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Howard County Times
Howard Magazine

Retro HoCo: Dorsey Speedway attracted raucous crowds who cheered fearless drivers

It was a runt of a racetrack, just a quarter of a mile, with more curves than straightaways on an isolated and woodsy tract in Elkridge. All the better for Dorsey Speedway, a stock car lover’s paradise that belched exhaust fumes, reeked of oil and burning rubber and drew up to 4,000 hard-core fans on weekends. They came for the chases, the crashes, the atmosphere and the beer. And, for 35 years, folks came to see their favorite drivers in revved-up jalopies roar around the oval track, sometimes in white-knuckle figure eights, kicking up the red clay and leaving crowds breathless, from spring to fall.

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From its inauspicious start in 1951 — the original venue had to be rebuilt because the track sat higher than the cement grandstand — Dorsey Speedway attracted raucous crowds who cheered fearless drivers with souped-up engines who navigated the banked turns with aplomb. Or not. In 1958, three cars jumped a guardrail, careened down an embankment and barreled through the chain-link fence that encircled the track. All survived.

Dorsey Speedway epitomized seat-of-the-pants auto racing in the sport’s post-World War II heyday. Each Friday (in later years, Saturday), in as many as 10 races a night, local drivers like Ace Canupp, Bud Thiele, Ray Kable, Pete Kantorsky, Denzel Dillman and Pee Wee Pobletts (in his car dubbed “The Red Rooster”) spun around the track as fast as 80 mph. One of the best was Johnny Roberts, a national champion from Brooklyn, Md. who, in 1954, shed a wheel during a race and still finished in third place.

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Drivers were, on the whole, ordinary Joes: a sheet metal mechanic here, a bulldozer repairman there. Sometimes, their cars kicked up so much dust that it blinded the lot, stopping the race until the air cleared. Fans used those times to hit the concession stands (i.e., beer), or to check out the vintage moonshine still that the feds had confiscated from the woods nearby in 1953, a contraption which was then put on display at the racetrack.

The last of six area dirt tracks to go, Dorsey Speedway was razed in 1985 to make way for an industrial park. The final race was, of course, a demolition derby.


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