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Ascot Park Figure Eight Racing: A Rare Breed of Competitors Throw Caution to the Wind

After finding this 3:50 minute video via friend Tom Cotter, it brought back childhood memories of running back to the house from the garage just like Anthony did in the Prince Spaghetti commercial to watch auto racing on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” on Saturday afternoons. Once a year Jim Mckay and Chris Economaki covered the World’s Championship Figure Eight Race filmed at Islip Speedway, in Islip, NY.

In recent race coverage in  the “New York Times” article on the sport, John Branch wrote: “The people who do this, who tenderly build race cars that cost up to $50,000 and then drive them repeatedly into crossing traffic, know that they are wired differently.”

Today’s feature video takes us to the famed Ascot Park Speedway (1957 to 1990) that was located in Gardena, CA to watch a figure eight race filmed in the 1960s on the dirt half-mile oval. The music in this production is the “Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss II which is like mixing oil and water, although in this case Strauss’ work fits in well with the racing action.

22 responses to “Ascot Park Figure Eight Racing: A Rare Breed of Competitors Throw Caution to the Wind

  1. Oh, no, the Strauss is perfect.

    I once edited the autobiography of a movie promoter who was active from the late twenties into the sixties. He said that in its early days, ABC Sports didn’t really have enough sports to fill their time slot. So they made up their own. He was the one who came up with Barrel Jumping at Grossingers — speed skaters leaping over cardboard barrels.

    Another of their not-quite-a-sports was figure-8 racing. Essentially, demolition derby at speed.

    • Which is the reason NASCAR became popular in the 80s. ESPN had to fill the time with something. Then when ESPN didn’t need NASCAR anymore they walked away.

    • I also recall WWoS broadcasting footage of the Monte Carlo Rally (a winter event) one year. No narration, they just had jazz music playing to accompany it.

  2. Same here, only we’d run when someone said drag racing was on WWoS. This was nothing more than a demo derby in a figure 8. Looks like the “jalopy’s” had a habit of hooking wheels. If you notice, the inside shots @ 1:32 and end, were from a different race, with later model cars. Still, it packed them in, and fewer things were more exciting than a figure 8 race. One reason, vintage 2 door coupes are so hard to find today.

  3. Gardena California has no ‘i’ in it. J.C Agajanian became wealthy after WWII as the ‘LA Trashman’ in that he had exclusive trash hauling contracts with many communities in the Los Angeles area. He ran Indy cars as well. Bought/built ASCOT. The name is an acronym: Agajanian Sports Car Oval Track. Fun times for all and a starting place for many of the racing names we know today.

    • J.C. then started a pig farm….or was it the other way around, and fed food trash to them, or so I’ve heard, an original recycler! The 1952 #98 Agajanian Special that won the Indy 500 had a pig painted on it!

  4. Living here in the “rust belt” it is hard to watch what appear to be rust free cars destroyed! 4-5 years on the salty winter roads and most of the cars here aren’t worth the effort to try and preserve for any reason. In the 70’s if a new car hadn’t started rusting through from the inside after 3 winters we were actually bragging to our buddies about it! Today the cars still rust but it usually takes about 10 years for the rust to break through.

    Great video! I loved it just same.

  5. I think this kind of figure-8 racing evolved (devolved) from one that had an overpass at the junction.
    Ascot was a great venue. I saw one or two of these when I was a bloodthirsty high schooler and we would often go to dirt track motorcycle races where getting sprayed with dirt clods was part of the fun. I ran my BSA Goldstar just once and got eaten alive.
    There is a driver name on one of the cars in the video “Gene Millard.” I can only assume he was related to famed car dealer Frank Millard “The Man in Red.”

  6. Ah, memories! I still recall watching these figure 8’s, set to ballet music on Saturday afternoons!! Hilarious! Dad would be in the other room doing his crossword puzzle, but Mom and I would be in front of the TV, giggling and laughing at the coordinated music that seemed in sync with the collisions!! (Only other song I’d want to hear is the ‘Nutcracker ballet’!)

  7. Now I know where Stanley Kubrick got the idea to use that Waltz music in “2001”.
    Also dig the Western Exterminator Co. figurine attached to the roof of that one car.
    I heard that Von Dutch the pinstriper’s Dad designed that thing,but others say no way

  8. I used to go to the Figure 8 races at Sunshine Speedway in Clearwater and they were beyond exciting. You’d often end up laughing so hard it brought tears to your eyes. There was a local guy named Elmer Seifert who won the championship at Islip NY a couple of times. I remember an interview with him after had been injured and had to watch from the stands. He said it wasn’t that scary on the track but watching it as a spectator scared the heck out of him. I think he drove a ’53 Chevy.

  9. Ascot was such a great place as some mentioned above. Jalopy racing was my first taste in the late 50’s, then a number of bike races with famous riders like Gary Nixon and soon to be world champ King Kenny. The TT races had that jump someone mentioned, a ball of fun on the heavy metal of the time (BSA, Triumphs, HDs). Sprint Cars and Flat trackers. In conjunction with Lions Dragstrip in Wilmington made the area a mecca for all sorts of racers, from pros to neophyte racers like me!

  10. There is figure-8 racing footage in the opening of the movie “The Love Bug”, where race driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) crawls out of his crashed car at the end of the sequence.

    • Saw it recently, (I have kids) and loved that footage. I had the same thought as an earlier commenter: No wonder there are so few coupes left!

  11. Ascot! I can’t think of Ascot without remembering Dick Lane’s “Whoa Nelly!!” And how the man loved saying “Parnelli”
    Jalopy racing in the 50’s on KTLA every Sunday . Some of you know what I’m talking about!

  12. My Uncle Frank used to take me to the figure eight races at Sharon Speedway in Hartford Ohio back in the early 60s. I was only in grade school, but I remember well the mostly prewar jalopies kicking up the dirt when they timed the intersection wrong. Even at that age I thought it was kind of crazy, and the frequent ambulance runs confirmed it. It didn’t last long, thank goodness.

  13. Love the chains to stop the doors flying open. The driver of #148, Sherman Jones was African-American – that would have been pretty rare at that time.

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