Roosevelt Raceway Circuit Was Well Ahead Of Its Time

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THE FRONT PAGE: The inaugural Vanderbilt Cup made the cover of National Auto Racing News. (NSSN Archives Photo)
THE FRONT PAGE: The inaugural Vanderbilt Cup made the cover of National Auto Racing News. (NSSN Archives Photo)

American road racing entered a new era on Oct. 12, 1936, when Italian Tazio Nuvolari won the new George Vanderbilt Cup during the grand opening of Roosevelt Raceway on New York’s Long Island.

But while Nuvolari garnered the headlines by winning the 300-mile race from the pole in the No. 8 Alfa Romeo, it was the magnificent new racing facility that generated a majority of the news.

The Oct. 8 issue of National Auto Racing News included the following facts about the track that was designed by Art Pillsbury and Mark Linentral and managed by George Robertson:

– Roosevelt Raceway is the longest enclosed race course in the world with every portion of the track visible from any point. The four-mile track features 16 turns and the main straightaway is 3,775 feet long.

– The track was built at a cost of more than a million dollars.

– Half a million gallons of oil and emulsion went into the composition of the hard surface.

– Three million board feet of lumber was used in construction.

– Ten miles of guardrails, including 7,000 posts, were erected.

– Race control includes a 125-foot chief observation tower at the start/finish line and five other subordinate towers, each 40-feet high and accommodating a sector of the course.

– The track is located on the former site of Roosevelt Field in Westbury, Long Island, 20 miles from New York’s Times Square. Roosevelt Field is where Charles Lindbergh, Richard Byrd and other transatlantic fliers took off in 1927.

– In addition to the new George Vanderbilt Cup, which cost $5,000, the track’s inaugural race features $85,000 in prizes.

An editorial in that same issue said, “A dream almost too far-fetched by the promoters who made the huge investment to construct the great four-mile Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island is at last a reality, with the elaborate arrangements completed for the first road race to be held on Long Island since 1910, and the first in the East in eight years.

“The course is the most difficult yet constructed, and will indeed be a crucial test of the ability of the drivers and durability of the machines they drive.”

A second Vanderbilt Cup race was run on a revised 3.33-mile course on July 5, 1937, but the track was never a financial success and it closed in 1939. However, several other types of racing, including midgets and horses, were conducted on a variety of tracks at the site until 1988.