The Los Angeles Motordrome was one of the fastest tracks on Earth in the early 20th century, rivalling the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A Hungarian racing entrepreneur, an English bicycle rider and an American oil magnate made it happen. WARNING: heavy use of gifs.
Disclaimer: the visual material in this post derive from various sources, eventually copyrighted by other parties. I do not own any of the images, inserted only for entertainment purposes only.
Over a hundred years ago the Los Angeles area was still very much a wild west territory with its striving businesses popping up on every corner and real estates going to private owners in rapid succession. Hollywood was on the front stretch of becoming the entertainment capital of the world and some mavericks were bending the rules of the law and physics to make a name for themselves. It was here where three people with a common vision briefly turned Los Angeles into the fastest place on Earth, but such as the fate of everything in the west, their business was short-lived but nevertheless infectious and explosive that almost changed history.
Right down at the Pacific coast - just north of current LAX - between Playa Del Rey and the picturesque Marina Del Rey resides an empty, swampy lot with just a few roads cutting through beyond the villas on the hilltops. While the place doesn’t look like much, in the 1910s it was primarily known for one thing:
Three gentlemen with very much different backgrounds arrived at the scene to make a change in motor-powered entertainment. The swamp was transformed into the Brooklands of the USA with all its motor racing and aviation activities. These people were:
Hungarian-born Frederick Moskovics - an avid bicycle racer and mechanical engineer, coming from the management of Maybach and Daimler’s racing team.
Moskovics was accompanied by his good friend, the Englishman Jack Prince, who retired from a highly successful bicycle-racing career a few years earlier and was more known by then of designing and building velodromes throughout the United States.
Together, they decided to build a velodrome primarily for car racing. Prince had already designed the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordrome, a track suited for motorcycle competitions. This time, the target was set much higher as 2,000 miles away to the East, one Carl Fisher was busy working on the Great American Spectacle - himself inspired by the first French Grand Prix - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Their plot was to build a faster and more spectacular track than IMS and they planned to do it quick before Indy could capitalize from slogans and perceptions. As both of them were quite familiar with the wooden velodromes - and already had an example of it in motor racing - it seemed like a no-brainer to construct the first ever purpose-built racetrack for cars out of said material, involuntarily igniting the board track craze. Their efforts were funded by a third party, the American oil magnate and motor racing fan Frank A. Garbutt and such local businesses as the Pacific Electric Railway Company, laying down a brand new railroad to the site.
The pine circuit was built in less than two months between the end of January and March of 1910. The perfectly circular track featured a surface of 23 metres (or 75 feet) wide, consistently banked at 20 degrees, making it a 1.2km (.75-mile) speedway.
The venue could host 40,000 people of which a covered grandstand could take up 12,000. It was fitted with a state-of-the-art lighting system for night races.
Apart from car racing, the site heavily drew crowds for its activities in aviation. Such aeronautic pioneers as the Wright brothers and the first industrialist in the business, Glenn Curtiss was invited for the uprising market of the aeroplane and the location was frequently used for aeronautical exhibitions, workshops and manufacturing.
Back at the track the action was violent and fast. Existing records were falling quickly. One-mile, five-mile, ten-mile distances were all covered at break-neck, record speeds. The winning average velocity for the first 24 hour-race was spot on 100kph (62mph) by Valentine Hust and Frank Verbeck, driving a Fiat - covering exactly 2,400kms, while the fastest speed for a motorcycle was measured at 100mph.
The competition for fame escalated between the Los Angeles Motordrome and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, both claiming to be the fastest venue in the world, driving Fisher to introduce the commercially viable but from an engineering point of view still much relevant 500-mile race at Indy, while Moskovics and Prince attempted to keep up the interest with speed record trials and stock car races.
Eventually, the track surface and its structure was deteriorating at a rapid pace. However, even before any renovation could have been initiated, a large portion of the circuit was destroyed in a fire in 1913.
Renovation proved to be impossible and the remainings of the facility were left for ultimate decay. Although the Los Angeles Motordrome shut down after just three years of operation, it sparked the fashion of the board tracks. Jack Prince went on and designed a handful of other board tracks throughout the country. Altogether, around 24 such circuits were built nationwide, all of which challenged the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in speed. Frederick Moskovics went on to manage the Stutz Motor Company and came up with the Blackhawk and the landspeed record-attempting machine Blackhawk Special, reaching to Daytona and Le Mans.
The board track craze ended with the Wall Street Crash, not a single high-profile wooden track was built afterwards due to their unsafe nature and high-maintenance costs. The Indianapolis 500 became one of the most important and most challenging races on the planet, also dubbed as the Great American Race.
84 years after its closure, another race track was built in the Los Angeles area that would rival the speed and the fame of Indianapolis. Just 65 miles away to the East, in Fontana, the Auto Club Speedway was erected, a spiritual successor of the Los Angeles Motordrome. It became one of the fastest circuits in the world, faster than Indianapolis.