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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The "Jalopy Racers And The Tales They Tell" Story

Poster from the Lancaster Speedway
which is part of Tom's collection.
It was an ordinary day.  Sitting around a wooden dining room table in a home on the outskirts of the city of Lancaster talking with friends Jere Herr and Tom Brooks about stock car racing in Lancaster.  Both are racing fans and both raced stock cars at various venues throughout the area, but neither were old enough to have ever raced at any of the racetracks in Lancaster County. There were a few dirt race tracks in Lancaster County that held races as early as the 1930s. Perhaps the best of the tracks, Lancaster Speedway, was located off SR272 in Willow Street, PA.  Lancaster Speedway began operations in the late 1940s and ran races into the mid-1960s. One morning, a month or two ago, I opened the Lancaster Newspaper and there was a photograph of Tom showing his impressive collection of memorabilia from many of the race tracks in Lancaster as well as other nearby counties.  
Old racetrack located on Manheim Pike near what
is now known as Route 30.
He had presented a talk at the Millersville Historical Society about stock car racing, with an emphasis on the Lancaster Speedway.  Lancaster Speedway was located near the intersection of Herrville and Shiprock roads to the south of Willow Street.
This shows where the track in Landisville, PA was located.
When Jere and his wife Sue were visiting recently, I showed Jere the article from the paper and we decided a call was in order to Tom to see if he could sit with us and show us his collection of memora- bilia from not only Lancaster Speedway, but from other tracks where he and Jere raced in the past.  Well, while sitting around the table, Tom opened one scrapbook after another, showing photos and articles of cars belonging to other friends and racers of he and Jere.  
This is an aerial view of Lancaster Speedway in Southern
Willow Street.  It was on the corner of Herrville and Shiprock Roads.
Many of the cars Tom worked on and painted in his auto restoration shop on Madison Street in Lancaster.  I sat and listened to racing stories that the guys told as if they had just happened yesterday.  Story about how one racer purchased a shorter frame than the body of the car he had so Tom and his brother Harry had to shorten the car body.  
Another view I found of the Lancaster Speedway.
And the story about another driver, Joe Dennison, who drove a Ford and seemed to have the knack of frequently crashing it.  Finally decided to put his car's advertising on the bottom of the car rather than the sides since the car was on its sides more that being upright.  Jere and Tom talked about the racetrack off of Manheim Pike that was on the property of Lancaster's first airport.  The judges for the races at that airport were stationed in airplanes that flew over the track.
Car #20 belongs to Joe Dennison.  Since it was frequently in
accidents, he put his car advertisement on the bottom of the car.
One of the cars that raced at that dirt track had a large iron wheel welded in place behind the driver and if it would be hit and begin to turn over, it would continue turning until it was upright once again.  My friends talked about Landisville Speedway that was across from Herr Park in Landisville and operated from 1932 to 1938.
Tom and Harry's #17 car.
That particular track was across from the sandlot football field where the Salunga Indians played.  During halftime the fans would walk across to the racetrack to watch racing before returning to the football game.  The football field eventually closed, since more and more people turned out for the races than the football games. Also mentioned Central Speedway located in Bird-In-Hand from 1935 to 1937.  
Jere's #71 car.  Tom and his brother Harry sponsored
Jere's car so it has the same advertising on it that
their car had.
But, Lancaster Speedway, also known as Pequea Valley Racetrack, seemed to be the most dominant raceway in the county and drew the most fans on a Saturday night over its years of existence. It was a half-mile dirt oval behind the Pequea Valley Hotel.
The cover of a souvenir program
for Lancaster Speedway in Lancaster, PA.
Prize money for winning a race back then might have been $65 to $75 for winning a feature race.  The speedway was in operation until crowds began to dwindle and it wasn't profitable anymore.  Motorcycles and the Joie Chitwood thrill show used the track for a short time, but it eventually went back to farmland. The more I listened to their stories of racing the more I wished I had done the same during my younger years.  The excitement in their voices and eyes as they went through scrapbook after scrapbook told a story in itself.  These two good friends from the past seemed to know every car and racer that ever frequented any of the racetracks in Pennsylvania and also had some good stories of racing against each other from time to time. Old time stock car racing, or jalopy racing as it was known, is now a part of Americana today and the memories that were created during those years will never be forgotten. Just ask Jere and Tom! It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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