Washington – or copies of such.
    The one that I have is being offered for sale to the serious collector only, and I can be contacted at the e-mail address shown

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