Milestones in Speed - Power

Don Sherman Matthew Phenix David Yochum
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David Johnson

> Board Tracks
Imagine an average lap speed of 147.2 mph. Now imagine it being turned by a racing car with a 1.5-liter engine. Now imagine it being turned back in 1927, on a high-banked oval fashioned out of a million board-feet of lumber. Is it any wonder that author Griff Borgeson dubbed the age of the board tracks "The Golden Age of the American Racing Car"?

Inspired by cycling velodromes, bowl-shaped board tracks dominated the American landscape and the national championship racing schedule during the sunny years after World War I. The big attraction was turns banked as steeply as 45 degrees, which allowed drivers to flatfoot it around the entire track. Driving supercharged, straight-eight Millers and Duesenbergs during the Roaring Twenties, daredevils such as Frank Lockhart and Tommy Milton clocked speeds that wouldn't be eclipsed at Indy until the 1950s.

Altogether, twenty-four board tracks operated between 1910 and 1931 in locales as distant and diverse as Brooklyn and Beverly Hills. Fatalities were so common that, when the circular Playa del Rey facility burned to the ground in 1913, sportswriter Damon Runyon acidly commented that it occasioned "a great savings of lives." True, but the racing world was duller for the passing of these wooden wonders.

Fritz von Opel was the first to use airfoils to help keep his racers in touch with terra firma. Seven rockets shot the Opel RAK 1 (below) to 68 mph in 1928. Later that year, the RAK 2 achieved 147 mph with twenty-four solid-fuel rockets spitting flames. The RAK 3, a railway car propelled by thirty rockets, lacked both a driver and wings for downforce. That machine achieved 157 mph on its maiden run but veered out of control and crashed during a 250-mph attempt.

When a racetrack is nicknamed The Green Hell, it ought to be diabolical, and the Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring doesn't disappoint. Built as a German make-work project, the Nordschleife winds through - and up and down - some fourteen miles and nearly 100 turns in the Eifel Mountains. The original 'Ring hosted the German Grand Prix from 1927 until 1976, when reigning world champion Niki Lauda was nearly incinerated there. But the circuit is still used for sports car racing, and for about $25 a lap, any wanker can drive in the tire tracks of Rudolf Caracciola, Hans Stuck, and other titans of old.

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