Larry Mann holds a sobering place in NASCAR history

NASCAR is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2023.

There will be special events and anniversary shows on the racetracks, and perhaps most importantly, there will be a much awaited race. Back to North Wilkesboro (NC) SpeedwayOne of the main sports tracks.

You may have already gotten a glimpse of the yellow, red, and blue diamond logo that NASCAR plans to use during its celebration year.

During all the fuss, one name you probably won’t hear is Larry Mann.

And for good reason.

1952 AD

Fans get a look at Larry Mann’s car from early in the 1952 NASCAR season.

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Mann (real name Lawrence Zuckerman) was the first driver to die while racing in what is now the NASCAR Cup Series. Mann, who raced under that name apparently because of perceived or real prejudice against the Jewish people of that place and time, died on September 14, 1952 of horrific injuries he had suffered in Langhorne (Pennsylvania) SpeedwayOne of the most dangerous tracks in all motorsports.

Over the ensuing seventy years, the death list got much longer. Gwen Staley in Richmond. Joe Weatherly in Riverside. Fireball Roberts in Charlotte. Boren Skene in Darlington. Tiny Lund in Talladega. Adam Petty in Loudoun. And of course, perhaps the deepest point of all, Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona in 2001.

The deaths, while always shocking, weren’t surprising. Mix fast cars with daring drivers carrying flammable fuels in confined spaces between steel barriers or concrete walls, and serious accidents will happen. In too many circumstances, they have simply been accepted as part of the sport. But the many deaths – notably Roberts’s fiery tragedy in Charlotte and Earnhardt’s crash into the outer wall in Daytona – led to safety innovations that saved many runners’ lives. Improvements in fuel cells made fire much less of a concern after Roberts’ death, and the Earnhardt accident led to “soft” walls and widespread use of a head and neck restraint.

The deaths, while always shocking, weren’t surprising.

Mann suffered severe injuries in the plane crash. Contemporary news reports of his accident are unclear, but it appears that he hit the outer guard rail of the track and rolled across it, smashing the car. He was pronounced dead of head injuries later that night at the Nazareth Hospital near the track.

Lee Petty, one of the sport’s rising stars in its early years, won the race. Ironically, Mann, for whom Hudson Hornet took 22nd place, drove car number 43, a number that would later lead another member of the Betty family – Richard – to fame and glory.

Mann, 28, was from Yonkers, New York and was married with two children. He served in the Army Air Force in World War II.

The fifties of the last century in the stands

A total of 27 people died at Langhorne (Pennsylvania) Speedway. The track was closed in 1971.

H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStockGetty Images

The path of Langhorne is not finished with death. Before it closed in 1971, 27 people died there.

Drivers dread it, but many were addicted to the thrill ride it offered.

Johnny Allen, now 88 and a resident of Indianapolis, raced later in the 1950s, scoring a best third-place point in 1957.

“I was on edge the whole time,” Allen said in a recent interview. Autoweek. “All the way, you turn and go steadily. It was fun. It was exhilarating. It scared me when I first went out trying to talk myself up to pick up speed. Finally, when you get the rhythm and get stuck in, you can’t move fast enough.”

Johnny Allen NASCAR 1962

Johnny Allen, shown here in 1962, said racing at Langhorne was an adventure.

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There was a lot to learn about racing and racing cars in those formative years. “If we don’t learn something every time, we will be killed or bankrupt,” Allen said.

Allen had a strange experience racing at Langhorne.

“I was running really well, in the top five, and suddenly I found myself driving around the racetrack low and slow and watching the cars go by,” he said. “I was just happy as a lark. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I finally got my rhythm back, and then all of a sudden I do it again.”

“Finally someone came out on the track with a pit sign to ask me to get into the pit. What happened was one of the gas lines was torn and the fuel was going up into the exhaust. Surprisingly it didn’t catch fire. The fumes were getting into the car, I think I drank from it. They took me out. out of the car and had to give me oxygen to clear my head.”

Will be racing again. They always did.

Except for those that can’t go back.

“You don’t get comfortable with the bad stuff,” Allen said. “But you accept it. And you put these things aside.”

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