The Woodbridge Speedway billed itself as the fastest half-mile track in the world in the late 1920s. The New Jersey wooden track with 38 degree banking in the turns, it lived up to the moniker with cars hitting speeds of more than 90 miles an hour. Those speeds proved fatal for a driver from Pennsylvania’s Coal Region on October 27, 1929.
John Rohrer was at the wheel of a Ford special racing car at 70 miles per hour when a steering arm broke, sending the vehicle careening through a wooden guardrail and tumbling end over end in front of 8,000 spectators. The tumbling car nearly struck an 11-year-old boy watching nearby. Debris left cuts on the boy’s face. Inside the crumpled Ford, the driver, a 22-year-old native of McAdoo, lay mortally injured. He died while being rushed to a nearby hospital. Rohrer became the first driver to be killed on the Woodbridge track – he wouldn’t be the last.
The following account comes from the Hazleton Plain Speaker on October 28, 1929.
A broken steering arm was blamed today for the death of John Rohrer, of McAdoo, automobile race driver whose car broke through a guard rail during a race at the Evans speedway at Woodbridge, N.J., yesterday.
He was competing in a seven and one-half mile spring event was on one of the turns when he lost control of his machine. The car went down a 30 foot embankment, rolled off several times an came to rest against the trunk of a tree in which several small boys were perched to watch the races.
He died on the way to a hospital in Perth Amboy. He was 25-years-old.*
A crowd of 8,000 spectators witnessed the accident.
The accident occurred during the fifth lap of the first event on the day’s program, the first heat of a 15-mile race. The other seven entrants in the event finished the race which was won by Rick Decker, of Staten Island. At the insistence of the drivers, American Automobile Association inspectors, permitted the program to be carried out.
Rohrer was driving the car of Tommy Wilton, of New Market, NJ. He had wrecked his own automobile two weeks ago on the same track in an accident from which he escaped, unscathed.
Rorher’s death was the first fatality on the track, a half mile wooden oval, since it opened last year.
Rohrer was an employee of Gerlach Sons of McAdoo and had been driving in races for the past two years. In that time he won many races.
He finished the season as driver of the Gerlach car two weeks ago at Hughesville, and had undertaken to drive the car in which he was killed yesterday, so that he might get used to a board track. The Gerlach Sons were to purchase a new Dusenberg Special next year and Rohrer was to drive it on the larger board tracks of the country.
He was a member of the Automobile Association of America, and was very well liked by his associate members, drivers of other racing cars and officials. He was very courageous on the race track, as well as an excellent driver. He also had many admirers, having driven the Gerlach car at the various county fairs throughout the past two summers.
Besides his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Rohrer, he is survived by the following brothers and sisters: William, Gladys, Gertrude, Andrew, Harold, Emerson, and Harry, all at home and Floyd Busher, of West Hazleton.
*Rohrer was only 22 when he was killed
Rohrer’s death became a national news story and received much press attention across the country. His death came as auto racing became increasingly popular in the Mid-Atlantic states as speeds increased rapidly with new technological advances.
The young racer was brought home to Pennsylvania and interred at Union Cemetery in Weatherly.
Featured Image: Scene of Rohrer’s crash at Woodbridge Speedway after the driver was evacuated to the hospital. (The Plain Speaker, October 29, 1929)