The five-eighths mile Ascot Speedway
began life as the New Ascot Speedway on January 20, 1924. The banked oval
that was originally dirt but constant applications of road oil soon produced
a surface that was similar to pavement. The cars that raced at Ascot throughout
the years were the ancestors of what we today call "sprint cars".
From 1924 to 1927 the track was only
moderately successful under the promotion of several groups. In 1928 the
Glendale American Legion Post took over the promotion and brought in the
cars and drivers of the American Automobile Association (AAA). The AAA
was the leading racing organization in the country and controlled all the
major speedways including Indianapolis. The soon to be legendary Legion
Ascot Speedway was born!
The hard working Legionnaires did an
excellent job of race promotion and soon crowds of 10,000 and more were
flocking to races held on Sundays in the winter and under the lights on
Wednesday nights. The big crowds brought big purses and torrid competition.
The races attracted the best drivers
in the country and Legion Ascot was creating its own stars. Men like Bill
Cummings, Al Gordon, Ernie Triplett, Kelly Petillo, Wilbur Shaw and Rex
Mays tangled in hard fought and crowd pleasing races.
Winning a feature race at Legion Ascot
could pay up to $800---a figure that would come close to buying a house
in Los Angeles in the 1920s and '30s.
Legion Ascot, at a time
when top movie celebrities had
their pictures taken with their racing heroes.
Movie stars rubbed shoulders
with the rich and famous and
served in honorary capacities.....they
sought the honor.
The speed and competition came with
a price. From 1924 to 1936 some two dozen drivers lost their lives in spectacular
crashes. The death toll was one reason the Glendale American Legion bowed
out of race promotion in early 1935---the other reason was that the emergence
of midget auto racing that was cutting into the crowds at Ascot.
The track became Ascot Motor Speedway
and racing continued. On January 25, 1936 the final tragedy struck during
a race for two man Indianapolis cars as Al Gordon and riding mechanic Spider
Matlock were both killed in a crash.
This ended racing at Ascot.
Eight months later the grandstands of
the abandoned speedway burned down. Ascot was gone.
Description and blue-bordered
photos above by Don Radbruch a former racer, noted racing historian, and
Maurice Holladay writes in about
Al Gordon was our postman when I was
about 18-19 living at home with my parents. I was at the track on
the day Al Gordon and Spider Matlock died. I had a girl friend with
me that I had met on a blind date the previous New Year's Eve. I
remember that the announcer never reported the condition of the two, although
I'm sure it was known before we left that they had died. While on
our way home to Long Beach we were in a drive-in for refreshments when
my parents came by, saw our car, stopped to tell us the sad news they heard
on the car radio. A day or two later I was along with my parents when they
called upon Helen Gordon and her two boys to express our condolences.
My Mother and I drove to the funeral home in LA to view Gordon before the
services. Many years later, I met Helen Gordon, remarried, who was
in the clothing business with her husband. When I told her who I
was she grabbed and hugged me, then introduced one of her sons, now an
adult, who was also working in the business. I passed several Ascot
Programs on to my son that I had saved. I have told him to save them
in good condition as they are likely to now be collectors items of some
I wish I could find the pictures I had
of Al Gordon, but haven't located them so far.
No doubt you have guessed that I must
be pretty well along in years. I turned 90 last December.
Keep up the good work on preserving
Old Ascot records.
Pacific Grove, CA