96 YEARS AGO
On Monday, June 17, 1907, the world's first purpose-built racetrack — England's fabled Brooklands — opens in Weybridge, Surrey, with a lunch and a demonstration drive by a Darracq that achieves a top speed of 90 mph (145 km/h). The construction project, headed by Hugh Fortesque Locke-King, had employed 1,500 laborers working seven days a week to build the 2-mile (3.2-km) outer track in just nine months. It is constructed on 300 acres (121 ha) of swampy land that requires diverting the Wey River and raising the land at the center of the parcel by some 5 ft. (1.5 m) to build the clubhouse and pit area. The land is part of the Brooklands and Byfleet Park farms owned by Locke-King that once were hunting grounds for King Henry VIII.
An inner straightaway, called the Finishing Straight, increases total track length to 3.25 miles (5.2 km). Key to the track's high-speed capability are the high-banked turns that rise more than 27 ft. (8.3 m) into the air. Some 200,000 tons of gravel and cement are used to construct the 100-ft. (38-m) wide concrete surface. In addition to being a prominent site for automotive racing and development, the long straights are ideal for the fledgling aircraft industry, and such legendary names as Vickers, Hawker and Sopworth set up shop in unused areas of the property.
The track remained in use through the 1930s. However, it is severely damaged in WWII bombing raids on the aircraft plants constructed on part of the straightaways. In addition, trees are planted through the concrete in an effort to disguise the track that reportedly could be identified as far as 60 miles (97 km) away by its prominent banked turns. Although the clubhouse, pits and a portion of the track are preserved as historical areas, a shopping center, office buildings and factories today occupy most of the circuit. Still, rumor has it, the Members Banking section is haunted by the sound of an early racecar and the ghost of Percy Lambert, complete with leather helmet and goggles, who was killed at the end of Railway Straight.
25 YEARS AGO
Three years of increasingly hostile relations come to a head on June 13, 1978, when Henry Ford II fires Ford Motor Co. President Lee A. Iacocca, “father” of the wildly successful Mustang. Ford, chairman of the auto maker founded by his grandfather and still controlled by the Ford family, never gives a specific reason for the action, saying only, “It's personal. Sometimes you just don't like somebody.” But, speculation is rampant that Ford fears Iacocca had developed too much authority and influence within the company and wanted to become CEO upon his retirement.
Some within the company say Henry, released by the U.S. Navy from active duty during WWII to rescue the financially troubled company run by its aging founder, regards Iacocca as a marketing expert, but lacking the savvy to run the company. Blindsided by Ford's action, Iacocca goes on to assume control a year later of the nearly bankrupt Chrysler Corp. Later he is credited with preventing Chrysler's demise — with the aid of federal loan guarantees and the help of a number of key executives lured away from archrival Ford.
OTHER DATES IN HISTORY
June 16, 1917 — Harry Miller completes the “Golden Submarine” racecar for racing legend Barney Oldfield. The $15,000 machine is one of the first racers with an enclosed body.
June 18, 1923 — Checker Cab Mfg. Co. in Kalamazoo, MI, builds the first Checker taxicab. In an advertisement, the company will later claim, “No Checker has ever worn out.”
June 29, 1985 — John Lennon's psychedelically-painted '66 Rolls-Royce Phantom V is sold at auction for $2,229,000, 10 times auction house Sotheby's estimated selling price.