LEGACY OF AUTO RACING CONTINUES IN ILLINOIS

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As the drivers are revving their engines for the inaugural race at Chicagoland Speedway in 2001, they and the State of Illinois will become part of the racing timeline, and will be historically linked to the first car race ever run in the United States. With its opening, Chicagoland Speedway becomes the 234th raceway, not counting drag strips, to have a home in the State of Illinois. Through the 20th century, Illinois race fans, as well as speed fans from throughout the Midwest and the nation, have had an abundance of racing venues to choose from ? 1/8-mile to one-mile tracks, and every size in between; asphalt ovals, concrete ovals, dirt ovals and clay ovals; closed courses, fairgrounds courses, road courses, street courses and even indoor courses. Cars included Big Cars (Indy/Championship), sprint cars, midget, quarter-midgets, stock cars, hobby stocks, modified, sports cars ? anything with four or sometimes two wheels (motorcycles). And now with the opening of the 21st century, speed fans from Illinois and the world will have a state-of-the-art racing facility, offering the fastest events with the greatest drivers along with first-class amenities, just minutes away from Chicago. It was just after Thanksgiving of 1895, that eight intrepid horseless carriage racers applied their throttles, seeking the $2,000 prize offered by the Chicago Times-Herald, to be the first to complete a 52.4-mile course from just south of what is today?s Loop north up to Evanston, and back. Taking the victory - no one knows if a checkered flag was waved or not - was American automotive pioneer J. Frank Duryea in a gasoline-propelled machine of his own design. Duryea took 10 hours, 23 minutes to complete his journey into racing history at a speed of 6.66 mph, and he did it over roads that were still being dug out from what was considered a record snowfall on Thanksgiving Day. As cars became more reliable and faster, racing kept pace. Between 1910 and 1915 (and again in 1919, 1920 and 1933), the Elgin Watch Company sponsored a road-racing series through its hometown, Elgin, on the banks of the Fox River, west of Chicago. The winner of the inaugural event in 1910 was Frank Mulford, one of the era?s kings of speed. The contest was 305 miles long over an 8.5-mile course containing six corners and one nasty rise that sent the cars airborne. It took almost five hours for Mulford to complete the race, at a speed of 62.5 mph. Such racing legends as two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Tommy Milton and Indianapolis 500 champion Ralph DePalma won in Elgin. As racing speed rapidly climbed, safety became a prime consideration. One way to provide for safer racing was to take the racers and their cars off the streets and into a closed venue. A keyword for racers is innovation, and to this end the board tracks were born. Given birth in California, Illinois lumber baron Edward Hines took a liking to auto sports and combined his business with his passion for speed by constructing Chicago Speedway (also known as Speedway Park) on a site near First Avenue and Roosevelt Road in Maywood. Hines and his workers constructed a two-mile, high-banked speedway in just six weeks, including seats for 94,000 fans, for about $1.5 million. The inaugural event, the Chicago 500, was flagged off on June 26, 1915, and saw racing ace Dario Resta, who would win the Indianapolis 500 the following year, take home the victory at a then record pace of 97.58 mph. Racing continued on the site through 1918, and it is now the site of Edward Hines Veterans Hospital. In 1938, a 1/8-mile board track was constructed at the Chicago Armory, at 52nd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue; with Chicagoan and Big Car ace Paul Russo winning on the wood. A 1/4-mile board track was built at Chicago?s Soldier Field for a one-day event on June 25, 1939, billed as the World Championships for Midget Racing Cars. In the 1930s and later, indoor racing was quite popular with the nation?

s race fans, and, as in many other racing ventures, Illinois led the way. The first indoor auto races in the U.S. took place at the Chicago Armory over a 1/10-mile dirt track on Sept. 29, 1934 and on Oct. 19, 1934. A 1/5-mile dirt track was constructed at the armory and was used from 1935 through 1940. Other indoor races took place at the Chicago Coliseum (1947-48), the old Chicago Stadium (1935), the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, the now demolished International Amphitheatre, near the site of the Union Stockyards, and at the former Chicago Riding Club in Chicago?s Streeterville neighborhood. The Coliseum is notable because it was once the site of the infamous Libby Prison during the Civil War. The International Amphitheatre, besides being the home for so many years of the Chicago Automobile Show, was also the site for indoor drag racing, on a 400-foot strip, from 1962 through 1964. The Chicago Riding Club, located at 33 E. Erie Street, is now the home of WBBM TV/Radio. Racing in Illinois was born on the roads, and sports-car racers and fans have had their own tracks. Today, road racers have Blackhawk Farms near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, and even a twisty circuit at Route 66 Raceway, across from the Raceway Associates superspeedway site. Chanute Air Force base, in downstate Rantoul, was home to a 2.86-mile road course in 1954, during the era when U.S. Air Force bases were used by sports-car racers. But the most famous Illinois road course of all was Meadowdale International Raceway, located just off the Northwest Tollway in northwest suburban Carpentersville. It had a 3.27-mile circuit and a 4.2-mile course, including the famous Monza wall, which was patterned after one at the famous Monza course in Italy. Such notable racers as Jim Hall, Roger Penske, Ken Miles and a host of stars from the 1960s raced sports cars there, including Can-Am, GT and Trans-Am machines. Many of Illinois? county fair sites also have been home to auto racers through the years, from Winnebago (Pecatonica) County Fairgrounds down to the Williamson (Marion) County Fairgrounds. In addition, auto racing has long paid yearly visits to Illinois? two state fairs. The Illinois State Fairgrounds, in Springfield, and the DuQuoin State Fair, down in Southern Illinois, both have 1-mile dirt ovals, and have been homes to the best racers on the old AAA circuit and today with the USAC touring series of midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars. During what many call auto racing?s Golden Era, the 1920s through 1950s, with time out for World War II, a fan could go almost anywhere in the state and find a track. The North Shore Polo Fields held a race in July 1924. Shewbridge Ball Park, at 74th and Morgan streets on Chicago?s south side, saw AAA-star Ronnie Householder take home the checkered flag. In Springfield, the 3-1 Ball Park held races around the playing field from 1935 through 1937. Hawthorne Race Track held Big Car Races, under AAA-auspices, on its 1-mile dirt track in 1905 and 1926. The Cook County Fairgrounds (now Maywood Park horse track) held races from 1934 through 1940 on a 1/2-mile oval, at North and First avenues. In 1962, a USAC stock-car race was tried at Aurora Downs Race Course, but lasted less than three laps as the heavy dust clouds prevented drivers from racing. In 1939, the American Giants Ball Park, 39th Street and Wentworth Avenue, held only one race around the ball field, but its significance was that all the drivers were African-Americans. During that period, some of the largest crowds and what many old-timers consider the best racing ever in Illinois took place at Soldier Field. Races took place throughout the 1930s, but it wasn?t until the 1950s, under the promotion of Chicago native Andy Granatelli, later of STP fame, that the track was able to bring in sizable crowds on a weekly basis to see stocks and demolition derbies. NASCAR even raced there in 1956 and 1957. On one race date in 1953, more

than 68,000 fans packed into the stands. The last time engines roared on the lakefront was in 1967 when the USAC stock cars were booked for the summer. In 1970, the racing pavement was torn out to make way for the Chicago Bears. Chicago?s lakefront might have been the site of racing, when attempts, to no avail, were made in the 1980s to bring Championship or even Formula One races to the shores of Lake Michigan. Still the bread-and-butter tracks throughout Illinois have been the smaller ovals. In the Chicago area alone, these racing sites included Raceway Park in Blue Island, which once billed itself as the nation?s busiest track, and held the first race run in the U.S. following World War II, on Aug. 29, 1945; Waukegan Speedway kept fans in Lake County satisfied for almost 20 years; Santa Fe Speedway in Willow Springs billed itself as the "Action Track," and held a NASCAR event in 1954; and O?Hare Stadium near O?Hare International Airport saw NASCAR?s original Golden Boy, Fred Lorenzen, cut his racing teeth on its 1/4-mile pavement. Today, only Raceway Park is still in operation. Illinois has been home to some of the racing?s greatest national names, such as Lorenzen from Elmhurst; Don Branson from Champaign; Bobby Rahal from Glen Ellyn; "Tiger" Tom Pistone of Chicago; Tony Bettenhausen and his sons from Tinley Park; Pat Flaherty, long associated with Chicago; as well as Bill Van Allen, Danny Kladis, Bud Koehler, Roy Martinelli, Bay Darnell and Sal Tovella. And now with Chicagoland Speedway on the horizon, even greater history will be written in Illinois.

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500 Speedway Blvd, Joliet, Illinois 60433 Tickets & Information Call 888.629.RACE (7223)

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