Orange County Fair Speedway is a five-eighths mile dirt oval speedway in Middletown, NY. The facility holds racing every Saturday night from April until October. The track was built in 1857 for horse racing at the Orange County Fair and staged its first automobile race on August 16, 1919. The fair began as an agricultural exhibit in 1843 and was permanently located in the Wallkill–Middletown area in 1857. The speedway is located at 239 Wisner Avenue in Middletown on land which was known as The Ogden Tract in the mid-1850s. It was originally a half-mile horse racing track known as the Harry Clay Oval, named after a race horse that was famous at that time. Over the years, the track was widened and lengthened to a true 5/8-mile race track.
In 1913, the Orange County Fair Society director, George Martin, who was an auto racing enthusiast, brought the idea of replacing the horses with automobiles to the board of directors but his proposition was denied for six straight years. Martin’s idea was vetoed by the board but he was stubborn and he argued, talked and persisted until he finally convinced the board of directors to at least try it in 1919. The race was witnessed by 5,000 in attendance and was won by James Benedict driving a Benedict Special powered by Duesenburg motor.
Auto racing continued at the speedway each year until the beginning of World War II when motorsports nationwide was suspended due to shortages of gasoline, iron, steel, rubber and aluminum. Weekly stock car racing began on April 16, 1950 and has continued every week since that time. In 1946, after World War II ended, the Harry Clay Oval was renamed Victory Speedway, Inc and saw the return of ARDC Midget racing. Stock car racing officially began at the speedway on September 18, 1948 as Rocky Dinatale is credited with the first-ever stock car win. The first fully contested championship season began on April 16, 1950 and the first race of the season was won by Tex Enright driving # 407 Modified coupe. Enright would later go on to be one of the most popular flagmen in dirt track auto racing.
Today, the Orange County Fair Speedway still operates on a weekly basis from April to September. Nicknamed “The House of Power”, or “The Hard Clay”, Orange County Fair Speedway boasts a long history of dirt track auto racing where many legendary northeast dirt track drivers have tested the boundaries of the hard clay.
In addition to auto racing, the facility will begin a new era of motorcross racing on a race track built in 2013 outside of turns 3 and 4.
The decade of the 60’s held many changes for the Speedway. Among them, in 1961 the flatheads gave way to the new Limited Sportsman division. In 1962 the first Eastern States Championship race was held. It has since grown to be the premier end of season racing event for North East Dirt Modified race cars.
1967 saw the opening of the Drive in viewing area and the birth of the “All Star Racing League”. In 1968 we had a name change, Victory Speedway became the Orange County Fair Speedway. That year was also the first year for the Semi Late Model division, making 3 classes of racing each Saturday night. Another historic change in 1968 was the changing of the Eastern States championship race from 100 to 200 laps.
One of the major changes that happened in the 60’s decade was the influx of Florida drivers that made their Saturday night home at OCFS. Until then, most of the premier division drivers were local or from the tri state area. While Miami Florida’s Bob Malzahn got his 1st win in 1959, fellow Florida invaders Rags Carter and Pee Wee Griffin got their 1st wins in 1964. Will Cagle’s came in 1965 and then Jackie Evans and Zephyrhills Florida’s Buzzie Reutimann got their first checkered flags in 1967.
The decade was a changing of the guards as 50’s stars Otto Harwi, Ken Wismer Sr, Ray Brown, Ralph Smith and Charlie South were all done winning by 1962. The feature winners for the decade were Frankie Schneider 43, Will Cagle 34, Rags Carter 23, Jackie Evans 20, Bobby Malzahn 17, Pee Wee Griffin 13, Sonny Strupp 12, Jackie McLaughlin 8, Buzzie Reutimann and Otto Harwi had 6 wins each. Point Championships were won by Sonny Strupp in 1960, Bob Malzahn in 1961 and Ken Wismer Sr in 1962. Frankie Schneider was the champion in 1963. 1964 saw our only tie for the title by Frankie Schneider and Billy Deskovick. 1965 was Bob Malzahn again. The 1966, 1967,1968 and 1969 championships were all won by Will Cagle who closed out the decade strong.
Eastern States titles were won by Frankie Schneider in 1962,1963 and 1967. 1964 was Rags Carter. Ron Lux got his win in 1965. Will Cagle won in 1966 and 1968. Al Tasnady was the 1969 Eastern States champion.
The decade of the 70’s picked up right where the 60’s left off. Will Cagle won the first 5 races of the year and closed out the year with his 5th point championship in a row. But there were major changes coming.
In 1971 a group of Modified drivers and car owners started their own group called the Tri State Modified and Sportsman’s Car Owners Organization Inc. The club included stars Will Cagle and Bobby Bottcher and they boycotted OCFS that year. Later in the decade Cagle would move to upstate NY tracks never to be a regular competitor at Orange County again.
1973 rules allowed newer body styles including the Gremlin, Vega and Pinto that would forever change the look of Modified racing in the Northeast. The perennial coupe and coach body cars gave way to the new body styles in the mid 70’s. Today many of those first creations of the new Modifieds are looked back on as works of art. Also in 1973 another Floridian would leave his indelible mark on OCFS, Gary Balough would win 5 times that year and 29 times for the decade. 1973 was the last year for the popular Semi Late model division.
In 1975 the place to be after the races, the 31st lap opened. Since then many stories have been told and created there. It has become a popular spot for racers and fans to congregate.
The mid 70’s would also see the beginning of the careers of 2 Modified Super Stars Brett Hearn and Jimmy Horton Jr and “home grown” favorites, and big winners Rich Eurich and Jeff Heotzler. During this time the Reutimann brothers Buzzie and Wayne were Modified stars and became huge fan favorites.
In the previous decade most competitors built their own cars. Throughout the decade of the 70’s many high caliber racecar builders emerged. Whip Mulligan, Budd Olsen, Kenny Weld and Grant King provided teams with hi-tech cars that made “homebuilt” cars obsolete.
The Limited Sportsman division continued strong throughout the decade with weekly fields of over 70 cars. In 1979 the speedway started the Street Stock division and we were now back to 3 classes on the nightly racing card.
Feature winners for the decade of the 70’s were; Gary Balough with 29, Buzzie Reutimann and his buddy Bobby Bottcher both had 26 wins, followed by Wayne Reutimann and Carl VanHorn at 16, Will Cagle 12, Rags Carter 9, Billy Osmun 9, Rich Eurich 8, Kevin Collins 7, Tighe Scott 6, Brett Hearn 6 and Gerald Chamberlain and Pee Wee Griffin with 5 each. There were a total of 45 different Modified feature winners. Also noteworthy, the Ferraiuolo #73 car won 32 times with 5 different drivers.
Point Championships were won by Will Cagle in 1970, Carl VanHorn in 1971, Buzzie won in 1972 & ‘74. 1973 title went to Bobby Bottcher with Wayne Reutimann winning in 1975 and again in ’77. Jim Horton Jr won his 1st title in his rookie year of 1976. Billy Osmun was the champ in 1978 and Brett Hearn won his 1st championship of many in 1979.
Eastern States Championships were won by Will Cagle in 71 &72, Buzzie won in 1972 and Gerald Chamberlain won in both 1973 & 1976. The ’75 Champ was Wayne Reutimann. 1977 winner was Gary Balough with Lou Lazzaro taking the title in 1978. In 1979 Brett Hearn won his first of what would become many Eastern States Modified Championships.
The 1980’s became the foundation for Kinnelon New Jersey’s Brett Hearn’s legendary career. During the decade he would accumulate 77 wins, 6 Modified championships and 2 Eastern States titles.
In 1982 we said goodbye to some key figures in OCFS history. It was the last season announcer Ray Martin would be behind the microphone informing the fans everything they needed to know. It would also be the last race season for Modified star Bobby Bottcher as he would hang up his helmet at the end of the season. During this season we lost popular Racer and speed shop owner Dave Kneisel in a tragic crash.
Glen Donnelly and his D.I.R.T. organization would take over the promotion of the speedway in 1983. The Limited Sportsman division got renamed the 320 Modifieds, and in 1985 the 358 engine was introduced to the class. This division has now evolved into the Small Block Modifieds.
1983 saw the addition of the Pro Stocks and 3 classes of Street stocks. We were now racing 6 divisions every Saturday night. Also the World of Outlaw sprint cars made their debut at OCFS with the “King” Steve Kinser winning the inaugural event. In 1987 Will Cagle became Glen Donnelly’s General Manager for OCFS. While actually starting 1978, the Tri Track series ran strong through the 80’s ending after the 1990 season.
A new open wheel entry level class known as the “Sportsman” division started in 1988 and on continues today. In 1989 Brett Hearn parked the family #20 to drive the Freightliner #6.
Modified feature winners for the decade included big winner Brett Hearn with 77. Rich Eurich was next with 23. Carl Collis and Jeff Heotzler both had 11. Kevin Collins had 8, Chris Berton and Carl Reynolds had 6 each followed by Harry Behrent and Steve Bottcher will 5 wins apiece. There was a total of 49 different Modified feature winners.
Modified point championships were won by Brett Hearn in 1980, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987,and 1989. Rich Eurich took 3 titles in 1981, 1982 and again in 1988. Carl Collis won the only championship in 1985.
There were 9 different Eastern States champions in the decade. Kenny Brightbill won in 1980. Brett won in 1981 and 1986. Harry Behrent in 1982, Jack Johnson in 1983, Doug Hoffman in 1987, Rich Eurich in 1988 and Frank Cozze got his first in 1989.
Brett Hearn started the 90’s just how he ended the 80’s, winning. For the decade he would accumulate 59 BB(Big Block) Modified feature wins, 7 BBM Championships, 4 SBM Championships and would win the 1996 Eastern States 200. He accomplished these numbers even though Hearn was no longer a regular competitor at OCFS for the ’96, ’97 and ’98 seasons. He would return in 1999.
In 1990 Brett would take the Freightliner #6 to 10 BB Modified feature wins, never finishing worse than 11th place. The team won both the Big Block & Small Block point titles. Many OCFS Modified drivers were competing in both top divisions in the early 90’s. 1991 was Jerry Higbie’s rookie year. He won his 1st Modified feature that year.
The start of the 1992 season found Hearn driving his own Auto Palace sponsored #72. Danny Johnson took over behind the wheel of the Freightline #6 becoming a regular at OCFS for the first time winning 6 features. Veteran Frank Cozze began piloting the Higbie family #97x winning twice. Tom Meier moved up from the street stock class to take the Sportsman point title as a rookie.
1993 found the Heotzler brothers in the news. Long time fan favorite Ralph retired at the end of the year while brother Jeff chose to race elsewhere on Saturday nights for the first time in his career. Brett, Danny and Cozze were again the leading Big Block winners for the year. In the Small Blocks, Brett won 14 times and Danny 9. The only other driver to win a SBM feature that year was Donnie Wilson.
Two major rule changes were implemented for OCFS in 1994. For the first time the speedway went to a track tire rule and D.I.R.T. imposed a new rule stating that drivers could only participate in a single class race day unless a “special show” was being held. This opened the class up to many new winners. In 1994 future Modified star Tim Hindley won the Sportsman Point title. The ’94 Eastern States 200 started paying $20,000 to win and Bob McCreadie cashed in on it.
In 1995 Brett Hearn won his 7th Modified track championship in a row and his 13th overall. Jim Horton Jr returned as a regular campaigning the Madsen / Dutchess Overhead Door #87. He would win 1 regular event and the Eastern States Championship. Jeff Heotzler was now piloting the Bernie Smith, Reclamation #33. He was the season’s big winner with 5 wins. Danny Johnson left part way through the season. He returned to run Eastern States where he ran out of fuel while leading with 5 laps to go. Jimmy Horton won. Due to weather issues the ES Saturday card finished at 2:55 AM Sunday morning. The season finished with 11 different Modified winners.
In 1996 Hearn for the 1st time in his career would not be at OCFS on Saturday nights, But Jimmy Horton was back and he won 3 times and took the Modified point Championship. Jeff Heotzler won 5 times in the Reclamation #33. Tim Hindley would win 8 times on his way to his 2nd Sportsman Championship. Brett would be back for Eastern States winning his 4th ES crown and kept his 19 year winning streak alive. Danny won his 3rd Eastern States Small Block race.
Jeff Heotzler won his first Modified point championship in 1997. Jim Horton was gone, but Danny was back full time in the Freightliner 6 car. This season D.I.R.T announced the Small Block division would race with the Big Block Modifieds as was done at all other D.I.R.T. tracks. They also scheduled 9 “special shows” where the SBM’s would have their own show and drivers would be allowed to compete in both divisions, the first time this was allowed since 1993. Danny won his 2nd Small Block title. Modified rookie Gary Edwards Jr. would win his 1st feature in his fifth start. 1997 would be Will Cagle’s last as the speedway’s General Manager. He was in the position for 11 years.
Jay Castimore took over the GM position in 1998. Local favorite Chuck McKee, in his 17th season would have a breakout year winning 4 features in a row on his way to his 1st Modified Point Championship. Danny was gone again but Doug Hoffman called Middletown home on Saturday nights for the first time. Andy Bachetti would win 3 times in both the Big & Small Block divisions on his way to his first SBM point title.
1999….Brett is back. He won 8 Big Block Features enroute to his 14th BB Modified title. He also won 6 SBM mains and his 7th SBM Championship. Rich Eurich won on opening night as he did in 1998. Tim Hindley won his career 1st Modified feature, quickly followed by his 2nd. Both wins coming in his brother Tom’s car. Frank Cozze, Rich Eurich and Ric Hill were the only other BB drivers to have multiple wins this season. Small Block Modifieds were not featured every week. They ran a limited 10 race schedule for 1999. Current Modified regular Chris Schultz won 6 Sportsman features on his way to his 1st Point championship.
Feature winners for the decade were led by Brett with 59 followed by Jeff Heotzler with 23. Frank Cozze had 19 while Danny Johnson won 17. Chuck McKee rounded out the top 5 winners with 10 victories. Hearn would win 7 BB Modified Point Championships from 1990 through 1995, and then again in 1999. Jimmy Horton got one in 1996, Jeff Heotzler in 1997 and Chuck McKee in 1998.
There were 7 different Eastern States champions. Cozze won in 1990, Jimmy Horton in 1991 & 1995, Danny’s victories came in 1992, ’93 & ’97. McKee got his in 1998 and Brett won in1996. Upstate stars Billy Decker (1998) & Alan Johnson (1999) closed out the decade with their victories.
Chuck McKee won his 2nd Big Block modified Championship and the Eastern States Championship to close out the 2000 season. Fellow hometown Middletown racer Frankie Jashembowski finished 2nd to Chuck in the point race. Brett only ran 10 weekends this season as he was trying other race opportunities. He made the most of his 10 visits winning 9 Modified features. 2000 was Jay Castimore’s last season making a difference as the speedway’s General Manager.
2001 found Brett Hearn back as a full timer. He won on opening night. It turned out to be his only win of the year. Chuck McKee repeated as Modified Champion with Jerry Highbie 2nd followed by Brett. Fan favorite Bill Wilson won a feature after a 21 year gap between wins. Chris Schultz won his very 1st main , then added 2 more. Schultz’s 3 wins were only beat by Jeff Heotzler’s 4 wins. Andy Bachetti won his 3rd straight Small Block title and Joanne Chadwick took over as the General Manager of the speedway. Danny Johnson won his 1st ES 200.
Chuck McKee’s 4 win 2002 season propelled him to his 3rd Championship in a row and 4th total. Jeff Heotzler was now back as a regular driving the Tuit 673. He won 4 times and finished 2nd to Chuck in the point race. Brett, running elsewhere this season, was back at Eastern States. He won both races for his 5th ESW BB Championship and 8th ESW SB title.
We lost 1/3 of the 2003 season to rain. At season’s end Jeff Heotzler in the 673 was the point Champion besting Chuck McKee who took 2nd in the Perino #19. Steve Dodd was the only repeat Modified feature winner with 2 wins. Former Sportsman Champ Tommy Meier won his 1st 358(SBM) title. Invaders Bobby Varin (Modifieds) and Alan Johnson (358) won the Eastern States Championship races. A 20 year old Stewart Friesen took his 1st ever victory at OCFS by winning the Eastern States, Barbara Luce Memorial Sportsman race.
Tommy Meier won the Modified Championship in 2004 completing the “trifecta”. He had now won in all three top divisions as he previously won both the 358 and the Sportsman championships. Meier had also won Championships in the Novice and Rookie Pro stock divisions giving him 5 titles ! Gary Edwards Jr, Ric Hill and Ray Jashembowski all had 3 Modified wins in 2004. Mike Kolka and David VanHorn won Modified features for the first time. Jerry Higbie won his 1st 358 title with Rick Mill securing the Sportsman title. Also noteworthy, after 22 seasons promoting OCFS, Glen Donnelly sold his DIRT organization to Boundless Motorsports. Brett won both ESW shows, his 6th BB win and 9th 358 win.
Corey Reed partnered up with Joanne Chadwick to become the new managerial team at OCFS in 2005. Jeff Heotzler won the Modified Championship. Jerry Higbie won his 2nd straight 358 Title as did Rick Mill winning his 2nd straight Sportsman Championship. Sean Corr won the Pro Stock Championship. The old Pepsi concert stage after sitting vacant for many seasons, was torn down. Brett Hearn won the Modified and Jerry Higbie won the 358 races for the Eastern States weekend.
After a 4 year absence Brett Hearn returned to OCFS as a regular competitor in 2006. He was now driving the Smith Brothers #74 and that combination won 5 features and Brett’s 15th Modified Championship. He also won 4- 358 races and the 358 SBM title. Jeff Hetozler was piloting the Petruska family # 66 and finished 2nd in the point chase. Brett won the ES 200 again, his 8th. Billy Decker won the 358 ESW Championship.
Jeff Heotzler still driving the 66 won his 4th Modified Championship and The Eastern States 200 in 2007. David VanHorn was our 358 Point Champion. Brett Hearn would win his 10th Small Block 358 Eastern States title. Instead of the normal General Manger position running the speedway, in 2007 DIRT assembled a “Steering Committee” to direct the Speedway. George Johnson, Doug Dulgarian, Pete Reynolds and Kenny Sands became the committee Modified of four.
In 2008 David VanHorn followed in his famous Grandfather Carl “Fuzzy” VanHorn’s footsteps winning the Moidified Point Championship. Popular Jerry Higbie won his 3rd 358 Point Championship. At Eastern States, Danny Johnson won the Modifieds in the Petruska #66 and Brett won his 11th 358 ES Championship. At the end of the season DIRT(World Racing Group) chose not renew its contract to promote the speedway.
Chuck McKee and Jerry Higbie finished in a tie and shared the Modified Point Championship in 2009. Chuck doubled up by winning the 358 point title by himself. Jerry Higbie went on to win Eastern States 200 driving the Petruska 66. Whats more special about the win was this was the third year in a row, with 3 different drivers that the Petruska car won the Eastern States Championship. Mike Gurda and Howie Commander teamed up to take over promotion of the OrangeCounty Fair Speedway heading into the next decade.
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