Answer Man Revved Up to Discover Old Marlboro Raceway Personalities

Racing fan Dave Roethel shot this footage of sports cars on the track at Marlboro Raceway in August 1959. The track, in Upper Marlboro, opened in 1952 and closed in 1969. Video courtesy of Washington, D.C., Region Sports Car Club of America
By John Kelly
Sunday, February 22, 2009

On Page 109 of his autobiography, "Winning Is Not Enough," Sir Jackie Stewart tells of his first racing trip to the United States where, in 1964, I believe, he co-drove "at the Marlboro 12-hour race, in Arlington, Virginia." I came to the Washington area in June 1964 and wonder where such a track could have been located. Did Sir Jackie get his geography wrong?

-- Charles A. Wendel, Alexandria

Aye, Sir Jackie, the wee Scottish three-time world champion racecar driver, did. There was a Marlboro Raceway, but it was on the other side of the Potomac, at Routes 4 and 301 in Upper Marlboro.

It opened as a dirt oval in 1952 and was the setting for stock car races. The oval eventually was paved and then incorporated into a twisty, 1.7-mile road course, making it a favorite track with racers from the Sports Car Club of America. Washington was famed for producing winning sports car drivers, the result of an affluent, well-traveled population who early on embraced small, quick cars from England, Germany and Italy.

"If you could run Marlboro you could drive any track in the country well," remembered Rick Mandelson, who competed there often in the 1960s. Many drivers who cut their teeth at Marlboro went on to win national championships, including Dr. Dick Thompson, "the Flying Dentist," who raced early Corvette Sting Rays; Charlie Wallace, a Bethesda hairdresser; Ferrari driver Charlie Hayes; Porsche driver Bruce Jennings; Bill Scott, owner of Summit Point raceway in West Virginia; and Duncan Black, scion of the Black & Decker tool family.

"It was a real tough, tight track, not a high-speed track, but extremely dangerous," said Rick, now 70 and living in Howard County.

In 1964, Sir Jackie and his co-driver, Mike Beckwith, won Marlboro's 12-hour small sedan race in a Lotus Cortina. Rick remembers racing against him, though it's what Rick had to do the night before the race that irks him to this day.

"Jackie Stewart was always safety-conscious," Rick said, his tone suggesting it's possible to be too safety conscious. "Marlboro ain't so safe. He was whining he couldn't see the track at nighttime."

Rick had to whitewash the edges of the track in the gloaming so they'd be more visible to Stewart during the next day's race. Such well-known racing figures as Carroll Shelby, Roger Penske and Jackie Ickx visited the track.

NASCAR stopped at Marlboro; motorcycles raced there. There were stunt-driving shows, too, including something called the Cavalcade of Canadian Hell Drivers. (Being stuck on I-95 behind a trailer from Quebec is enough hell for Answer Man.)

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