De Palma Visits Playa Del Rey

The attached article about racing champion Ralph De Palma visiting the Los Angeles-based Playa Del Rey board track was originally published in the February 13, 1910, Indianapolis Star. DePalma was just coming back from his devastating accident at Danbury, Connecticut where he suffered a broken thigh which forced him to miss the Vanderbilt Cup and the inaugural November Atlanta Speedway meet. At the time DePalma, reportedly still on crutches, was preparing for a race meet at New Orleans. The article focused on his opinions of the new (and first board speedway), called a "board saucer" and its upcoming race meet beginning April 8.
Ancillary to discussing the unique construction of the track DePalma shares - as he did on numerous occasions - that he enjoyed racing tracks (ovals) more than road racing. He was accomplished at both. As for the prospects of the plank speedway he said, "I am convinced that the new board saucer will prove one of the best racing propositions yet tried. Driving on a track has always appealed to me more strongly than road racing and a wooden dish with the dangers of skidding, blinding dust and thrown tire eliminated 'listens good,' as they say in the New Theater drama."
DePalma's reference to dust is significant as this is one of major safety concerns early race drivers had over the prospect of racing on dirt horse tracks. Why he felt the planks would prevent skidding or render it less likely to "throw a wheel" is a topic for speculation. It may be that he felt the board surface would be more level so the drifting could be more predictable. This, too, could help prevent tire or wheel damage.
An interesting characteristic of Playa Del Rey is that it was a circle, not an oval. DePalma points out that in some ways it made it one long straightaway even though it had no technical straightaway.
"Perhaps very few people have stopped to consider that on a mile banked track which is an absolute circle pilots will be able to drive under conditions not greatly different from straightaway going. Figuring it out mathematically, I believe you will find that a driver has to deviate from a straight line only one inch every sixty-four feet. Inasmuch as the curve is constant and the steering wheel must be set to vary only slightly when passing other cars a driver will be able to devote more attention to manipulation of his motor rather than the steering wheel."
DePalma also reported that he was rebuilding the car he wrecked at Danbury, the Fiat Cyclone - not to be confused with the Fiat Giant that Lewis Strang set records at Atlanta Speedway in November and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in December.
"I am rebuilding the Cyclone, which has proved its class on dirt tracks, although it has never been pushed to its limit. In my estimation the twenty-degree banking on the new course will be sufficient to counteract centrifugal force and that the little car can be let out to its capacity. It will surprise me greatly if the cars show any tendency to skid on the board surface; the traction ought to be ideal."
As a note, DePalma pays the famed board track constructor Jack Prince a nice compliment when he says, "I have great confidence in Jack Prince's ability to produce the proper article."
A sidebar to the article notes that DePalma had recently signed with E.W.C. Arnold to drive his Fiat Giant, replacing Lewis Strang. Prior to Strang the car had been driven by Felice Nazzaro who named it "Mephistopheles," a name for a mythological demon character.

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