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Book Review: The History of America’s Speedways; Past & Present

History of America's Speedways

“The History of America’s Speedways; Past & Present” By Allan E. Brown

Book Review by Paul Gohde

When I travel I love to look for and explore long-abandoned race tracks to see what remains of a short track or road course; all ghost tracks. Trying to imagine what the facility was like on race day long ago is fascinating and often becomes a way of meeting local people who can help us “race track archeologists” find our prey.

Back in 1975 Michigan author/race fan Allan Brown teamed-up with Midwesterner Larry Yard to produce the initial “National Speedway Directory, a guide to existing/active motorsports facilities in the U.S. That initial effort was a hit as 850 tracks, organized by state, provided race teams and fans a guide to finding their next race. Brown partnered with Ross and Nanette Ferguson in 1980 and the trio took over the paperback’s production. Brown and his wife became sole owners and turned-over the publication to Timothy Frost in 2009.

Brown, however, had as much interest in the history of race tracks in the past as he did in current tracks, and in 1984 produced his first “History of the American Speedway…”, a hardcover tome that is now in its Fourth Edition as of late 2017. Since that first printing Brown has added thousands of tracks, providing a great resource to writers, racing history buffs and those of us who still look for those remains of past tracks as well as circuits of the present.

The format follows his original Speedway Directory effort, listing tracks by state and cross-referencing track names as many have changed over the years.

The current edition has grown to 883 pages with 600 photos and has become by far the most complete book ever produced on the subject of active and defunct race tracks of all sorts including oval, drag and road courses throughout North America from the late 1800’s until the present.

Track histories begin on page 91 as the opening pages are devoted to an introduction of American racing series including America’s First rRace, road racing, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, board tracks, open wheel race cars, stock cars, etc. There is also a Track Survey that provides the current number of active tracks in each state and Canada and also breaks down the historical number of tracks by decades, beginning in 1895.

Brown has given us a book that is hard to put down with surprises around every turn of the page. Who knew, for instance, that there was a one-mile dirt oval in Bakersfield, California from 1913-1932?  Or that M-59 Speedway (1949-59) in Pontiac, Michigan was once called Gay Day Speedway?

With about 9,000 tracks covered in the book, Brown’s extensive research on every date, name and track history makes it nearly impossible to verify every bit of information. Much material has carried over from edition to edition while various sources, (fans, tracks, sanctioning bodies and other publications) have provided content for this momentous effort; and naturally there are likely to be mistakes.

For example, I don’t believe there has been a 1/3-mile paved oval in the infield of the Milwaukee Mile since 2005. I’ll keep looking for that.

I’m guessing that there have been hundreds if not thousands of information sources that Brown has mined over the years. The few mistakes that might exist don’t, however, detract from the book’s enjoyment.

If you are looking for an entertaining resource that will keep you reading and learning for weeks and months…this is a book you need.

History of America's Speedways

History of America’s Speedways

To obtain a copy of the book’s current Fourth Edition, please contact Brown at:

America’s Speedways
PO Box 448
Comstock Park, MI 49321-0448

Send a check for $30 made out to: America’s Speedways-this cost includes shipping.

 

 

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”