Langhorne Speedway

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Langhorne Speedway
"The Big Left Turn"
"The Track That Ate the Heroes"
"Puke Hollow" (Turn #2)
Langhorne-race-sign.jpg
Location Middletown Township, Bucks County, near Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Capacity Approximately 60,000
Owner National Motor Racing Association (1926-1929)
Ralph "Pappy" Hankinson
(1930-1941)
Earl "Lucky" Teter (1941-1942)
John Babcock (1946-1950)
Irv Fried and Al Gerber
(1951-1971)
Operator Langhorne Speedway
Opened 1926
Closed 1971
Former names New Philadelphia/Philadelphia Speedway (1926 - c. 1930)
Major 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)
Circle
Length 1.6 km (1.0 mi)
Banking minimal

Langhorne Speedway was an automobile racetrack in Middletown Township, Bucks County, near the borough of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Philadelphia.

According to the book Langhorne! No Man's Land by L. Spencer Riggs: "With all other courses up to that time being fairground horse tracks, Langhorne was the first [one-]mile dirt track built specifically for cars" (p. 5). High-profile American racing clubs like the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), American Automobile Association (AAA), and United States Auto Club (USAC) made Langhorne one of the stops on their national circuits. These events included AMA-sanctioned National Championship Motorcycle races between 1935 and 1956, AAA-sanctioned Championship Car races between 1930 and 1955, and USAC-sanctioned Championship Car races from 1956 to 1970. The USAC races featured (and were won by) notable racers such as A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock, Lloyd Ruby, and Eddie Sachs. Langhorne was also featured prominently in NASCAR's early years and hosted at least one NASCAR-sanctioned race every year from 1949 to 1957.

Track history[edit]

The speedway was built by a group of Philadelphia racing enthusiasts known as the National Motor Racing Association (NMRA) and the first race was held 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.

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. "Pappy" brought in AAA Championship 100-lap races and continued to stage shorter Sprint car racing 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.

In 1941, Hankinson sold the track to stuntman Earl "Lucky" Teter after a falling out with the AAA. However, Teter's tenure only lasted until July 5, 1942 when he was killed while attempting his Rocket Car leap stunt in Indiana State Fairgrounds. [1][2] That very same month, the U.S. Government banned all forms of auto racing due to America's involvement in World War II. As a result, the Speedway sat idle and did not host a race of any kind until 1946. Less than a month after the racing ban was enacted, "Pappy" Hankinson, the man so instrumental in bringing notoriety to Langhorne early on, died of natural causes in Florida. With a huge void created in the track's management, ownership of Langhorne Speedway was passed on to John Babcock and his family. Then in 1951, Irv Fried and Al Gerber became promoters.

Catering chiefly to USAC's Championship Car division, Fried and Gerber had the track's layout reconfigured to a "D" shape in 1965 by building a straightaway across the back stretch and paving over the uneven dirt surface with asphalt. 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 race held at Langhorne occurred on October 17, 1971, with Roger Treichler claiming the checkered flag at the National Open for Modified stock cars.

Site after closure of speedway[edit]

The landscape of the once-famous racetrack was dramatically altered after that last race over 40 years ago. Almost immediately after Langhorne's closure, the property was razed in order to make way for a new shopping development. The current space features a Sam's Club, a Restaurant Depot warehouse and a former K-Mart store where the pits and grandstand were once located. A heavily overgrown wooded area has completely enveloped the infield and backstretch, while a small grocery store and asphalt parking lots around the perimeter of the site cover up the rest. As a result, no physical remnants of the track itself remain. [1]

On Saturday, October 14, 2006, almost 35 years to the day of the last race held at Langhorne, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a historical marker at 1939 E. Lincoln Highway (in the same general area where the track was located) which reads:

Opened in 1926, this circular one-mile dirt track was known as the "Big Left Turn." It hosted a NASCAR inaugural race in 1949. Notable drivers Doc Mackenzie, Joie Chitwood, Rex Mays, Lee Petty, Dutch Hoag, A.J. Foyt, and Mario Andretti raced here in stock, midget, sprint, and Indy cars. Langhorne was reshaped as a "D" and paved in 1965. The National Open Championship run here was regarded as the "Indy of the East." Final race was held in 1971. [3][4]

Langhorne was relocated to southern New Jersey and became Bridgeport Speedway in Bridgeport, NJ.[5]

Deaths and serious injuries[edit]

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.[6] 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.

"Puke Hollow"[edit]

Probably the most notorious area of the original dirt race course, which earned the nickname "Puke Hollow", was located at turn #2 (see note below). It received this moniker due to the fact that a driver might be inclined to "puke" as a result of the extreme jostling his car would experience when hitting the deep ruts which formed in this section of the track as a race progressed. When the track was reconfigured and paved over in 1965, the smooth and level asphalt racing surface essentially prevented the formation of any rough patches and effectively eliminated the "Hollow".

  • (Note: Since the racetrack was a near perfect circle until 1965, there were no clear-cut "turns" as compared to a more traditional track layout; the turns are based on dividing the circular track into 4 quarters, with turn #2 being the second "quarter" from the start line.)

Race history[edit]

Langhorne in NASCAR's pioneering years[edit]

The Speedway 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. In September 1949, Langhorne hosted the fourth race of NASCAR's first year of sanctioning unmodified cars, then called Strictly Stock; Curtis Turner won that race.[7] 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 1950 to 1957. Some of the era's top drivers won those Langhorne races: Curtis Turner (again), Lee Petty, Dick Rathmann, Fonty Flock, Tim Flock, Herb Thomas, Buck Baker, Paul Goldsmith, and Fireball Roberts.[8]

NASCAR Grand National winners[edit]

All winners were United States American

Season Date Winning Driver Manufacturer
1949 September 11 Curtis Turner Oldsmobile
1950 April 16 Curtis Turner Oldsmobile
1950 September 17 Fonty Flock Oldsmobile
1951 September 15 Herb Thomas Hudson
1952 May 4 Dick Rathmann Hudson
1952 September 14 Lee Petty Plymouth
1953 May 3 Buck Baker Oldsmobile
1953 June 21 Dick Rathmann Hudson
1953 September 20 Dick Rathmann Hudson
1954 May 2 Herb Thomas Hudson
1954 September 26 Herb Thomas Hudson
1955 April 24 Tim Flock Chrysler
1955 September 18 Tim Flock Chrysler
1956 April 22 Buck Baker Chrysler
1956 September 23 Paul Goldsmith Chevrolet
1957 April 14 Fireball Roberts Ford
1957 September 15 Gwyn Staley Chevrolet

Langhorne National Open[edit]

From 1951 to 1971, 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.[9]

Langhorne National Open winners[edit]

All winners were United States American

Season Date Winning Driver Home State
1951 October 14 Hully Bunn (relief driver: Dick Eagan) Connecticut
1952 October 12 Jim Delaney New Jersey
1953 October 11 Ted Swaim North Carolina
1954 October 10 Frankie Schneider New Jersey
1955 October 9 Pete Corey New York
1956 October 14 Dutch Hoag New York
1957 October 13 Glenn Guthrie District of Columbia
1958 October 12 Jim Delaney New Jersey
1959 October 11 Jim Delaney New Jersey
1960 October 9 Dutch Hoag New York
1961 October 8 Bob Malzahn New Jersey
1962 October 14 Frankie Schneider New Jersey
1963 October 13 Dutch Hoag New York
1964 October 11 Freddy Adam Pennsylvania
1965 October 10 Bill Slater Connecticut
1966 October 9 Will Cagle New Jersey
1967 October 8 Dutch Hoag New York
1968 October 13 Dutch Hoag New York
1969 October 12 Ray Hendrick Virginia
1970 October 11 Merv Treichler New York
1971 October 17(*) Roger Treichler New York

(*) = Last race ever held at Langhorne Speedway.

AAA Champ Car winners[edit]

All winners were United States American

Season Date Winning Driver Chassis Engine
1930 May 3 Bill Cummings Miller Miller
1935 October 13 Kelly Petillo Wetteroth Offy
1940 June 16 Duke Nalon Adams Sparks
1941 June 22 Duke Nalon Adams Sparks
1946 June 30 Rex Mays Stevens Winfield
1947 June 22 Bill Holland Wetteroth Offy
1948 June 20 Walt Brown Kurtis Kraft Offy
1949 October 16 Johnnie Parsons Kurtis Kraft Offy
1950 June 25 Jack McGrath Kurtis Kraft Offy
1951 June 24 Tony Bettenhausen Kurtis Kraft Offy
1954 June 20 Jimmy Bryan Kuzma Offy
1955 June 19 Jimmy Bryan Kuzma Offy

USAC Champ Car winners[edit]

All winners were United States American

Season Date Winning Driver Chassis Engine
1956 June 24 George Amick Kuzma Offy
1957 June 7 Johnny Thomson Kuzma Offy
1958 June 15 Eddie Sachs Kuzma Offy
1959 June 14 Van Johnson Kurtis Kraft Offy
1960 June 19 Jim Hurtubise Kuzma Offy
1961 June 18 A. J. Foyt Meskowski Offy
1962 July 1 A. J. Foyt Meskowski Offy
1962 August 26 Don Branson Watson Offy
1963 June 23 A. J. Foyt Meskowski Offy
1964 June 21 A. J. Foyt Meskowski Offy
1965 June 20 Jim McElreath Brabham Offy
1965 August 8 Jim McElreath Brabham Offy
1966 June 12 Mario Andretti Brawner Hawk Ford
1966 August 7 Roger McCluskey Eagle Ford
1967 June 18 Lloyd Ruby Mongoose Ford
1967 July 30 Mario Andretti Brawner Hawk Ford
1968 June 23 Gordon Johncock Gerhardt Offy
1968 July 28 Al Unser Lola Ford
1969 June 15 Bobby Unser Eagle Offy
1970 June 14 Bobby Unser Eagle Offy

AMA 100 Mile National Speedway winners[edit]

Season Winning Rider Make
1935 Woodsie Castonguay Indian
1936 J. Lester Hillbish Indian
1937 Ed Kretz Indian
1938 Ed Kretz Indian
1939 Robert Sparks Norton
1940 Ed Kretz Indian
1941 Tommy Hays Harley-Davidson
1946 Johnny Spiegelhoff Indian
1947 Ed Guill Norton
1948 Ed Kretz Indian
1949 Jimmy Chann Harley-Davidson
1950 Billy Huber Harley-Davidson
1951 Billy Huber Harley-Davidson
1952 Rick Fisher Triumph
1953 Paul Goldsmith Harley-Davidson
1954 Everett Brashear Harley-Davidson
1955 Brad Andres Harley-Davidson
1956 Everett Brashear Harley-Davidson

References: American Motorcycle Association Archives; Jack Vanino, motorcycle historian

References[edit]

Coordinates: 40°10′42″N 74°53′05″W / 40.178224°N 74.884602°W / 40.178224; -74.884602