DEL MAR — Auto racing fans were buzzing when it was announced that Rex Mays would compete in the Del Mar 100 in 1949.
Except for the fact it was to be held on the racetrack, there was no relation between horses and racecars.
More than 25,000 fans swarmed to the fairgrounds for the event and when they were shut out they moved to the barren hillside north of the fairgrounds to watch.
The attraction plain and simple was Mays, who was twice national champion in Indy-style wheels.
Although he competed in the Indy 500 12 times, he was never able to grab the checkered flag.
In 1940 it was rain that cost him the race.
He was running second the last 150 miles when the heavy downpour brought out the caution flag.
He was behind Wilbur Shaw and even though his machine was faster, he could not pass him.
That year and again the next, Mays won every race on the American Automobile Association circuit. Fans said Mays could do everything in a car.
No wonder he was the big attraction at Del Mar.
He would never wear a seat belt. Yes, they were used then.
Mays believed that if he was ever in a major accident he wanted to be thrown clear.
So it was on Nov. 6, 1949, when he was in second place in the 13th lap when it is believed his car struck a rut causing it to crash into the wooden guardrail taking out a pole. The car flipped and Mays was thrown on to the middle of the track. Cause of death was reported to be a broken neck.
A cloud of dust made it difficult to see him laying on the track and two drivers behind him may have struck him but they were positive they missed him.
There had been motorcycle and auto races before that day, but henceforth directors of the 22nd District Agricultural Association ruled the track would be used exclusively for horse racing.
At later fairs, Lindley Bothwell, former race driver from L.A. who collected Indy-style cars as a hobby, would bring a dozen of them to Del Mar and stage three or four afternoon races.
Although these were exciting, the winners were predetermined and there was never any danger of a serious accident.
Filed Under: EyeWitness