When circle track racing was first getting started, paved tracks were very expensive to construct. Dirt track racing was far less expensive but failed to capture the public’s interest like the upscale paved tracks. The compromise was an organic material used to pave the track: wood planks.
The first of these board tracks, the Los Angeles Motordrome, opened in the Los Angeles region that is now known as Playa Del Rey. The track opened with a nine-day series of races and exhibitions starting on April 8, 2010.
The wooden track had a circumference of 5,281 feet or one linear foot over a mile. Like most of the board tracks that were to follow, the track was built with 2 X 4 planks that were steeply banked, in some areas as much as 45-degrees, which allowed cars to reach speeds up to 100mph. Drivers claimed they didn’t even have to put their hands on the steering wheel with the high banking and increased speed.
“The Boards,” as the Los Angeles Motordrome was often called, became a huge success and prompted many promoters to build other board tracks across the country.
By 1915, there were board tracks in Oakland, Chicago, Iowa, Nebraska, Brooklyn, and Tacoma. These tracks were part of the AAA Championship series and hosted many other events. Sadly, the Los Angeles Motordrome was no longer in operation.
On August 11, 1913, a fire blamed on vagrants burned part of the Motordrome’s race track. Though the facility was not fully destroyed, the owners elected not to rebuild it. “The Boards” had outlived its useful life but had created enough widespread interest in building other board tracks just like it.
By 1930, there were 24 board tracks in operation. All doing very well. These included tracks in Beverly Hills, Sheepshead Bay, and Atlantic City. The Beverly Hills track stood approximately where the prime-time shopping blocks of Rodeo Drive are located now.
No tracks since have ever approximated the speeds allowed on the heavily banked boards. Board tracks began to fade from existence during the Depression due to the high cost of upkeep and maintenance.
The lifetime for boards that are exposed to racing tires is approximately five years. Any longer and deadly splinters and potholes begin to dot the track’s racing surface.
Stories were often told of the cars racing down straightaways at 120 mph while carpenter’s patched the tracks from beneath. It wasn’t unheard of for adventurous kids to peek their heads up through holes in the board tracks to watch their favorite racers with a gopher’s eye view. Try doing that on a dirt track!
The demise of the board tracks was primarily caused by upkeep costs. Another factor, in addition to the high cost of track maintenance, board tracks had become too predictable. As speeds increased, passing became more difficult and the car that started in first was usually the race winner, as it held together long enough to finish. This led to spectators turning their attention to the less-predictable racing that was taking place on dirt tracks.