Legion Ascot Speedway (1920s-1930s) [1982 Revised Edition] by John R. Lucero

Legion Ascot Speedway (1920s-1930s) [1982 Revised Edition] by John R. Lucero
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Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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John Lucero has poured his heart and soul into a subject that existed for only 13 years. Legion Ascot Speedway had a very short life as a racetrack. Considered too fast and dangerous, it was closed in 1936, and eventually suffered the fate of most tracks, being converted into a housing development. Yet, while it existed, its fame and notoriety equaled any racing venue and drew the best drivers in the country. For the serious reader, historian and collector of this era, Lucero has put together a treasure trove of information. The book jacket is outstanding. The book has 248 pages, though they are not always numbered. There are no color photos, but there are an outstanding 617 black and white prints, including 3 two-page plates. The author uses a liberal amount of captions with the photos so that the reader is never at a loss as to who is in each picture. The book measures 9x11 inches in size, contains five chapters and six with interviews. There are 65 pages of interesting text with a lot of historical insight and poignant stories. The index was a superb 5 pages. The photos are remarkably clear and detailed for this time period.

Chapter one describes the beginnings of the racecourse from 1924 through ’26. Rajo’s, Fronty’s and Duesenberg’s were the powerplants of choice. The Targo Florio road course was a fan favorite. The track opened on January 20, 1924, east of Los Angeles. DePalma protests Eddie Meyer’s win and demands a new race, and wins that handily. Chapter two depicts the condition of the track, the fatalities and the need for improved cars and better safety equipment. DePalma retires and Mel Kenealy takes the championship. Chapter three outlines the fierce competition between Francis Quinn and Ernie Triplett. The track is drawing the best Indy racers and cars in the country, along with huge crowds, while accidents, injuries and deaths are mounting. Chapter four relates how Ernie Triplett breaks Quinn’s hold on Ascot and comes to dominate West Coast racing from 1931-1933. Rex Mays arrives and Al Gordon sets a lap record that becomes an obsession for the other drivers to beat. The racers are taking greater risks than ever before and officials are calling the course “too fast’’ for the cars and equipment that are competing. Triplett wins the West Coast title over some of the great racers of the era, such as: Chet Gardner, Babe Stapp, Wild Bill Cummings, Kelly Petillo, Wilbur Shaw, Rex Mays, Shorty Cantlon, Ted Horn, and Stubby Stubblefield. 

   Harry Miller and Leo Gossen develop the Miller engine, later to become the “Offy,” and quickly overwhelm the other engine builders of the day. Chapter five describes the last years of Ascot. The track is now famous and attracts record crowds, drivers and celebrities. However, the press and public officials are calling for the closure of the dangerous facility. Al Gordon and Rex Mays come to dominate these last years at Ascot. The American Legion withdrew its backing in 1935, and for awhile, it continues to operate under the AAA, and well-respected officials like Art Pillsbury and Eddie Rickenbacker. The death knell for Ascot came on January 25, 1936, with 35,000 roaring fans in the stands. Al Gordon and his riding mechanic, Spider Matlock, were killed in a crash on the south turn. That was the last race at Ascot and eight months later, a mysterious fire swept through the grandstands and destroyed all hope of reopening the course. Interviews and stories by Ed Winfield, Art Sparks, Paul Weirick, Mel Kenealy, Doug Boyd and Jack Mulhall are very informative. Lucero also presents a mini-chapter on the stars, celebrities and movies filmed at Ascot and the importance of the movie industry on racing. Serials like “Burn ‘em up Barnes,” and movies like “The Crowd Roars,” with James Cagney and Joan Blondell, were filmed at Legion Ascot.

This book can still be found By doing a search on the internet. There are still some copies at www.Amazon.com

From the Book

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Ascot’s front straightaway in 1932

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While Legion Ascot Speedway existed, its fame and notoriety equaled any racing venue and drew the best drivers in the country.

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