AMAZING STORIES: Racing Car Crashes, Kills Two in Crowd at Track in Queens - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the June 2012 Juniper Berry Magazine

AMAZING STORIES: Racing Car Crashes, Kills Two in Crowd at Track in Queens

Racing cars at Metropolitan Heights Track, now Juniper Valley Park.

Gets Out of Control at 80-Mile Speed at Run and Hurtles into Throng of Watchers

Driver Critically Hurt Some One in Path, He Declares, and He Swerved – Injured Boy Found at the Spot

(NY Times May 31, 1929) Two spectators were killed and two other persons critically injured when a racing automobile got out of control rounding a turn of the Metropolitan Heights Fair Grounds track, Middle Village , Queens, yesterday afternoon at the season's opening.

The car, Bernie Katz's Duesenberg Special, with Katz at the wheel, hit the turn at the northeast end of the seven-eighths of a mile track. Katz apparently tried to skid around the bend. The machine, traveling eighty miles an hour overturned, hurtled in three revolutions up the embankment, and crashed into the crowd watching there.

Katz, on his way to the hospital, gasped that he had seen somebody on the track and had lost control trying to swerve. He became unconscious at Jamaica Hospital and is in a critical state with a fractured skull, the dead and injured are:

The Dead ‒

McKENNA, DAMASCUS, 48 years old, of 26 South Fourteenth Street, Flushing; died in an automobile on the way to St. John's Hospital, Long Island City.

Unidentified man, about 45 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing about 145 pounds; died on the way to Wyckoff Heights Hospital.

The Injured ‒

KATZ, BERNIE, race driver, 25 years old, of 387 East Ninety-sixth Street, Flatbush, Brooklyn; in Jamaica Hospital; concussion, lacerations.

ANSELM, JACOB, 27 years old, of 200 Johnson Street, Elmhurst, Queens; a fractured thigh, lacerations and contusions; at Jamaica Hospital.

Unidentified boy, 14 years old; suffering from a fractured skull; at St. John's Hospital; condition critical.

It was the boy, observers believed, whom Katz saw on the track. He was found injured there afterward.

There were others among the spectators hurt in the rush from the speeding car, but none seriously.

Opening Day of Races

It was the opening day of racing season at the fair grounds. The sun was hot and 5,000 persons were at the track. There were to be six feature races, preceded by competition among some forty race drivers in numerous heats and single-circuit tests against time.

The race in which the fatalities occurred was the first final on the afternoon's program. There were six cars entered, the winners of previous trials. Up to that point the afternoon had been a triumph for Katz. The stocky young race driver who has been gathering a big following at other races this season on Long Island, was using his new car, bought in the Spring and tuned up by the driver himself for the Summers meetings.

He had come out of the single-circuit tests against time with the best speed of the afternoon, sending the Duesenberg around the track in 39 seconds, thus qualifying for the trial heat. Before the race he spent a few minutes in his pit in front of the grandstand and proceeded to win the heat, too. In this he competed with five others, winners of previous trials, in a four-lap spin.

In the final, six were entered. Besides Katz, these were George Wingerter, driving another Duesenberg; Sam Wohl, a favorite, in a Protex Special; Newton Marion in his Hispano-Suiza; James diMarino, in a Dodge Special. The cars circled the banked, tarred track roaring their approach to the starting line.

Watchers Gathered at Turns

The spectators had filled the covered grandstand opposite the judges' box, the bleachers at either side of the stand, and individuals crowded in a deep furrow all about the track behind the barbed wire fence which shuts it off. Around the turns at either end parking spaces for spectators' automobiles were crowded, many men and boys lined up between the rows of hoods and the fence.

The Starter's checkered flag dropped and the roar of rhythmically exploding cylinders answered the crowd's yell. Instantly the silver projectile, bearing Katz's number, 34, on radiator and weather-vane stern, was out ahead. Katz was six feet in front of the other Duesenberg, Wingerter's at the end of the first lap. The speeding cars swept into the backstretch. At the turn the watchers saw Katz's car favor, bob crazily and roll sideways. It seemed to take the bank in a crazy hobble, rolled again and disappeared, collapsing into a gully.

Katz had been thrown free, but the car, in its hurtling trajectory, overtook the scattering spectators. Special police converged there and private automobiles bore the injured away. After an hour's wait, the races proceeded.

Detectives of the Newtown Station investigated later. Fred P. Miller, official referee, bore out Katz's statement that someone had darted onto the track as he rounded the turn.

I was watching from the elevated judges' stand, Miller said, with field glasses. I was particularly interested in that turn because I wanted to be sure there was no fouling. I saw the figure of a man ‒ as it seemed ‒ run out onto the track. Next instant, Katz's car had spilled.

The size of the overflow crowd, according to William Darragh, old race driver and sports promoter, who is manager of the park, caused him to station several special police there to hold back the spectators. Darragh said he had leased the track from the late Arnold Rothstein and had then leased it himself to the New York County Fair Association, for which he acts as manager.

Katz was in the motor race two weeks ago at Deer Park track, near Babylon, when Harry Wirth, another driver, was killed in a crash.

June 2012 Juniper Berry Magazine

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