In just a few short days. The Orange County Fair Speedway will start it's 100th year of automobile racing. This year's April 13th Opening Night event marks the 70th consecutive year of weekly stock car racing at Orange County Fair Speedway, the track’s history dates back to 1857 when it was first laid out for horse racing. The first automobile race on the Middletown, New York oval took place on August 15, 1919, when Jim Benedict, of Katonah, New York, drove a Duesenberg Special to victory.
From that first event through September 1941, open wheel racing---in cars similar to those raced at Indianapolis and the predecessors of modern sprint cars---was an annual staple on the fairgrounds track.
In early 1942, a one-fifth-mile asphalt track was constructed inside the larger dirt oval. One or more races may have taken place on the little track before all racing was halted for the duration of World War II, but no records of these events have ever surfaced.
The midget racing craze that swept the nation following the War rolled into Middletown as well. The first post-War race was an ARDC midget event held on June 12, 1946. Winning the feature race that historic evening was Wild Bill Holmes.
Over the next two years midget and “Big Car” racing held sway at Orange County, but on September 18, 1948 the first stock car race was run. Rocky DiNatale was credited with the win over Frankie Schneider. At least ten stock car races were run the following year, although they were not scheduled on a weekly basis.
That would change in 1950. Mark April 15, 1950 as the first official weekly stock car race meet at Orange County. Tex Enright, who gained more fame as a race track starter, won the feature that night. Russ Dodd, who posted seven feature wins in 1950, was the first stock car champion.
And so 70 years later, stock car racing continues to be the featured attraction on the Orange County Hard Clay track. Over the course of those first 69 seasons, many of the greatest names in Modified stock car history have raced and won at Orange County.
That tradition of racing excellence will continue in 2019, beginning on Saturday, April 13, the 70th consecutive season of weekly racing at Orange County Fair Speedway will find the first green flag waving at 6:00 pm. This evening honors long-time racing driver Carl Van Horn, remembered for competing in cars numbered “71e” and “2a” as well as marking the 1,500th stock car race meet in the track’s 100-year history. Headlining the program will be the 800-horsepower Big-Block Modifieds in a 71-lap feature race paying the winner $7,100. They’ll be joined by the Small-Block Modifieds, the always exciting Sportsman, and the unpredictable Street Stocks. In recognition of the 1,500th race meet, the Sportsman division feature winner will take home $1,500. Qualifying events will set the fields for the evening’s feature races.
The first 1,000 fans through the gates on opening night will receive a Carl Van Horn commemorative souvenir, a red paisley bandanna, like the one fuzzy wore, bearing his name and iconic "71e" number. A special program with pictures and stories of Van Horn’s racing career will be available as well. Before and after the races, fans can enjoy free live music at the 31st Lap Tavern from the "Black Dirt Bandits" a local Hudson Valley band whose namesake bears a resemblance to Van Horn's nickname "The Belvidere Bandit." And as a special prize, the 1,500th admission on April 13 will receive two passes for the August 100th Anniversary Weekend.