The race went on. Cedrino remains the only known auto racing fatality in the Baltimore area.

Crowds suddenly flocked to the thoroughbred tracks as much to see horsepower as horses. Laurel Park, which opened in 1911, cashed in on the craze in its inaugural season, staging a novelty race featuring two cars, two horses and two foot runners.

Primitive machines caused mishaps. In 1922, a steering wheel came off during a race at Gentleman's Driving Park, sending the car hurtling through a fence at 60 miles an hour and injuring nine in the crowd of 3,000.

"A special match race for women was called off," The Sun wrote, "as the drivers lost their courage after the accident."

Not every race was legit. At dawn on July 22, 1920, two cars sped off down the Frederick Pike (Route 144) from Frederick en route to Ellicott City in a match race, traveling the 37-1/2 miles in 34 minutes and scaring the wits out of residents and livestock. Reportedly, more than $20,000 was bet on the outcome.

The area's first auto track — the Baltimore-Washington Speedway — opened near Laurel in 1925. Though short-lived, it was a wonder. Built entirely of two-by-fours, the 1-1/8-mile track banked on the curves at 48 degrees, then the steepest incline in the country. Dubbed the Laurel Pine Bowl, the $400,000 speedway staged two 250-mile world championships for which it drew 50,000 total fans, then went bankrupt.

"It was the one of the most impressive tracks ever built," said Maryland racing historian Larry Jendras, of Sykesville. "As the story goes, the dismantled wood was used to build horse stables at [Laurel Park]."

More modest was the Pikesville (nee Milford) Speedway which, at one-half mile, was the area's first dirt track constructed for stock car racing. Built in 1930 near what is now Sudbrook Middle School, it opened on a Sunday, in violation of the state's blue laws, struggled for five years and closed.

The post-World War II era triggered a racing boom in a region stuck with the minor-league Orioles and then-woebegone Colts. Dirt ovals popped up almost overnight, from Ritchie Speedway (Glen Burnie) to Dorsey (Howard County) to Condon (Eldersburg).

"Guys coming back from overseas wanted something to do, for fun, and racing fit right in," said Thomas "Buck" Guilfoy, 80, of Hebbville, who first competed in 1949. "Every corner gas station and every garage had a race car. You raced for bragging rights but for very little money.

"We loved (tinkering with) those cars. You'd see an old '39 Ford sitting on the corner, buy it for $25, take it home, rebuild it in a week and head to the track."

Early on, Guilfoy's safety gear consisted of a tank helmet from World War II and an army cartridge belt, minus the ammunition. He raced over parts of four decades and was a regular at Westport Stadium, a Negro League ballpark on Old Annapolis Road which added a tricky one-fifth mile track in 1950. Westport's crash rails were telephone poles laid sideways, which didn't stop Julius "Junior" Tauber from once spinning into the dugout.

"When they pulled my car out, the front end stayed (on the bench)," said Tauber, 88, of Linthicum.

Westport's hairpin turns helped groom Johnny Roberts (Brooklyn Park) and Ken Marriott (Baltimore), who went on to be NASCAR national champions. Roberts, who died in a crash on a Pennsylvania track in 1965, was also a deft mechanic, said Tauber.

"When my car started losing power on turns, Johnny looked at it," he said. "He took the top off of the carburetor, grabbed a spring and threw it away. The car ran fine after that."

Come Saturday night, as many as 7,000 fans flocked to Westport to see ordinary Joes square off in souped-up sedans with snazzy graphics, guys like Charles "Pee Wee" Pobletts of Randallstown and Marion "Ace" Canupp of Millersville. For several years in the 1950s, WAAM (Ch. 13) televised the races. Accidents were a given.

"Once, after a wreck, Ace came home with a piece of his car in his pocket but no idea how it got there," his wife, Janie Canupp said. "The Lord has taken care of him."

Eventually, stock car racing ran its course due to land development, noise ordinances and the like. Declining attendance led Westport to close in 1963. Dorsey lingered until 1985 and celebrated its passing with a 100-car demolition derby.

But men like Kantorsky, Guilfoy and the rest gather annually to talk of old times.

"It wasn't dog-eat-dog like today," said former driver Chuck Talbert, 80, of Owings Mills, referring to the Grand Prix. "Some of those cars racing in the Inner Harbor must cost nearly $1 million. If we had $1,000 in our cars, it was a lot."