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MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK

Up For The Count

Keeping track of the cars was a much different system in the early days of racing, but it was never depressing for a young fan growing up in Southern California

January 09, 2006|SHAV GLICK

Spangler was killed during the 1933 Indianapolis 500, along with mechanic G.L. Gordon. Triplett lost his life racing at El Centro in 1934, and after the deaths of Al Gordon and riding mechanic Spider Matlock on Jan. 26, 1936, Legion Ascot was closed down.

"Ascot was a killer," John Lucero wrote in his book, "Legion Ascot Speedway." "Crash bars did not exist. Roll bars, seat belts and shoulder harnesses were unheard of, yet the drivers possessed the iron will to win on a track that played no favorites when it rang the 'death bell.' "

When Wilbur Shaw showed up in 1932, wearing a helmet, he was booed and called a sissy. Later, when he survived an end-over-end spill and walked away unhurt, other drivers took note and helmets eventually became mandatory.

The writing of the era was as colorful as the driving. When Barney Oldfield, on the track by himself, set a world speed record by racing a mile in 59 seconds, the lead story in The Times started:

"Barney Oldfield's attempt to commit suicide yesterday only resulted in a compound fracture of the world's automobile record. It would seem simpler and easier for him to hire someone to brain him with an ax than suffer this lingering destruction."

They don't write 'em like that anymore.

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