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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Board Track: 1925

Board Track: 1925

July 11, 1925. "Auto races at Laurel, Maryland." The 1⅛-mile wooden oval at Laurel Speedway. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.

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Laurel board track

When I was a kid, we used to ride our bikes in the woods there. Unfortunately, the current image above does't show any remains at all of the old track. 4 or 5 years ago they cleared the land. Now its just a grass field. About 10 years ago, when we found the track, we thought it was a road. We road our bikes on it and and discovered it was huge oval. Since the track was all sand, we thought it was once part of the horse track. Since the horse track is across the street(brock bridge rd), it only made sense to us. Wish it was still there since I now know what it is.

Hats and Plank roads

I can also attest to the terrific comfort of a straw boater. I got an antique boater recently (ca 1930s) and it's amazing how shady cool and comfortable they are. And yes, just about every man in America wore one. May 15 was the traditional "Straw Hat Day," when straws were "officially" sanctioned to be worn.

Regarding the wooden track, this was also the era of plank roads. In an era when wood was tremendously abundant, miles and miles of highways were paved with wood. Even in Brooklyn, Coney Island Avenue was originally called Coney Island Plank Road.

Google Maps image

I am fascinated by the Google Maps image posted below. I'd love to get into that property just to look around and walk the old layout and stand where such an amazing track was. Sadly, I'm in Arizona so it's not likely to happen.

A board track legend

Needless to say, the elaborate framework of a board track allowed ample opportunity for boys to climb around under the track. A legend goes that during a race at Beverly Hills, a driver came into the pits pale and shaking. When asked what's wrong, he said "There has been a crash and I saw the guy's head bouncing down the track!"

He was told there had been no crash. What he saw were local urchins getting the best view of a race imaginable; through holes in the boards. They would duck down as the cars passed and then pop back up as they cleared.


Makes you wonder what ever happened to the pictures they are taking down in the race lane, and if, some time in the future, Dave will find and post them.

[A clever ploy. More here and here. - Dave]

Woodpeckers not allowed

The official name of this track is The Baltimore-Washington Speedway and all races ran there were AAA sanctioned. It had 48 degree banked corners and was built by Jack Prince. However it was very short loved in that it was operational between the June 1925 and the September 1926. The first board track was built at the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordrome in 1910. The design was based on the velodromes still used for bicycle racing.

Regarding the dress code of the day, considering that these were the days when men wore not only hats, but suits and ties to the movies, to ballgames, horse races and in this case, to auto races, it was expected to be a very hot day at the event thus the white dress code and straw hats.

As a racer, the topic of board tracks has been one of my studies for several years all of which had some amazing historical value. That said, in my opinion, the board track in San Francisco was the most beautiful of all with a significant amount of historical value. It was built overlooking San Francisco to coincide with the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition (World's Fair), where the 1915 Vanderbilt Cup race was run. I have some beautiful photos of them and the cars.

Then and Now

Here is the track today, overgrown but still recognizable:

View Larger Map

Finish Line

The results linked to in an earlier comment are interesting. All cars save one were a Duesie or a Miller and the average speed for the 250 miles was around 124 mph. Very impressive considering the venue! I wonder if it was AAA sanctioned.

Board track racer Jim Davis

A few years back I had the pleasure of meeting long retired board track racer Jim Davis, who raced motorcycles for the Indian Company beginning in 1916. He told stories of running over 100 mph on the boards and having splinters thrown up by other bikes with such force that they would pierce the protective leather gear. At the end of one race as he slowed to a stop he discovered he couldn't remove his foot from the peg of his bike and found that a large splinter had pierced the leather of his boot and wedged itself between parts of the bike. Fortunately it somehow missed his foot. It was all insanely dangerous but when you were 17 years old and could make $25 a week plus expenses and prize money, why not?

Mr. Davis was a very polite man, friendly, and could tell racing stories 75 years after they happened like they happened last week.

Quite a lineup

Ralph was the only DePalma racing that day. The partially-obscured "DeP___a" was a misspelling of Pete DePaolo's name. Pete was Ralph's nephew, the winner of the 1925 Indy 500, and also the winner of this race.

A list of the results can be found here. Interesting to see so many jackets on a day marked by "extreme heat."

Sibling rivalry

Looks like both Ralph and John DePalma were racing that day.

Black Boxes

For a good while I kept wondering what were those neatly arranged squares in the outfield. I guess I'm slow on the uptake.


Have you seen my dad? He was wearing a white shirt and a straw hat.

Deadly Splinters

Board tracks were used for motorcycle racing at the time as well and taking a spill on the lumber was a nasty experience.

Why wood?

Why was it made of wood?

[It was a relatively cheap way to build a banked racecourse. Board tracks were quite popular in the early part of the century. - Dave]

That's a lotta wood

The idea of a wooden racetrack for cars is incredible! It takes a hefty underlying support structure to keep the surface boards in place. Even with that the pounding of the racecars would loosen the nails and the resulting clickity-clack sound would have been very loud. I remember that effect from some wooden bridges we used to have around here. Unless all the wood was treated with creosote, the usual preservative back then, the whole track might rot away in a few years. Wonder how many years the track did last?

Newspaper Brims

Plenty of folks have extended the coverage of their hats with sheets of newspaper.

Sea of Hats

Skimmers or boaters were the hat of choice, much like ballcaps today. You can still get one, I love mine.


And not a Marx Brother in sight? Not even a Harp!

To what degree?

That has to be the most steeply-banked track I've ever seen! The corners appear to be way steeper than Daytona or Talladega. I wonder just what the degree of banking actually was.

[48 degrees. - Dave]

Hat Day

Must have been Hat Day at the track. You know, they give away free hats. Also, the banking in turn 4 is not supported by dirt. It is actually up on supports , which you don't see anymore.

Amazing Uniformity of Hats

What's with all the straw hats? It must have been the style in 1925 ... but still, did 98% of the men of the time wear the same kind of hat? It's really kind of freaky.

[Check out this photo. - Dave]

Sharing a memory...

There was a graphic design studio I worked in for a time and it (rather oddly) had a race car set in the middle of the office of the same type in the photos. I recall one office party where I (accompanied by my beer) finally worked up the gumption to climb into it. I remember sitting there, hands on the wheel, and just letting my mind wander back to a scene similar to the one in this photo.

The car was much larger then I would have imagined.

A Sea of Men

all looking toward the track, and one lone woman with a parasol looking toward the camera. Interesting composition.

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