We're almost finished with our New York Schedule, but one more track remains. Mohawk International Speedway is truly that. It's located very close to the Canadian border and much of its back gate is comprised of residents of our northern neighbors.
Then it's off to Vermont where we took in a classic track and race weekend at Thunder Road Speedbowl. So much has been written and talked about this racetrack and we were so glad to have included it in our NE schedule. In the middle of all of that, a big surprise was waiting on us.
We were staying at Moose River Campground near Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, and the owner told us that we just had to see an historic racetrack named Northeastern Speedway that was located just down the road a few miles. The current owner had recently restored it for display and held a 50th Anniversary reunion there. So, we'll tell you why this short-lived racetrack influenced NE racing and possibly racing across the country with how it ran its programs.
As we were leaving our last race event at Oswego, a hurricane-turned-tropical-storm was battering the Northeast coast and dropping huge amounts of rain on New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the rest of New England. We left Oswego early Sunday morning to return to our campground just east of Syracuse as the winds and rain increased. By the next day, serious flooding had occurred in parts of southern Vermont, the next state on our list.
Luckily, our schedule, compiled last February and March had us taking a more westerly route north traveling up the western side of New York to Mohawk International and then across the top of the state into Vermont, avoiding the roadways closed by the storm. Our campground there, along the banks of Moose River, had been spared any damage so our trip was not interrupted.
A lonely ticket booth and...
A lonely ticket booth and uncovered asphalt is all that remains of Northeastern Speedway. It’s a ghost track that was open for just eight years in the early ’60s. But its legacy lives due in large part to how its organizers taught other racetrack owners how to operate.
Mohawk is medium banked and...
Mohawk is medium banked and doesn’t have walls around the track outside the front stretch. This helps provide a safety net for the drivers who test the grip high in Turns 1 and 3. Several disappeared over the top only to reappear and reenter the race unharmed. Race teams appreciate that a lot.
Mohawk is truly an international...
Mohawk is truly an international speedway lying just 5 driving miles from Canadian soil. In 2009, the owners completely rebuilt the speedway and installed these really nice grandstands complete with multiple suites and plenty of food and drink areas.
A great starter class is this...
A great starter class is this mini Late Model class called the Mod Lites. There were decent numbers of these teams and many came from Canada to race at Mohawk. These cars are very fast and competitive on dirt.
Mohawk International Raceway
Located in the most northwesterly corner of New York State, Mohawk would become the very last dirt track we would visit on our 2011 Tour. It was a great ending too because we were able to see teams from two countries battling it out like there was no border. We were here for the American Revolution Series final Labor Day Shootout show run on a Thursday night. Afterwards, we would scoot on over to Vermont for another Labor Day event that same weekend.
This is another track, like Oswego, where the owners put lots of money into improvements to make a very attractive and functional racetrack. It was completely rebuilt for the 2009 racing season. They had installed NASCAR-style lighting, numerous suites, a raised and graveled pit area--no longer prone to flooding--and new seating. The fans celebrate coming here and the track celebrates with a party and huge bonfire after the show is over.
Don Thompson is the general manager here and he was a great host for our Tour. We were given access to his personal suite, the videographer's stand--used to shoot video for our website--and anywhere else we needed to go.
The class structure included the 358 Modifieds, Sportsman, Pro Stocks, Bandits, and Mod Lites. All of the races were very competitive because at this track, there were several grooves to choose from. This provided side-by-side racing action all night long.
One very popular class was the Mod-Lites that were in reality, Legends type cars running on dirt. They looked like mini-Dirt Late Models and put on quite a show. It's amazing how fast and competitive the smaller cars are on dirt. And this track also sports no walls except along the front straight to protect the fans. I really like that plan.
Being only 5 driving miles from Canada, this is truly an international speedway. I talked with quite a few racers from both sides of the border and it was plain to see that racers who reside as our northern neighbors are just as passionate of their programs as we are.
Thunder Road Speedbowl
Few tracks gain such notoriety as this track located in Barre, Vermont. Thunder Road is what is commonly referred to as a bullring track due to its short length and high-banked turns. The lack of walls also makes this a track unique to race on where you can get pushed over the top, hang on, and return to do battle again.
Owner and founder, Ken Squier would go on to be the first TV announcer to call the Daytona 500 in 1979 and that race would cement the NASCAR television connection, due in part to the now-famous fight between brothers Bobby and Donny Allison, and Cale Yarborough in Turn 3 at the end of the race. A good friend of mine was the only photographer to capture that fight on film and provided those images to Stock Car Racing magazine for its front cover and inside story.
The race weekend was the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic for the American-Canadian Tour Late Model cars. This series was started back in 1986 by promoter Tom Curley after he had been a part of the NASCAR North Tour for Late Model Sportsman cars. This new series was a departure from that type of racing in that it incorporated the Super Late Model-type cars more commonly run across the country.
One interesting feature of...
One interesting feature of this racetrack is that there is an after-the-show party where a bonfire is lit and free food is available to the racers spread out on several large tables.
The fire consisted of many...
The fire consisted of many pallets being stacked some 15 feet high and topped off with a picnic table.
The crew doused the wood with...
The crew doused the wood with diesel fuel, then lit it off for a spectacular display.
In 1987, he aligned the ACT Tour with the ASA and the All-Pro Southeast series to form the Stock Car Connections. Many now-famous drivers came out of that union, such as NASCAR stars Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Bobby and Davy Allison, Rusty and Kenny Wallace, and short track legends Dick Trickle, Butch Miller, Mike Eddy, and Bobby Gill.
In 2011, ACT started its tour at the Speedweeks, World Series of Stock Car Racing event at New Smyrna Speedway in February with two 100-lap non-points races. ACT also runs the Canadian-based Serie Castrol Edge, formed in 2005.
This Labor Day classic was a tough one due to the weather. A heavy rain fell after practice and qualifying and after a delay of a few hours, the racing was on. I was able to speak with Tom Curley early in the day and I got a sense of his passion for his series and stock car racing in general. He was positioned right where it counted: in the announcer's booth overlooking all of the proceedings.
Directly behind that building was a series of three ômonumentsö honoring past winners of the three huge racing events held each year. The Memorial Day Classic, the Milk Bowl, and the Labor Day Classic winners are memorialized forever. This is just one example of how Tom shows his respect for the racers and what they have helped to build at this track and for his series.
Through Tom's influence, ACT has introduced many innovative and cost-saving rules to racing including a spec engine program started in 1999, one of the country's first, and the development of spec tires through a cooperative effort with Goodyear Tire. All of his hard work was rewarded in 2004 when more than 1,000 racetrack promoters voted him the Auto Racing Promoter of the Year.
A normal night's racing at TR includes classes for the Late Models, Sportsman, Street Stocks, and Junk Yard Warriors. On one typical race day, 26 Late Models, 28 Sportsman, and 29 Street Stock and JYW cars raced. Those are very good numbers.
The numbers of fans in attendance spoke to the magnitude of this race and racetrack. Supporting businesses put on huge displays and brought employees out to spend the day at specially constructed viewing areas. The stands were filled as were the pits. At the end of the day, I could see why racing in New England was so popular.
Tech inspection is of great...
Tech inspection is of great interest in ACT racing. Early on, the founders of ACT realized the importance of making the racing more affordable while enforcing the rules so as not to create unfair advantages for creative teams. Note that next to the car number is the designation for the state of origin. So, there can be two No. 57 cars, one VT (Vermont) and one ME (Maine), which there were, running the race.
Thunder Road has always attracted...
Thunder Road has always attracted large crowds and with the help of local business sponsorships, the interest will continue well into the future. A successfully run track meets the needs of everyone—racers, fans, and area businesses included.
Behind the announcer’s shack...
Behind the announcer’s shack was a memorial to the winners of past feature events at Thunder Road. Represented with their names etched in stone were winners of the Memorial Day Classic, the Vermont Milk Bowl, and the Labor Day Classic. This is a nice way to reward those accomplishments and the recognition carries on for a long time.
Northeastern Speedway--Bonus Track!
This now defunct, small 1/5-mile, racetrack located on Highway 18 just a few miles east of Saint Johnsbury was operated for only eight years. But in that time, it forged solid and useful rules and a model for sanctioning bodies that would influence many other racetracks and quite possibly set the tone for all of short track racing across the country.
The current owner of the property and primary catalyst for unearthing the track and holding the 50th anniversary celebration is Paul Bellefeuille and his wife, Lise. I met Paul at the track one day while staying in Saint Johnsbury and he showed me around the grounds. He told me many stories about the track and offered material and a video that told the history of this short-lived, but influential track.
On August 18, 1958, the Northeastern Racing Association was formed for the purpose of building a racetrack and the first President was Charles Ely. A parcel of land available for lease was located 4 miles east of town, and on July 18, 1959, the first race was run. By the time the last race ran in mid October of that year, 40 cars were competing and attendance rose to more than 3,000 spectators.
At that time in Vermont and New Hampshire, racing was very disorganized providing very little prize money, no association to represent the drivers, and no points system. Northeastern Speedway changed all of that.
Ken Squier announced the early races and he became so impressed with the operational efficiency he saw that the next year he and two brothers, the Cooleys, built the Thunder Road International Speedway, as it was called then, and asked NRA to run the program.
The opener at TR brought more than 5,000 spectators to the 3,000-seat track. It was an asphalt track and Northeastern was dirt. In 1961, it was decided to pave Northeastern so that the teams running both tracks would be able to equip the cars with the same tires and setups.
Strangely enough, along with paving Northeastern they erected a 3-foot-high concrete wall around the entire track. During that season, drivers threatened a boycott and wanted the track to tear down the wall due to excessive damage to the cars. It was removed after a few races, becoming even more like its sister track, Thunder Road.
Another innovation was the creation of a claimer class where any car that won three weeks in a row could be claimed for $75, less battery, tires, belts, and helmet. And, tech inspections were instituted where in the first season one car was suspended for having an illegal cam. Imagine that!
The track ended up having financial difficulties from spending so much on improvements. Meanwhile, being so successful in drawing spectators, it encouraged others in neighboring towns to build competing racetracks cutting back its attendance. Northeastern finally closed at the end of 1966 due to the money shortage and increased competition.
As a result of the forethought that went into the organization at Northeastern, we now have sanctioning bodies, strict rules to maintain fairness, decent payouts, and other innovations at all of the short tracks across not only the Northeast, but across the country. Now you know the rest of the story.
The track itself at Thunder...
The track itself at Thunder Road was a small, wide, and high-banked affair and didn’t have walls around it except for the front straight. This layout was copied by an early Vermont racetrack called Northeastern Speedway.
Northeastern Speedway was...
Northeastern Speedway was alive just eight years before its decline and death from, of all things, success, its small size and money woes. But, its founders developed a plan on how to run a racetrack well before anyone even knew how to organize these events. That plan has been copied many times over for future series, tracks, and racing organizations. Here we see the beginnings of a restoration project that uncovered this historic venue and evolved into a 50th anniversary celebration attended by some of the very same fans, drivers, and crews who ran here in the early 1960s.
One interesting observation...
One interesting observation we noted about a restored car that is on display, and that actually ran at Northeastern Speedway, was that the rollbar padding was made of burlap sacks tied to the bars. We’ve come a long way since then.