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This Early 1900s Columbus Racetrack Was A Short-Lived, Dangerous Marvel

In the early 20th century, the Columbus Motordome stood as a testament to the daring spirit of American motorsports. This short-lived motorcycle race track, constructed with a 30-degree angled track entirely made of wood, held the distinction of being one of the first motorcycle tracks built in the United States.

Inception and Design

The Columbus Motordrome, brought to life by the Columbus Motordrome Company, opened its gates on July 4, 1912. This ambitious venture, born out of a collaboration between notable figures such as William Snyder, George Baughem, and Philip Vogel, was influenced by the renowned Chicago bicyclist and racetrack architect, Jack Prince.

Prince, known for his hands-on and visionary approach to track design, spearheaded the motordrome movement with his unconventional yet thrilling layouts. The Columbus Motordrome, located on the site of the Arlington Gun Club near Fifth Avenue and Cambridge Boulevard, featured a 30-degree angled track that provided an exhilarating platform for high-speed motorcycle racing.

columbus motordome postcard
A vintage postcard showing the Columbus Motordrome, via Columbus Metropolitan Library

The Spectacle and Innovations

With grandstand seating for 5,000 fans and an expansive green space accessible through tunnels beneath the track, the Columbus Motordome allegedly aimed to accommodate up to 100,000 enthusiasts. Night races, made possible by an innovative lighting system, added an extra layer of excitement to the already thrilling events.

Motorcycles on the Columbus Motordome could reach speeds exceeding 90 mph on the short, banked tracks, making it a hotspot for adrenaline junkies and racing enthusiasts alike. However, the track’s success was short-lived.

los angeles motordome postcard
A vintage postcard from the 1910s showing the Los Angeles Motordrome.

The Tragic End

The heyday of motordomes came crashing down, quite literally, with a tragic incident in Cincinnati. A fiery motordrome crash claimed the life of a racer and nine spectators, while injuring 35 more on a similar 30-degree banked track. The catastrophic event, echoing similar tragedies across the country, led to the coining of the term “murderdromes” due to the alarming number of fatalities associated with these high-banked tracks.

In the wake of safety concerns and public outcry, motordomes, including the Columbus Motordome, faced closures in the years following the Cincinnati disaster. By 1913, the Columbus Motordome Company was insolvent and the racetrack closed shortly thereafter. Subsequent tracks adopted longer designs and integrated advanced safety innovations to mitigate the risks that had tarnished the motordome legacy.

Though the Columbus Motordome’s existence was brief, its impact on the motorsports landscape was profound. The motordome era remains a captivating chapter in American racing history, highlighting the relentless pursuit of speed and the subsequent imperative for safety in motorsports.