THE ROAD TO THE INDY 500 STARTS AT THE NORTHEAST'S OLDEST SPEEDWAY
[MIDDLETOWN, NY, 5/24/2019] Just after World War I, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of America's first and oldest speedways returned to operation, and the Northeast's oldest continuously operated dirt track, The Orange County Fair Speedway, came to be. Indianapolis began it's legacy as the pinnacle of racing in May of 1910, when they held the first Indy 500 race. The same AAA sanctioning body that oversaw racing at Indy, would come to Orange County, NY in 1919 to stage some of the first ever automobile race on the then known "Harry Clay Oval" a dirt horse racing track at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Middletown, NY. With a record breaking crowd at the fairgrounds that August day in 1919, dirt track racing had taken hold in the Hudson Valley region of New York and would remain a local favorite 100 years later.
Because of the now named Orange County Fair Speedway's (OCFS) age, it shares a lot of history with Indianapolis. 5 OCFS competitors had won the Indy 500 either before or after getting their starts in Orange County, NY. One such competitor's name has become synonymous with racing, Mario Andretti. Andretti is one of only two drivers to have won races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR.
Andretti's early career however, was centered around midget and sprint car racing on northeast dirt tracks. The Andretti's emigrated to the United States in 1955, settling in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, in the town of Nazareth. Mario and his twin Aldo were surprised to find Nazareth was home to 1/2 mile dirt track, and by 1959, the two were traveling around the northeast, running dirt tracks in their Hudson Hornet Sportsman Stock Car, collecting wins. Despite their success with stock cars, Mario's ultimate goal was to race in single-seater open wheel cars, known at the time as "midgets".
Andretti raced midget cars from 1961 to 1963. Records show that sometime in 1962, OCFS was one of many tracks he visited. Fan favorite driver and multi-time feature winner, Carl Van Horn, a regular at OCFS for many years, had also come up racing at Nazareth's 1/2 mile track. Andretti has noted that "Fuzzy" Van Horn was one of his early racing heroes, inspiring him to race stock cars at Nazareth and eventually midget cars at OCFS. Just a few years later, in 1969, Andretti had worked his way up to the highest level of open-wheel racing and won the Indy 500.
Andretti wasn't the first OCFS competitor to win the Indy 500, in fact he is the most recent. In 1915, in only it's 5th running, the 500 would be won by a driver named Ralph DePalma. DePalma is one of racing's earliest superstars, earning $1.5 million by 1934 after racing for 27 years. In 1928, DePalma was at OCFS with his Miller Special no.3, setting a new track record by turning the 5/8 mile track in 28 2/5 seconds and winning his feature race.
In 1930, driver Fred Frame, coming from the west coast, would win a feature at OCFS. The next year, 1931, Frame would score a pair of second place finishes at OCFS and in the Indy 500. By 1932, the driver had honed his skills enough to secure his one and only Indy 500 win.
"Wild Bill" Holland was a wildly popular driver at OCFS in the pre WWII racing era. In 1939, he won a feature in Middletown on an extremely muddy race surface. He was credited for the win by "being a bit crazier than the rest." Holland was an interesting character in early motorsports, he was the owner of a roller rink in Westchester County, NY and once held the world record for a 24 hour endurance skate. Wild Bill would get his big one in 1949 when he won the Indy 500.
Lee Wallard, a driver originally from Schenectady, NY won the Indy 500 in 1951 at age 40. In his early career, Wallard competed at many northeast dirt tracks including OCFS, picking up a win at the Middletown, NY track in 1936.
Even more local to OCFS than Westchester County or Schenectady, was driver Bill Schindler. Schindler was born in Middletown, NY and lived in nearby Ellenville. Schindler was a prolific east coast driver of midget cars and one of the founders of the ARDC sanctioning body that replaced AAA for a time at OCFS. It was with the ARDC that Andretti would someday race at OCFS. Schindler though would eventually return to AAA racing to compete in the Indy 500 from 1950-1952. Though Schindler was not a 500 winner, he did place as high as 13th and is one of three drivers to have participated in the Indianapolis 500 with a prosthetic leg. Another OCFS competitor to come close at Indy was Ted Horn. Though not a winner, Horn had the best average finish over the 10 years he competed between 1934 and 1948 at the Indy 500. His best finish was 2nd place in 1936.
To this day, OCFS remains a place where local competitors can face off against the nation's best drivers competing at the sport's highest levels. NASCAR Truck Series drivers Stewart Friesen and Tyler Dippel have made recurring appearances at OCFS in 2019, with recent NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Tony Stewart expected to appear at least once with the All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car race scheduled for July 13th. For 100 years, this Middletown, NY race track has stood among the nation's greatest speedways as a home to true champions. Even now, a young driver at OCFS may be at the early stages of his or her journey to the biggest race of them all, The Indy 500.
The 2019 Indianapolis 500 is an IndyCar Series event that is scheduled for Sunday, May 26, 2019, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. The event is scheduled for 500 miles. It is the premier event of the 2019 IndyCar Series.
OCFS celebrates their 100th year with a Centennial Race Weekend, 3-day racing event on August 15-17. Big Block Modifieds, 358 Small Block Modifieds and Sportsman Classes will race across three days, culminating in a $100,000 to win 160-lap Big Block Feature Race. The race is expected to draw competitors from all over the country, perhaps even a future Indy 500 winner or NASCAR Champions.