El Sereno's

Legion Ascot Speedway


EL SERENO: Legion Ascot Speeway

Awesome video clip showcasing the legendary Legion Ascot Speedway.  Infamous for it's deadly crashes, Legion Ascot Speedway is also credited for being the first race track that featured a safety device now used by race car drivers all over the world: the racing helmet.

Legion Ascot Speedway is one of over a dozen long-gone race tracks of Los Angeles featured in "Where They Raced: Speed Demons in the City of Los Angeles."   This DVD is a must for any person interested in the history of the many ghost tracks of Los Angeles.  

To purchase the DVD and/or learn more about Where They Raced, visit www.WhereTheyRaced.com and/or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WhereTheyRaced.





A Trip Back in Time
       
There was a large race track near Valley Blvd. and Soto St.  From 1924 to 1936 the track drew thousands of fans to see the races.  Movie stars and famous racers went to this racetrack.  Imagine the Indy 500 in this community happening every week with the smell of exhaust, fuel, and the loud roaring engines!  No city would have that today.  The most exciting and the most deadliest racetrack in Los Angeles' history.  This site comes to us via the gracious owner of LincolnHeightsLA.com website, a great place to learn a ton of original information concerning Lincoln Heights, our neighbor to the west.  A visit to the site is a must if you really want to know Lincoln Heights' history.  We thank LincolnHeightsLA.com for sharing the information presented below.


LEGION ASCOT SPEEDWAY

1924-1936
Los Angeles, California


Technically not in Lincoln Heights but should be noted for its proximity and historical importance.

It opened in 1924, and met its demise after the main grandstand burned in 1936.

Aerial pictures from lapl.org

1924-1925
1924-1925

The racetrack was located along Soto Street from Valley Blvd. to Multnomah St.

The racetrack turn on bottom center of either picture is Hatfield Place.

Now Multnomah Elementary School and a housing tract is built on top the racetrack.
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.
1934 Race Program
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.
1932
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.

Sketch of Clark Gable was by 1928 AAA Pacific Southwest champion, Jack Buxton.
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 author.

 
Legion Ascot was definitely big and unique to Lincoln Heights and the surrounding areas during the racing era.  And known worldwide!

Today this defunct racetrack is in the community of El Sereno.

More action photos below!

action1
action2
action3
action4
action5
More new photos!
1927

Maurice Holladay writes in about Ascot!
7/28/2005

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 value. 

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.

Maurice Holladay
Pacific Grove, CA

Thanks Maurice!

For more historical and unique information on Lincoln Heights, visit Lincolnheightsla.com.

Filmed in Legion Ascot Speedway

We located an old movie, Burn'em up Barnes, that used El Sereno's Legion Ascot Speedway as the filming location.  It shows the race track, actual racing footage, as well as El Sereno's Ascot Hills.  A very nice find.  Click on video link below to view BURN'EM UP BARNES

Aerial view of El Sereno's Legion Ascot Speedway and a few of the many lush, rolling hills (F.Y.I., the hill in the center, with the dirt loop going around it, the future site for today El Sereno's Wilson High School), picture is dated 1924, (LAPL).  

This same hill was the location for the never completed El Sereno Country Club, which began construction in 1926. Legendary golfer Harry Cooper was the clubs lead golfer and even opened a golf store near the premise.  However, by 1928 the Country Club was mired in lawsuits as business partners sued each other for various differences.  To this day many former residents remember the catacombs, swimming pool, and foundation of the El Sereno Country Club.

                                                


      This next set of photos and information is courtesy of AutoRacingMemories.com.  Auto Racing Memories is a forum dedicated to recording and sharing historical photos and facts on old race tracks and the people who made their fame on them.  It's a great site to learn and share information about racetracks from all around the states.  Visit AutoRacingMemories.com for more auto racing history.

Legion Ascot Speedway

Legion Ascot Speedway (not to be confused with Ascot Park,Gardena,Ca.)

The 5/8 mile Asco
t Speedway,near Los Angeles,California, was born on January 20,1924.  It was a banked oval dirt track, but occasional applications of what they called "road oil" soon made the surface smooth and hard similar to a paved race track.  The cars that raced at Ascot Speedway were cars made for racing in those days,but by 1936 they evolved to what we call today as "sprint cars".

From 1924 there had been several people running the race track, but in 1928 the Glendale American Legion Post started promoting and bringing in cars and drivers from the American Automobile Association (AAA). In those days the AAA controlled all the major speedways including Indianapolis Speedway.  A major speedway was born and it was called Legion Ascot Speedway.Under the promotion of the Legionnaires the crowds soon grew to over 10,000 making large purses and hot  competition.  Races were held on Sundays and Wednesday nights under the lights.

The races not only brought in the biggest and best racing stars, but started creating their own stars, such as Bill Cummings, Al Gordon, Ernie Triplett, Kelly Petillo, Rex Mays and Wilbur Shaw.
Some feature races at Legion Ascot paid up to $800, in those days you could buy a house in Los Angeles for that much.  Movie stars were attending the races to have their pictures taken with the racing heroes.

Due to the large purses and the speeds they obtained,there came notable and heavy spectacular crashes at the speedway.  From 1924 until 1936 at least two dozen drivers lost their lives. Because of this the Glendale American Legion stopped promoting the races in early 1935.  They were also losing crowds to the beginning of local midget racing in the area.

The track then became Ascot Motor Speedway and continued racing until tragedy struck a two man Indianapolis car.  Al Gordon and his riding mechanic Spider Matlock were killed in a horrible crash.

This ended racing at Ascot and eight months later the grandstands at the abandoned speedway burned down.  Ascot was gone forever.

The Multnomah Elementary School and a tract of houses now cover the once famous speedway.


Legion Ascot Speedway, which opened in 1924 in the hills east of Lincoln Heights, was not only among the region’s most popular racetracks — it was also one of its most deadliest.
More than 20 people died on what became known as the “Killer Track.”  (Photo Los Angeles Times Library)


Frenchman Pierce Bertrand’s car overturns during a 1936 contest at Ascot Motor Speedway.
Bertrand suffered only minor bruises from this crash at the “Killer Track.”
(Photo Bettmann/Corbis--Los Angeles Times Library)

Found a few more facts about Legion Ascot, it was the first track to hold weekly auto races, and to have them broadcast over the radio.   Located at the intersection of Valley Blvd, and Soto St., the track had a 5 mile road course attached to it.


Here you can see the 5/8 mile oval, and the road course that exited off the back
chute(1924).  A Gold Cup race held on Thanksgiving Day 1924 was won by Frank Lockhart.



From April 22, 1934, the "Targo Florio Road Course", which was slightly smaller than the 5 mile "Gold Cup Course".   Louie Meyer won the race pictured here.


Nice aerial shot from 1932 you can see downtown LA, the Hollywood hills top of photo.
The dangerous nature of this track, and maybe it's popularity, led to William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper, starting a rant against auto racing. Hearst regularly had his reporters submit anti auto racing stories with gory photo's of fatal auto racing crash's, calling auto racing "Legalized Murder".  Often fatal accidents from other race tracks across the country, were reported to have taken place at Legion Ascot.   The depression, inflammatory headlines, dangerous conditions, helped lead to it's demise in 1936.


Full grandstand for this 1935 race.


Under the lights for a "Big Car" (sprint car) race, 1932.


Front chute, infield and surrounding hillside are seen in this photo, early 1930's.

Legion Ascot in 1939, 3 years after closing. California's first freeway is under construction Arroyo Seco 110 is in upper left of photo.

1968 Wilson High School is under construction on the site of the 5/8 mile oval. 

To learn more about the our very own historic and infamous
Legion Ascot Speedway: LINKS


The Old Motor
   

Hot Rod Hot Line

  

Here are a few historic figures who dared to race in 
El Sereno's historic Legion Ascot Speedway.
                                     Rajo Jack
                  One of the First African American Racers in 
the U.S.
Well known and respected mechanic and racer at Legion Ascot Speedway.

                                

Dewey Gatson was born in Tyler, Texas, in 1905, the oldest of six children (Lindsey, Katie, Jennie, Warren and Gerald). His father, Noah, had regular work on the railroads which meant that the Gatsons were better off than many of the other black families in Texas at that time. The family moved to San Francisco and then on to Los Angeles in about 1919.  

In 1921, a sixteen year old Dewey, left home and was hired by Doc Marcell to help with the putting up and taking down of the tents of his travelling Medicine Show. However Dewey showed natural aptitude to all thins mechanical and was soon looking after the show's 20 strong fleet of vehicles which were based in St. Johns, Oregon. He even converted a truck into a mobile home for the Marcell family.

It was somewhere around this time that Dewey caught the racing bug and started racing at the fairs that the Marcell Medicine Show followed across the country. We know how hard it was for blacks to enter any sport at that time let alone motor racing, however Dewey resorted to claiming he was Portuguese with the name Jack DeSoto or an American Indian, though what alias he used for that deception is unknown.  What we do know is that once Jack had earned enough to buy his own Model T, he moved to Los Angeles and was racing regularly in the Pacific Northwest and California, at Culver City in 1924, under the name of Jack DeSoto.

In 1925 Dewey ran a match race against Francis Quinn in Vancouver, Washington but his seat fell out of the car as he took the green flag to start, and the race had to be canceled. Dewey often worked as a mechanic for Quinn at the Legion Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles.

It is not clear what Dewey was up to over the next few years, but in the early 1930s Joe Jagersberger appointed him as his Los Angeles dealer and salesman for the Rajo High Performance engine kits that he made for the Model-T Ford in Racine, Wisconsin. It was his ability and success as a salesman that earned him the nickname of Rajo Jack.

Rajo raced just about anything including stock cars, midgets, big cars and even motorcycles. He also did stunts on motorcycles and it was one of these stunts that resulted in an accident, which blinded him in one eye.

Sadly Quinn was killed when his Model A Ford was hit by a truck in December 1931 on his way back from a cancelled race at Oakland. Claude French, his mechanic that day, survived with minor injuries. Quinn left Rajo his 225 cubic inch Miller engine which he then used in his race cars for a number of years.
                

Rajo took a number of wins in his career including a 200 mile race at Silver Gate Speedway in 1934 and a 100 mile race at San Jose Speedway on March 17, 1935. He won the 100-mile race at the Oakland Speedway in September of 1936 and on October 25th that year, he drove a stock Ford to victory in a 200-mile national championship race at Los Angeles Speedway, two laps ahead of the second placed car.

He also won a 500-mile race at Oakland Speedway, driving in relief for 'Tex' Peterson in Gil Pierson's Miller and the 200-lap Pacific Coast Championship race at Southern Ascot Speedway, where he also won a 40-lap night race driving his Miller.

In stock cars he won the 250-mile stock car championship race at Mines Field Speedway in Los Angeles and in June 1940, he won a 250-lap stock car race at Southern Ascot Speedway behind the wheel of a 1.9-litre Citroen Traction Avant! 

On April 29, 1939 Rajo had his Miller engine in parts to replace the main bearings. However he needed to drive the 400 miles to Oakland for a 100 mile race the next day. He called his wife Ruth to get ready which she thought meant get ready for the ride. However it turned out that she was to drive while Rajo put the engine together in the back of the truck. He finished it in time to qualify third and finish second in the race.

Rajo Jack raced in the American Racing Association (ARA), finishing third in the points in 1941. And while he raced mainly on the West Coast, he traveled as far east as Dayton, Ohio and as far north as Langford Speedway in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It was on his way back from Dayton in 1941 that he was badly injured, sustaining a compound fracture of his leg and severe concussion, in the accident that claimed the life of Wayne 'Boots' Pearson at the Steele County fair in Owatonna, Minnesota.

All racing in the United States stopped during World War II. After the war, Rajo returned to racing but rolled racing at San Diego Speedway.By 1951 the Miller was getting tired and so was Rajo's body. He was barely able to bend his arm as the result of numerous racing injuries and had difficulty reaching the steering wheel. He decided to retire. He was generally, if not universally, accepted and well liked and his fellow racers often stepped if Rajo was being discriminated against. It was not enough to overcome the prejudice of the AAA and Rajo never got the chance to race at Indy, though Rajo himself always claimed that he couldn't get a AAA licenece because of loosing the sight in one eye.

By February 1956 he had divorced his wife Ruth and was driving trucks between Los Angeles and San Francisco. On February 27th 1956 Rajo Jack died from a suspected heart attack while traveling on Highway 395 near the town of Inyokern, California. Rajo was 51 years old.  He is buried in the Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Carson, California.
          
              
                                 

Background information on Rajo Jack.  
Click on Pic to enlarge and print. 

 
Ray WeishaarOrigin of the "Hog" 

Helped popularize the nickname "Hog" in reference to Harley-Davidson motorcycles. 
Raced and died at Legion Ascot Speedway. 
(Courtesy of Wikipedia and The Harley-Davidson Dealer, Sept. 1915)

 
Lawrence Ray Weishaar (September 9, 1890- April 13, 1924) was a Class A Racing Champion in the 1910s and 1920s.  He rode for the Harley Davidson "Wrecking Crew" and helped to popularize the nickname "hog" in reference to Harley-Davidson by carrying the team's mascot, a small pig, around on victory laps.

His Early Years
Lawrence Ray Weishaar was born on September 9, 1890 in Oklahoma; he grew up in Wichita, Kansas.  His father died when he was only 9 years old, leaving him and his mother with little to live on.  Weishaar looked for work to support the family, and as a teenager he got a job with Bell Telephone.  He saved up enough money to buy himself a motorcycle, which was at the time, the cheapest form of transportation.

                              
His Racing Career 
Weishaar began racing the half-mile circuits of various county fairs around Kansas between 1908 and 1910.  He earned the nickname "Kansas Cyclone" and subsequently won the Kansas State Championship two years in a row.  The second time around on the championship race, one of the handlebars on his motorcycle broke off, yet he managed to win the race (but he did not break his previous record).

Weishaar was racing on the national circuit by 1914, with the national event in Savannah, Georgia being his first big race.  He was forced to drop out of the race on the 24th lap when his gas tank began leaking; at the time he was vying for the first place position.  In 1915, at the Dodge City 300, a malfunctioning spark plug caused him to lose, and he also lost a 300-mile race at the Chicago Speedway due to his helmet strap coming lose, but that same year he claimed victory in a 100 mile race in Pratt, Kansas.  The following article appeared in the September issue of The Harley-Davidson Dealer.

Ray Weishaar Hung on to his Helmet Four Laps With his Teeth
(Chicago Speedway, September 12, 1915) "In the 13th lap, however, his helmet became unfastened, Weishaar hung on to the strings with his teeth for four laps and then threw thehelmet into the pits.

Chairman John L. Donovan of the F.A.M. copetition [sic] committee and Referee Frank E. Yates saw the helmet go into the pits and insisted on knowing to whom it beloged [sic]. There was considerable dispute for several laps as a result of their determination to make Weishaar stopand put on his helmet again.

As Weishaar came around each lap in the lead, those of us who where [sic] in the pits did out best to argue the officials out of their idea of forcing Weishaar to make an extra stop but they were determined in their course and as a result we had to call Weishaar into the pits in the 27th lap. This undoubtedly cost Weishaar the race." (The Harley-Davidson Dealer September 1915).
 
 
             
Weishaar was made a part of the Harley-Davidson factory team in 1916. That year he came in third place at Dodge City, and he won the FAM 100-Mile Championship in Detroit. He became a dealer of Harley-Davidson motorcycles for three years after being given a dealership, but he returned to racing in 1919.

His greatest victory was in Indiana, in the Marion Cornfield Classic Road Race, which took place in 1920. He won the race, as well as beating the standing race record by 18 minutes.

The Harley-Davidson team's mascot was a small pig, which they would take around the track with them on victory laps. Weishaar was particularly fond of it, and many photographs exist of him and the pig. It is because of this mascot that Harley-Davidson motorcycles are called "hogs."

Weishaar had a reputation as a cautious rider who often succumbed to the forces of bad luck. Many times he would be leading national events only to be forced to drop out to equipment malfunction. In 1923 he moved to Los Angeles after signing a contract to race at the newly builtLegion Ascot Speedway. 
 
Tragic Death 
On April 13, 1924, Weishaar was battling Gene Walker (who rode for the Indian factory). Johnny Seymour had drafted past both Walker and Weishaar, which sent Weishaar's motorcycle into a high-speed wobble. The motorcycle went into a skid; Weishaar fought to save it, but before he could do so he hit the outside fence. Weishaar went through the wooden fence and wrecked. He was still conscious and no one thought him to be seriously injured. His wife, Emma, drove him to the Los Angeles General Hospital, where he died in a matter of hours from his internal injuries. He was 33 years old. 

Response From the Racing Industry 
Weishaar's death, along with the death of Gene Walker two months later, caused the motorcycle racing industry to slow down the speeds of the bikes at the time. Smaller engine classes were created, but as with most racing sports the speeds began to climb again.

Recognition
Weishaar was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.  

The next series of photos are courtesy of our friends over at LincolnHeightsLA.com.  They are generous enough to collect and share photos/posters having to do with El Sereno that they come across while doing their own research.  Let me make it a point here to say that great researchers they are!!  They have a great clloection  of photos concerning Lincoln Park as well as the neighboring communities.  Visit them at http://www.lincolnheightsla.com/ 
Website Builder