It Happened in Jersey: Racing
WHEELS OF MISFORTUNE
In the years before World War I, New Jersey’s most popular spectator sports were bicycle racing and motorcycle racing. The Newark Velodrome, a high-banked cycling tack, regularly drew 10,000 or more spectators for its slate of races. In 1912, the World Cycling Championships were held at the velodrome, which was located on the south side of South Orange Avenue. That same year, automobile tycoon Inglis Uppercu built the Newark Motordrome, a quarter-mile circular track banked at 50 degrees, right across the street and drew thousands more to his motorcycle races. Cycling events were also held there, making the two venues direct competitors.
On the Sunday after Labor Day, the Motordrome was the site of the first major motorsports tragedy in the Garden State. The last event of the day featured two of the nation’s best riders, Eddie Hasha and Ray Seymour, and four others, including the King brothers—Frank and John—who were local boys. Hasha had broken the mile record on the Newark track earlier that summer with a time of 38.4 seconds. The four-mile race was handicapped, meaning Hasha and Seymour started behind the others. Seymour and Hasha were running 1–2 on the final lap when Hasha tried to sneak past him high on the track.
In an instant, it all went to hell. The front wheel of Hasha’s motorcycle impacted the guard rail at nearly 100 mph, sending pieces of the bike hurtling into the crowd. Several fans were hanging over the rail to get as close to the action as they could—four deep in some spots. The bike mowed them down, killing three on the spot, including a boy, who was decapitated by the motorcycle’s chain sprocket. Hasha’s body was launched 50 feet in the air and landed within a few feet of his horrified wife in the bleachers.She was sitting next to Mrs. Seymour.
The carnage didn’t end there. What was left of Hasha’s vehicle ricocheted back on the track, and his wheel struck the third-place rider, Johnny Albright, who was thrown into the infield and suffered massive internal injuries, with his bike continuing riderless for several hundred feet. He was barely conscious when he was taken with the other victims—including several trampled in the moments after the crash—to City Hospital. There was nothing doctors could do for him and he died, too. Two more spectators died on the operating table and a sixth victim passed away the next day.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE…MARIO ANDRETTI?
The driver famous from winning the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and an F1 world title with his reckless, pedal-to-the-medal style scored his breakthrough victory in Teaneck, New Jersey. Mario Andretti had just turned 22. He was a newly minted member of the United Racing Club, having moved from racing jalopies on dirt tracks in Pennsylvania to more powerful sprint cars, albeit without much success. Over the winter of 1961–62, Andretti began driving a 3/4 midget once owned by Bobby Marshman on the rough-and-tumble indoor circuit. It was powered by a Triumph motorcycle engine.
On March 3, Andretti entered the 35-mile man event at the Teaneck Armory—future home of the ABA New Jersey Americans. He dueled throughout the race with veteran Len Duncan, a dominant driver on the summer circuit. The two bombed across the finish line together, with Andretti edging him by a tire length.
This victory grabbed the attention of team owners and sponsors looking for hot young drivers. In the ensuing month, he won races at Wall Stadium and Pine Brook Stadium. Those wins earned Andretti a ride in the American Racing Drivers Club and, by 1963. he was competing in the United State Auto Club’s national championship series. In1967, Andretti won the Daytona 500 and in 1969 in won the Indy 500. He always said the Teaneck triumph was the breakthrough moment of his career.