The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Driving in Circles by Amy Henderson -- Thursday May 26, 2005

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With the proliferation of cookie-cutter tracks these days, I’ve been having some fun looking at some tracks from NASCAR’s past that were decidedly un-cookie-cutter. NASCAR’s roots were once planted deep in tracks of all shapes and sizes, dirt and asphalt, oval and road course. But for the fan of “guys going in circles all day,” as the uninitiated sometimes call it, there was only one place to go: Langhorne Speedway.

Competitors at Langhorne, once located in the Pennsylvania town with the same name, really did drive in circles all day. Literally. Langhorne Speedway was round. No backstretch. No frontstretch. Only corners. And as if that wasn’t difficult enough on the poor hapless drivers, the mile-long dirt track was alternately damp from the underground springs that peppered the area or so dry that the cracks in the surface looked like they might swallow your racecar whole. And if a round, wet dirt track wasn’t enough, there was also the hill. The track took a downhill turn just after the start/finish line and this particular section was referred to as “Puke Alley” by the drivers brave enough to tackle it.

Seventeen times the NASCAR Grand National (Now Nextel Cup) cars headed to Langhorne between 1949 and 1957. Ten of NASCAR’s finest found victory lane at “The Big Left Turn.” Herb Thomas and Dick Rathmann were most successful, each tallying three wins, while Tim and Fonty Flock are the only brothers to each boast a checkered flag from the track. In Langhorne’s final NASCAR race, Gwyn Staley took home the winner’s share of the track-record purse of $18,415.

Stock cars from around the North and Southeast converged on Langhorne each autumn for the hundred-lap Race of Champions. Qualifying races were held at tracks throughout the region, such as a 75-lap event at Weisglass Speedway on Staten Island, and the winners earned the right to compete in the event at Langhorne. Qualifying for the Race of Champions was a prestigious victory for many racers until the late 1960’s.

Stock cars were not the only machines to take on Langhorne in its heyday. Indy cars and modifieds also made the endless spiral. Fittingly, it was a legend of both open-wheel and stock cars, A.J. Foyt, who took the final victory at Langhorne before the track was paved in 1965. Paving, meant to improve the speedway, would instead be its demise. By accounts, the track got even scarier after the asphalt was laid, and drivers began to avoid racing there. A shopping mall now occupies the space that once held the “The Track That Ate The Heroes.” Langhorne Speedway is, literally, history.

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