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Speedway Racers: 1925

Speedway Racers: 1925

July 18, 1925. Prince George's County, Maryland. "Bicycle races at Laurel Speedway." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Captain Pedantic here

The city of Laurel is in fact in Prince Georges County (which technically should be spelled without the apostrophe, since it was spelled that way in the original charter almost 400 years ago). However, the old (long-gone) speedway was just about an ant's tiptoe over the line into Anne Arundel County.

Dusie on the boards

The racecar is a 1925 Duesenberg Eight Speedway Car, driven at the time by Peter De Paolo. The car apparently sold for 330,000 dollars at the Monterey Sports and Classic Car Auction in 2007. The guy so comfortably ensconced on the front is undoubtedly waiting for the real racing action to commence.

Faster guys on the inside

These fine racers are obviously arranged by speed, with the guys near the outside lane looking like they're just there for kicks.

I also notice that the tires look like 27 x 1-1/4 size, which is 32mm, compared to the modern 23mm tires. Just one of the many things that have changed in bike racing.

Board tracks

Baltimore-Washington Speedway was a 1.125 mile wooden oval with 48-degree banked corners, and was built by Jack Prince, an Englishman who basically was the father of board track construction in the U.S. He was an ex-bike racer. It was operational between 11 June 1925 and 25 September 1926, so these guys raced (on a Saturday) just five weeks after it opened. All of the board tracks' primary users were race cars, not bikes, although Prince based his design on bike racing's wooden velodromes.

From my article "Racing on Wood":
"With boards stacked on edge, 16 to 20 feet long or so, two inches by up to eight inches wide, 24 tracks were built in the U.S., all but two of them ovals, with banking in some cases as much as 50 degrees. Today's Daytona has 31-degree banking, Talladega has 33, Bristol 36, California Speedway and Pocono 14, and Indy might as well be a giant cafeteria tray with its relatively flat nine degrees. For promotional purposes it was not unknown for owners to claim higher banking for their new track than for the last one built, so precise measurement could be snookered occasionally."
"The 'boards' didn't last long. Their champion proponent, builder Prince, died in 1927. The 1929 stock market crash was no help. The tracks' average life was four seasons. Altoona, which ran from 1923 into 1931, had the longest career. Not much was known about preserving wood outdoors without creosote (too slippery) to provide stable, even surfaces able to withstand the pounding of race cars capable of covering 220 feet a second."

Board racing was awful!

One spill and the board track turned you into a porcupine.

Rat traps

Looks like they are using "rat trap" pedals. I still use this style pedal on my mountain bike. Most riders use a clipless pedal today with matched biking shoes.

4th from the left

That old guy (he's gotta be at least 30!) is going to get dusted by these kids!

He apparently thought he was going golfing judging by his pants.

Track Bikes

These bikes are a bit strange in one respect: they are classic track bikes (single gear -- you brake by trying to stop peddling) with touring type front forks. Current "racing" bikes have nearly straight front forks.

Track Bikes

Track bikes are pretty much the same today. No brakes, one gear, and no freewheel so no coasting. You just apply back pressure to slow down. At least two of these have brake levers, though. You wouldn't see any brakes at a track race today. Looks like a wood track, too. Watch out for slivers!

Sans Spandex

Ah, the days before obnoxious kits (and helmets).


I'm guessing the fourth fella from the left is either
A) not a touchy feely kinda guy
B) itchy to get the race started and stop this photo nonsense
C) disturbed that he forgot his cycling shorts

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