Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The short life of the Hoosier Motor Speedway

The Hoosier Motor Speedway was a half-mile banked dirt track in Indianapolis Indiana located at the intersection of Pendleton Pike ( now known as Massachusetts Avenue) and 38th Street, about 10 miles east of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and while it was not a western Indiana track it was considered by racers to be part of the of the “Suicide Circuit.“

Nowadays the track location is well within the Indianapolis city boundaries, but from 1922 to 1925, when the oval track was in operation, it sat just beyond the eastern outskirts of the city of Indianapolis. When it opened on November 11, 1922 with a 75-mile ‘big car’ race, the Hoosier Motor Speedway billed itself as “the greatest half-mile race course in the world.”

It appears that the Hoosier Motor Speedway did not run a schedule of regular weekly racing programs; rather it staged long distance races on holidays, such as July 4th and Armistice Day. For example, on July 4 1923 the track played host to races attended by the famed General “Black Jack” Pershing and his guest the visiting World War One French General, Henri Gourard.

An advertisement in the September 1923 Indianapolis News newspaper illustrated the urban growth that the short-lived Hoosier Motor Speedway battled from the start. The ad for Shadelands Park urged buyers to “come take a breath of nature just one square north of Hoosier Motor Speedway and view the 80 large tracts in this beautiful home site addition out northeast, right in the line of the growth of Indianapolis.”

During 1923, manager J.V. Lines struggled to keep the Hoosier Motor Speedway financially afloat with boxing exhibitions at a temporary arena on the grounds, but that plan ran afoul of the Indiana State Boxing Commission and the Marion County Sheriff George Snyder, as the authorities contended that these were actual fights, not exhibitions.

The final boxing match in August, which featured famed Argentine boxer Luis Firpo and Joe Downey from Cincinnati, ended in financial disaster when the promoter of the event absconded with a portion of the gate receipts and Lines, out the 1/3 of the gate he was promised, had to make good on the $2000 appearance fee guaranteed to Firpo.

Despite that financial disaster, the Hoosier Motor Speedway continued to stage races that included a 75-lap mile benefit race for the Riley Memorial Hospital Fund on October 21 1923 that featured drivers Ray Harlan and Hilton Crouch, and the season finale held on Armistice Day November 11 1923.    
The 1923 Hoosier Motor Speedway season finale was known the ‘Hoosier 100,’ a 100- mile race for the Central States Championship and the J.V. Lines Trophy. 42 cars and drivers from across three states entered the race but only 16 cars would start the 100-mile feature. 

Starters in the feature included Arthur ‘Fuzzy’ Davidson from Chicago, George Lyons from Chicago in his Essex Special and future Indianapolis competitors William ‘Shorty’ Cantlon, Joe Huff, Charles ‘Dutch’ Baumann Homer Ormsby and Stuart Wilkinson.

Also entered  in the field of mostly “Fronty-Fords,” which used Arthur Chevrolet’s Frontenac double overhead camshaft cylinder  head on a Ford Model T engine block, was the ‘Hartley Special’ built by brothers Ted and Calvin Glenn ‘C.G.’ Hartley who ran the Hartley Garage an auto repair shop in tiny Roanoke Indiana with mechanics Charles Bowman and Arthur Smith. The engine in the ‘Hartley Special’ used a standard Ford crankshaft, but featured a Bosch battery ignition system built by Harry Bonewitz also of Roanoke.

 At the drop of the green flag at 2 o’clock in the afternoon Davidson grabbed the lead but was soon passed by Lyons, who led until his Essex suffered a broken axle on the 50th lap. Joe Huff in his eponymous racer took command and held the lead until he was forced to pit with engine trouble and Huff lost two laps to the leaders. 

The J.V. Lines Trophy today
photograph by Gene Ingram

Ted Hartley took the lead then held the point the rest of the way without a pit stop, and finished the 100 miles in one hour 56 minutes and 29 seconds. Second place went to Joe Huff who had made up one of his lost laps. The Hartley brothers won $260.00 in addition to the J.V. Lines silver loving cup, which was displayed in the lobby of the Farmers State Bank in Roanoke. The J.V. Lines trophy is still displayed in Roanoke in the trophy case of the local historical society.

The Central States Championship was Ted Hartley’s first race victory in what proved to be a long and successful racing career. Ted raced into his 70’s before he retired in 1973.and raced across the United States and Canada, in Mexico and South America. Ted scored the 1939 Central States Racing Association midget championship and the 1950 Great Lakes Auto Racing Association championship. 

Ted Hartley's son, Leslie Eugene “Gene” Hartley was the 1959 USAC (United States Auto Club) midget series champion, scored 33 USAC midget feature wins in his career,  and drove in ten Indianapolis 500-mile races. Both father and son are members of the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Brother C.G. Hartley who built the winning machine also drove race cars and later entered his own #29 ‘Hartley Special’ a Fronty-Ford powered machine in the 1924 Indianapolis 500-mile race but failed to qualify. C.G.’s real talent was in working on machinery, as he patented two inventions, a steering attachment for tractors and an engine governor system which made it into production.  
After the 1923 season, J.V. Lines departed as the track operator and the promoter of the Hoosier Motor Speedway beginning in 1924 was the Indianapolis firm of Morton & Brett. Elvin D. Morton and his partner, Jack Brett, were major distributors and manufacturers of aftermarket Ford and Dodge speed parts sold through regional distributors and mail order catalogs. While under Morton & Brett management, the track suffered a driver fatality, but not in the manner one might expect.

28-year-old Arthur ‘Fuzzy’ Davidson from Chicago, one of several drivers whom lived on the grounds was found dead on the grounds on the evening of July 22 1925.  The following day, Marion County Coroner Robinson announced that Davidson, who won a race on the Hoosier Motor Speedway in 1923, died as a result of “congestion of the lungs that resulted from overindulgence in alcohol.” Recall that at the time the 18th Amendment to the Constitution banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol was in effect at the time.  

A few weeks after what proved to be the final race, held on Labor Day 1925, won by 1924 Indianapolis 500-mile starter and Detroit native Fred Harder, the Hoosier Motor Speedway grandstands and bleachers, valued at $12,000 were destroyed by fire on the night of September 15, 1925. The arsonist was never captured and the grandstands never rebuilt. 

Within two years, the site was overgrown with little evidence that the track ever existed.  Ninety years later, there is no evidence that the Hoosier Motor Speedway ever existed, as it is now is the site of commercial shopping center. 

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