Limping along on the verge of death for two decades before it finally closed in 2005, the Hialeah Speedway is mostly lost to history. But it comes roaring back to glorious, profane life Friday night in WLRN-PBS 17’s punchy (in more ways than one) documentary, Hialeah Speedway: No Guts, No Glory.
Before NASCAR turned stock-car racing glossy and glamorous, the speedway — an unforgiving third-of-a-mile flat track where the unbanked curves were treacherous and the 30-foot-deep lake in the middle downright deadly — was a major national venue for stock-car racing where drivers like Donnie Allison and Red Farmer often competed.
But the documentary wisely and hilariously concentrates on the local guys who built the speedway in a cow pasture as a do-it-yourself project in the mid-1950s so they could race the cars they built in their driveways from junkyard parts. Their driving was fast, furious and highly Darwinian.
“Safety is something that was basically never practiced,” recalls one driver. “You could drive in shorts and flip flops if you wanted.” The temperatures inside the cars left drivers so scorched that they frequently had to be doused with buckets of ice when a race ended. And there was so much bumping, pushing and even outright wrecking on the track — a good bit of it captured on the home movies that are the heart of Speedway — that the races often looked more like demolition derbies.
“You could get away with murder as far as knocking people out and sticking them in the fence,” recalls one driver. Some drivers, knocked out by rivals, would lie in wait for months before plowing into their enemies’ cars at a critical moment. Others took their revenge immediately in the pits, where fistfights and even kamikaze attacks with vehicles were not uncommon, though an unlikely percentage of the drivers interviewed in Speedway suggest it was only the other guys who misbehaved.
“Personally, I don’t think I had to settle anything that way,” insists Bobby Brack, the track’s all-time winningest driver. “You never got in a fight?” asks Speedway writer-director Debra Hall-Greene. “I didn’t say that,” Brack replies with a guilty smile.
Hialeah Speedway’s drivers were all men, but the track nonetheless struck some blows for feminism — a lot of them. Wives and girlfriends got into fistfights in such profusion that they were eventually banned from the pits. “Security would be called for the pits more for the women than for men,” recalls Pam Regula, whose husband Ron raced regularly. “They would take it out on the race track. The women only had the pits.” Say thank you, Danica Patrick.