"track record"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 19 04:54:45 UTC 2010

It sounds like Red Smith would have been wrong in his assessment. Yes,
there is a "track record" expression that is routinely used in horse
racing, auto racing, cycling, speed skating and "field athletics", i.e.,
competitive running (and a few other events associated with it). And it
does mean the best time for a particular distance or event (or other
"best" for an event) at a single venue. But it should not be difficult
to show that the other use of "track record" has been running in
parallel for a long time and thus hardly qualifies as "misuse". It
sounds more like grumblings by yet another Neanderthal that history has
left him behind.

Don't misunderstand--I am not unsympathetic to Smith's claim. But there
are some historical records to consider. And evidence suggests that his
preferred interpretation was never a lone one.

First, the earliest "track record" in GNA is indeed of the "best time"
variety, but not for horses.

New York Times - Oct 20, 1886
> The 100 miles was done in 6:1:15--25 minutes ahead of the world s
> record and over 1 minute ahead of the track record for this distance
> made at Springfield, By Ives, of Meriden, Connecticut.

But the article touts the feet of one S. G. Whittacker on a track in
Cawfordsville, Indiana, so the "track record" certainly does not refer
to a single specific track, but to a record on "track", in general. This
is not the meaning that Smith envisioned.

The next two entries (1888 and 1889) have other usage.

New York Times - Sep 23, 1888
> [Guy lowers the track record a clean second.]
> ... The great event of the day which attracted the crowd was the
> advertised attempt of Guy, the black son of Kentucky Prince, to beat
> 2:13 3/4, the fastest recorded time over the track, made by the Queen
> of the Turf, Maud S.

This is Smith's preferred choice. But the 1889 entry returns to bicycles.

New York Times - Aug 11, 1889
> At the Queens Athletic Club grounds, Queens, L. I., yesterday, A. C.
> Banker of the Berkeley Athletic Club broke the mile track record,
> making the mile in 2:57. He then rode the fastest five miles ever
> ridden on a bicycle in this State, making a record of 15:41 1-5. L. L.
> Clarke of the Berkeleys broke the one-sixth of a mile and the
> quarter-mile track records, making the first in 0:24 and the second in
> 0:40 3-5.

The hits that follow are a mix of bicycling and horse racing entries.
The more interesting among them is this one.

[Editorial Article 6--No title]
> ... It is true that this is a "kite-shaped track" record, but so was
> the record it supersedes.

Note the modifier in this case--not "track" record, but "kite-shaped
track" record, so it is clearly associated with a particular track. It
would seem that, starting in 1890, the predominant usage of "track
record" is for a record time on a particular track. But the alternative
use of "track record" for the type of race or a particular distance is
also present.

A Road Record Broken.
New York Times - Jul 20, 1893
> Erie, Penn., July 19.--Charles M. Reed's brown road team Lunette and
> Evangeline broke the road record this morning. The race was for a
> wager of $2,000; the distance, from Girard, Penn., to Mr. Reed's barn
> in this city, sixteen and a half miles, and the time allowed
> fifty-five minutes. ... The distance was covered in 49:30. ...
> The team was quite fresh when it came in and showed no signs of
> distress. This record beats the Boston twenty-mile track record, which
> was fifty-eight minutes.

Similarly, another article refers to "twenty-four hour track record",
where there is no ambiguity about the meaning of "track"--in this case,
the reference is to a record on /any/ track and not a specific one.

New York Times - Jun 19, 1892
> The most notable one last week, and one which is welcome, inasmuch as
> it brings to this country the twenty-four hourr track record, was the
> ride of Frank Waller of the Acme Bicycle Club, Oakland, Cal. Mr.
> Waller gave due notice to the Racing Board of his intention to try for
> this record, and will, no doubt, send in his claim for it. The
> previous record was 361 miles 1,446 yards, made by M. A. Halbein.
> Waller has placed the new figures at 363 miles 1,500 yards, which will
> stand as a world's record as soon as allowed.

The same applies to horses as to bicycles.

Half Mile Trotting Track Record Broken
New York Times - Jun 17, 1893
> Del., June 16.-James Green yesterday drove his pacing stallion Saladin
> one mile in 2:09 3/4 over the half-mile track at Wawaset Park here,
> beating the world's pacing or trotting record over a half-mile track. ...

So there is a split in the usage of "track record" from the earliest
newspaper appearances.

I did not inspect any further, although there are at least two dozen
other hits for 1892-3 and a few for 1890-1 that I skipped.

What's missing from this list, however, is the meaning of "track record"
that is in non-sports use, the one that Smith objected to. The earliest
GNA citation is from 1973 to "Nixon's long track record"
(http://goo.gl/W7YkW). But this was specifically from a search for "long
track record", as going through 75 years of raw hits for "track record"
was highly unappealing. Clearly, this would not be the earliest occurrence.

The OED does have a sub-entry:

> track record, (a) the record performance in a particular athletics
> event at a particular track; (b) the performances achieved by a
> particular athlete in the past; also fig., known facts about past
> achievements or behaviour taken as a guide to future performance

This is not bad, as it takes three different meanings into account, but
completely misses the meaning that I first identified. That is, it is
the meaning that differs from (a) in the sense that it is not attached
to any particular track, but relates to a performance on any track
suitable for the particular event. As a couple of cites above suggest,
this is close to synonymous to "world record"--or, as was common in the
1890s, "world's record".

> 1951 Publ. Amer. Dial. Soc. XVI. 66 *Track record, the best time made
> by a horse over a certain distance on a certain track. 1965 Life 15
> Jan. 56A/1 Wilder has had a series of extremely successful pictures...
> We were betting on his track record that this one would be too. 1972
> Observer 30 Apr. 12/5 The airlines have over the years had enough
> confidence in our track record to be perfectly happy about this
> procedure. 1974 Spartanburg (S. Carolina) Herald 18 Apr. c2/5 Charles
> Mathis..set a new track record at Northwestern with a 149´6´´ in the
> discus. 1976 Milton Keynes Express 25 June 51/3 Houghton Rip..came
> fourth behind the Irish dog, whose track record was smashed by last
> year's Derby consolation winner Shamrock Point. 1976 Time 20 Dec. 17/1
> A lot of the women candidates..have no management track records to be
> judged on. So they keep being passed over. 1983 Daily Tel. 23 Mar. 21
> The Trustee Savings Banks, which plan to go public towards the end of
> next year, badly need to establish a good track record on profits.

Note the first citation (1951). Clearly, this is not the earliest, but
you've got to love the source! The earliest non-sports "track record" is
in the 1965 citation. But would I let it go without getting an earlier
one? Bill Mullins already got one from 1958, so the next three are a bit
superfluous (but I like presenting work-product).

Checking The Facts On Skills For D.A.
Victoria Advocate - Google News Archive - Apr 14, 1962
> While it is convenient to try and saddle Mr. Filley with the District
> Attorney's office's poor track record, thinking people realize that
> Assistant District Attorneys do not make plea bargaining policies, the
> District Attorney does.

There is another.

Repertory Theatre To Hit Television
Gadsden Times - Google News Archive - Feb 17, 1963
> Boone's enthusiasm for the show takes into account a rather poor track
> record of previous anthology shows in the ratings.

Varying the search string a bit more, we can refine the dates further.

 From Playboy's Hugh Hefner
Village Voice - Google News Archive - Nov 9, 1961
> It is really an ironic that we, who have such an excellent track
> record, should be faced with an attack which might jeopardize all the
> good work we have done to date and the good work that we most
> certainly intend to do in the future in the area of solving the
> problem of segregation.

Simply replacing "excellent" with "good" gets another 8 years shaved off.

Moscow Scores A Victory, Almost Sets Big 3 Agenda .
St. Petersburg Times - Google News Archive - Dec 3, 1953
> That's why the new Social Security Administrator, who otherwise had a
> good track record, is being eyed in Washington with skepticism. Is he
> a cold, correct professional, or does he have the kindly, family
> doctor approach?

I guess, my instincts failed me, because I got stuck with the best for
last--antedating "track record" a further 21 years. I should have known
better--it's the one Bill found in 1958.

Vaudeville, Film, Park; Clowning On Thursdays
Reading Eagle - Google News Archive - Feb 24, 1932
> Joe, as a sappy college student with an inferior complex, succeeds in
> convincing the girl of his heart he is a prominent college man, with a
> great track record and membership in a leading fraternity, and finally
> Joe has to prove himself a hero in the eyes of his sweetheart by
> winning a track meet. Joe wins the girl as well as the meet.

Note that the two meanings suddenly collide.

I will leave one as an exercise to the reader--with a ProQuest account:

> Pay-Per-View - Los Angeles Times - ProQuest Archiver - Mar 16, 1928
> Jack Merchant, Henry Coggeshall, Paul Boren and Proctor Flanagan mean
> plenty to the fan who knows his track record book.

The fact that this mentions "track record book" makes me want to know more.


On 11/18/2010 11:41 AM, George Thompson wrote:
> According to the OED, "track record" derives from horse racing.
>> Whether horse racing qualifies as a "sport" is open to question:  The
>> activity is covered in the "sports" section of newspapers, but I
>> always wonder who is the athlete--the horse or the rider or the owner.
> The horses are often referred to as athletes by turf broadcasters, anyway.  I maybe don't see it in written racing commentary.  The jockeys are certainly athletes.
> I recall many years ago a column by Red Smith in which he grumbled at the misuse of the expression "track record", which, in horse racing, doesn't mean a horse's record as a racer, but the fastest time ever run on a specific track for a specific distance: as, the track record at Saratoga for a mile and 3/8 on dirt is . . .
> "Wine Police (7th, $7.10) jumped out to the lead, shook off Mythical Truth and favored Soldat turning for home, and widened to a 7 3/4-length debut triumph in 1:03.36, just missing J Be K's 5 1/2-furlong track record of 1:03.13 set in 2007."  (from a recent horse-racing blog by Dave Liftin, who also writes for the Daily Racing Form; found by a Google search for "track record" saratoga)

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