Columns/Opinion, Guest Editorials

Saturday night was all right for racing back then

By William R. Woodall
On May 5, I awoke at 6 a.m. and drove 250 miles to the Morgantown Speedway for its 40th reunion. I arrived as it began sprinkling at 12:30 while the Dream Machines Car Club was setting up its tent and displaying its members’ classic cars.
I decided to attend the reunion when I read about it in the Morgantown newspaper and my nephew called and asked me about his mother, who raced at the track in 1954.
I had a particular interest in attending since the Woodall farm was located about a quarter of a mile behind the track and it was one of the places to be on a Saturday night. The emcee began the program by interviewing the track manager and passed the mic to a number of drivers who re-lived their experience of racing in that era.
While listening to the emcee interviewing the drivers, who were now mostly in their 70s and 80s, I watched the twinkle in their eyes while each told a story. It was very interesting to me when the race track owner told about the demise of the track after the land owner sold the property.
When I told them of my sister Betty being coaxed into driving by her brothers in the first women’s Powder Puff race, they asked me to tell them the story.
Betty, just 22 years old, raced for the first time in a race car with only a one-lap test drive. She learned how to drive a standard shift transmission when she purchased a 1932 Model A Ford when she was 18 years old. She not only won that race but also the next two races that followed.
The men who owned the cars suspended the popular women’s program when some of the men’s cars were damaged and could not be used for the main event in the evening. Nobody blamed the men who owned the cars since they put their own time, money, sweat and tears in the sport they loved.
I just wanted it to be known that many women took part in the sport of racing prior to the formation of NASCAR. There were also many women behind the men in racing, as one driver recalled of his wife during an interview. Can you imagine five women racing on an eighth of a mile, high banked, mud track in 1954, slinging mud all over them and their loaner race cars?
After talking to some of the people in attendance, I asked them why they were there, and most responded that they were just fans and the race track was just a part of their life.
As part of the history of Cheat Lake, the land used by the Speedway was previously occupied by a drive-in theater called the Town & Country. The owners were very community minded and sponsored a boys’ baseball team that played in the Morgantown leagues.
That same day when I returned to Waldorf, Md. — another 250 miles later — I asked myself the same question that I asked the fans, “Why did I drive 500 miles on a rainy day?”
My answer was: “This was just one tiny part of my life as a teenager that I owned and would never forget.”
Like these drivers, everything I did in life, I owned and was responsible for. It seems strange that a person feels this way, but in a way I thought the Morgantown Speedway was mine as well as all the drivers, owners, the hot dog and soda vendors, and others who made a Saturday night out of racing.

William R. Woodall is a retired federal employee, who lives in Waldorf, Md. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.