Langhorne Speedway


Langhorne Speedway

Motorsport venue
Name = Langhorne Speedway
Nicknames = "The Big Left Turn"
"The Track That Ate the Heroes"
"Puke Alley"


Location = Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Opened = 1926
Closed = 1971
Demolished = N/A
Owner = National Motor Racing Association 1926-1929, Ralph "Pappy" Hankinson 1930-1941, John Babcock 1946-1950, Irv Fried and Al Gerber 1951-1971
Operator = Langhorne Speedway
Former_names = None
Events = AAA Championship Car Langhorne 100 (1930-1955)
USAC Championship Car Langhorne 100 (1956-1970)
NASCAR Grand National (1949-1957)
Langhorne National Open (1951-1971)
Capacity = Approximately 60,000
Layout1 = Circle
Length_km = 1.6
Length_mi = 1
Banking = minimal

Langhorne Speedway was an automobile racetrack located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Philadelphia.

The speedway was built by a group of Philadelphia racing enthusiasts known as the National Motor Racing Association (NMRA), and held its first race on June 12, 1926 (scheduled for May 31 but postponed by rain). Freddie Winnai of Philadelphia qualified in 42.40 seconds, a new world's record for a one-mile (1.6 km) track; and went on to win the 50-lap main event. According to Walter Chernokal, Langhorne was the first dirt track built specifically for automobile racing. The track's unique circular layout earned Langhorne the name "The Big Left Turn".

The NMRA operated Langhorne through the 1929 season, staging 100-lap events on Labor Days and occasional shorter races. Difficulties in track preparation, management disputes, and poor attendance drove the speedway to the brink of bankruptcy until noted promoter Ralph "Pappy" Hankinson took over in 1930. With partner "Lucky" Teeter, Hankinson brought in AAA Championship 100-lap races and continued stage shorter "sprint" races on the circular track. One of the first stock car races in the northeastern U.S. was held at Langhorne in 1940. Roy Hall of Atlanta, Georgia was victor in the 200-lap event.

Both Hankinson and Teeter died during World War II, and control of Langhorne Speedway passed to John Babcock and his family. Then in 1951, Irv Fried and Al Gerber became promoters. During this era, Langhorne hosted races for the United States' major national series: AAA and USAC Championship Cars, and NASCAR Grand National. It also hosted the nation's most noted race for the Modified division. The first post-war stock car race run at the facility was a National Championship Stock Car Circuit (a forerunner to NASCAR) race in 1947, with Bob Flock taking home the checkered flag.

Catering chiefly to USAC's Championship Car division, in 1965 Fried and Gerber changed the track layout to a "D" by building a straightaway across the back stretch, and they paved the surface. However, as suburban growth engulfed the speedway, the offers from developers became too tempting to refuse. Fried and Gerber announced the sale of the property to mall developers in 1967, but the speedway held on through five more seasons. The final checkered flag fell on October 17, 1971 at the National Open for Modified stock cars.

"Indy cars" at Langhorne

AAA sanctioned Championship Car races at Langhorne Speedway twelve times between 1930 and 1955.

USAC sanctioned Championship Car races there from 1956 to 1970, won by such famous names as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock, and Eddie Sachs.

American Motorcycle Association(AMA) sanctioned National Championship Motorcycle races at Langhorne Speedway between 1935 and 1956.

Langhorne in NASCAR pioneering years

In September of , Langhorne hosted the fourth race of NASCAR's first year of sanctioning unmodified cars, then called Strictly Stock. Curtis Turner won that race. [http://racing-reference.info/raceyear?yr=1949&series=W "1949 Strictly Stock Standings and Statistics" page of Racing-Reference website] , retrieved 9 May 2007.] The Strictly Stock series was renamed the Grand National series for the 1950 season, and the series is now known as Sprint Cup. Langhorne continued to host an annual stop on the Grand National schedule from to . Some of the era's top drivers won those Langhorne races: Curtis Turner again, Fonty Flock, Herb Thomas, Dick Rathmann, Tim Flock, Buck Baker, Paul Goldsmith, and Fireball Roberts. [http://racing-reference.info/tracks?id=121 Langhorne Speedway page of Racing-Reference website] , retrieved 9 May 2007.]

Langhorne National Open

From to , Langhorne Speedway hosted the Langhorne National Open, which became the nation's most prestigious race for Sportsman and Modified cars. Guaranteed starting positions were awarded to the winners (or highest finishers not already qualified) at special Langhorne Qualifier races held at weekly racetracks throughout the Northeast and Southeast. It was common to have over a hundred cars attempt to qualify for the National Open. From 1951 to 1957, the race was sanctioned by NASCAR. In 1961 and 1962, Supermodifieds raced with the Modifieds and Sportsman cars. Dutch Hoag was the most successful driver, winning five times. Hoag was the only driver to win the National Open on both the dirt and pavement surfaces. [http://www.thevintageracer.com/tracks/langhorne_ntl_open.htm Langhorne National Open page of TheVintageRacer.com] , retrieved 9 April 2007.]

Deaths and serious injuries

The track became known as one of the more dangerous tracks in motorsports. Larry Mann, Frank Arford, Bobby Marvin, John McVitty, Joe Russo, Mike Nazaruk, and Jimmy Bryan were all killed racing at this track. In the first National Open in 1951, a large wreck blocked the track and burned driver Wally Campbell, that year's NASCAR National Modified Champion.Hedger, Ron, "The King of Langhorne", "Stock Car Racing" (ISSN 0734-7340), Vol. 35, No. 2, February 2000.] Several other noted drivers were injured in accidents, often described as spectacular, due to high speeds on the mile-long but rough dirt surface.

In 1965, one of the most spectacular comebacks in auto racing history began with the serious burns and injuries to Mel Kenyon. Kenyon would later return to racing to place third at the Indy 500 and win numerous national midget racing championships.

ite after closure of speedway

Today the site of the once-famous racetrack is home to multiple big-box stores, a major shopping center, and a future residential development. However, a historical marker has been erected at the intersection of U.S. Rt. 1 and Woodburne Road to indicate the site of the past speedway.

Race history

AAA Champ Car

"All winners were flagicon|USA American"

Langhorne National Open

"All winners were flagicon|USA American"

AMA 100 Mile National Speedway Winners

REFERENCES: AMERICAN MOTORCYCLE ASSOCIATION ARCHIVES AND JACK VANINO MOTORCYCLE HISTORIAN

References


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