Splinter Alley

July 1925 at the Laurel SpeedwayBoard trackers had some balls, eh?

Here’s what the Washington Post had to say in advance of this July 1925 race at the Laurel Speedway in Laurel, Maryland.

Washington Post, Jul 11, 1925
14 Auto Entrants Qualify for Race Today at Laurel De Paolo Leads With and Average of 131.5 Miles for One Lap

A wide board track, wrapping 80 acres of ground as a ribbon might encircle an ostrich egg, with a huge grandstand overlooking it all, is ready today to vibrate under the great motor gruel, the inaugural race at the Washington-Baltimore automobile speedway.

Never level and in places almost up and down, it is to the arena of sixteen speed-crazed drivers, out on a Roman holiday to entertain the populace and in so doing to lower the world’s speed records.

Peter de Paolo, plucky aspirant for this year’s motor racing fame, made himself and machine a fitting apparition on it yesterday and establishing a strategic place in today’s get-away. De Paolo drove his racing Dusenberg around the course at a speed of 131.5 miles an hour, the greatest speed attained in the qualifying rounds. As a result he will have the preferred position at the start with Earl Cooper, who qualified Thursday with a speed of 129.8 miles an hour.

An inspection of the approach to the track yesterday emphasized the traffic problem. While there is plenty of space to park machines both outside and inside the oval there is only a narrow road leading to it from the highway, a distance of about half a mile. Every effort, however, is to be made to keep traffic moving briskly. Those planning to go to the track in machines, should bear this in mind in arranging their running time.

Special trains will be operated over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. They run directly to the track.

Arrangements have been completed for handling the vast crowd expected to attend the race. Two hundred District national guardsmen, under the command of Capt. P.G. Nevitt, are to cooperate with the Maryland guardsmen, State police and regular soldiers in regulating traffic both inside and outside the bowl.

Capt. Nevitt’s men are to assemble at the armory. He stated last night that any motorist who will come by, fill his car with as many guardsmen as he can take will be given free parking space at the track.

Half the fun of this early newspaper account is the colorful language of a sporting press that hasn’t quite decided on it’s racing jargon.

Death on the Boards by Robert WilliamsThis race was a full 5 years after the famous crash at the Los Angeles Speedway that killed Gaston Chevrolet (the brother of Chevrolet founder Louis Chevrolet) along with “Mechanician” Lyall Jolls. The danger of board track racing was intense. Just look at that Laurel photograph; the barrier between the track and the stands is hardly what I would call sturdy, and there seems to be no barrier of any substance between the track and infield, not to mention the prospect of skinny tires on wooden planks. Just hope no oil gets on the boards. And even the slightest sprinkle of rain would prove disastrous.

The Los Angeles race, of course, inspired a favorite painting of mine by Robert Williams, Death on the Boards: The Mystery of Indy Winner Gaston Chevrolet and His Death Premonition Which Came True with the Deaths of Two Others at the Plush Beverly Hills Board Track in View of 60,000 Witness of Who No Two Gave the Same Account on Thanksgiving Day, Nov 25,1920. Which, though a mouthful, might also be the best title of a painting ever.

Thanks Shorpy for the photo. This was from a series of three photos Shorpy featured of the July 11, 1925 Laurel Speedway race.

You can buy yourself a print of the Robert Williams painting here, which is also featured in the excellent book of American car culture, Kustom Kulture. You deserve it.

CarsAndRacingStuff.com has more on the Gaston Chevrolet crash, including the New York Times article that covered the event.

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